I am 40 years old, returning to college a second time. I have just been informed by my teacher that a thesis statement must always list your upcoming points in the exact order that you present the arguments, and that this is a practice called "Highlighting."

  1. I have never heard this before. Is this correct? I did not find any mention of it on any of the writing sites I checked. I have definitely gotten As on papers before without being aware of this rule. I am surprised that literally nobody has ever told me this.

  2. I did not find this definition of highlighting anywhere. She also told me that it is like a mathematical concept called "parallelism," which does not appear to be a thing. The only definition of parallelism I could find related to essays was about outlining, and referred to making the headings of the sections in your paper have similar structure and weight, similar to the way the word is used in poetry, not math. In fact, she repeatedly told me that writing is a lot like math, a statement that makes me suspect she does not know how math works.

  3. She also told me that any argument I make in the paper must be mentioned in the thesis. For example, it is not enough to say "Enkidu and Grendel share many similarities." I have to list the similarities in the thesis sentence. Even though I talk about the specific similarities in other sentences in the introduction, and (more importantly to me) the similarities are not really the core of my argument. The similarities they share are evidence for my argument, not the argument itself.

Obviously, I will do what the teacher wants me to do for this class, but I'm not sure how to react if my college professor who has presumably written many papers has such an erroneous and rigid notion of how writing is done. If this is a requirement for a thesis statement, how come none of the other guides to crafting a strong thesis statement that I have found on line mention it? Why has no professor ever mentioned it to me before?

And I have to say if this is an actual rule, it's kinda dumb. By the time I get to the end of an essay, I don't remember the exact order of the thesis statement. Once that statement has been synthesized, I stop caring about the order or even the specific words that were used if they are not important to the idea being expressed. This is just another totally arbitrary writing rule designed to produce tortured, barely readable sentences (which, from my run-ons above, you can see I have enough problems with already).

  • Hi Iofgren, welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. This question is on topic for our site, we can provide advice from a writer's perspective. However if you need advice specific to academic requirements you might be better off posting this on Academia a dedicated academia stack. Good luck and happy writing!
    – linksassin
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 6:30
  • "In fact, she repeatedly told me that writing is a lot like math, a statement that makes me suspect she does not know how math works." Almost nobody knows how math works! Personally, I do describe math as being like (fiction) writing because it's creative, and you often know the ending you want to get to without knowing how to get there. You leave gaps and go back and fill them in, or you realise you need a new character (/definition) to make things work better, or that those scenes (/lemmas) would flow better in a different order. So to me, your teacher is so wrong she's accidentally right... Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 7:50

2 Answers 2


If this is an undergraduate course, your instructor has the right idea. I think you're focused a little too much on the ordering part to hear the full idea of what a good thesis statement is.

Nothing is communicated with "Enkidu and Grendel have similarities." Any two of anything will contain at least some similarities.

I'm not familiar enough with those two characters to continue with that example, but hopefully the idea of "Voldemort and Darth Vader have similarities" communicates the same type of statement and is not a thesis statement. "Voldemort and Darth Vader are similar because both are victims of abusive childhoods, have complicated relationships with their families, and inspire fear with distinctive scary facial features" is a thesis statement.

Thus, armed with a three-pronged thesis statement, you spend the next parts of your essay providing evidence for each argument of your thesis. The thesis above has no evidence built in. You have to prove that they had abusive childhoods and this affects their later actions with examples from the movies, facts about psychology, similar historical accounts, whatever. And then do that for the next two arguments.

This is why the instructor recommended following the same order. It's a logical flow. To go from that sentence to something other than the first point is a disruption of that flow.


Reading what you've told me, I can understand why you might be confused. First "Parallelism" is a grammar technique where the structure of your sentences run in parallel to each other (e.g., sentence 1 has a structure X, sentence 2 has a structure X' that is a mirror reflection of sentence 1's structure). Second, with respect to the thesis structure, think of it like this:

X "Because" (W,Y,Z,...)

X is whatever position you are taking (e.g., Enkidu and Grendel share several similarities) and (W,Y,Z,...) are the positions that help prove your position X to be the case. For Example, if you are writing a paper on the fact you believe that Enkidu and Grendel are similar (i.e., you are trying to prove the case that they are similar), then your thesis is 'Grendel and Enkidu are to similar to each other' "Because" 'They are mythological figures, Considered to be animalistic and beastly, and Are mythological antiheroes'

Then in the rest of your paper, you will argue for why the (X,Y,Z,...) components of your thesis prove true the X component. Typically speaking, your introduction provides context to what subject you're talking about, but no evidence in support of your thesis since your thesis is supposed to come at the very end of the introduction.

As far as the highlighting part goes, in my opinion, English teachers tend to grasp at straws when explaining pretty much anything. So don't put too much emphasis on what highlighting actually means.

Also, your university writing center should be able to be a resource helpful in this area.

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