Regardless of genre, most successful essays make it clear why their topic is important. Often referred to as “answering the ‘So What?’ question,” this move helps readers understand the essay’s context—what is happening at the time of writing that makes the topic important—and it’s contribution to an existing conversation. For example, Patrycja Koszykowska answers the “So What?” question in the first paragraph of her essay, “The Fragmented Global Culture:”
The 21st century phenomenon of globalization created an interdependent global economy, co-designed an international web of politics and intergovernmental institutions, and invented new cultural instruments and modes of social engagement. Yet, does globalization motivate and inspire separated and oftentimes destabilized populations to engage in a global culture, or does it mobilize such actors to lash out and isolate? This question is made more urgent by the election of President Donald Trump and the strengthened position of authoritarian-populist movements.
Here, she establishes her topic using a phrase—“the 21st century phenomenon of globalization”—that clarifies the time period. This sets her readers up to identify with her topic because they, as citizens of the 21st century, are part of it.
She then tells us that this phenomenon has “created an interdependent global economy, co-designed an international web of politics and intergovernmental institutions, and invented new cultural instruments and modes of social engagement,” establishing the far-reaching effects of her topic and its relevance. Identifying this context introduces the question that her essay will answer: does globalization motivate engagement, or does it leave people isolated?
After establishing context, Koszykowska also reinforces the importance of her question by referring to related current events: “This question is made more urgent by the election of President Donald Trump and the strengthened position of authoritarian-populist movements.” The phrase “This question is made more urgent” cues the reader to identify the election of Donald Trump and “authoritarian-populist movements” as another result of globalization. It’s not just that these events are current, though; the word “urgent” also suggests that we need an answer to this question, and quickly. The stakes are high.
To answer the “So What?” question in your own essay:
Consider the connections between your topic, the context you’re writing in, your audience, and any existing critical conversations. Ask yourself:
- What inspired me to choose this topic? Have I read anything, seen anything on TV, or heard anything recently that this topic reminded me of?
- Are there any current events that demonstrate my topic/claim?
- In what time period is/was my topic most prevalent? Why is it relevant today?
- What challenging question am I asking? Why is it important? How might I begin to answer?
- Why should readers care about my argument?
- Are there any theories that my argument uses, and what do my readers need to know about those theories in order to understand my argument?
- Am I noticing any patterns? If so, are there any exceptions to the pattern, or surprising or significant elements to it?
- Is there a “conversation” happening in my field on this topic, and how do my ideas align with, respond to, or critique the ideas of major voices in the field?
- Can I complete this template?
I am studying _________________________________________________________
because I want to find out ______________________________________________
so that readers understand _____________________________________________.
Like Koszykowska, you can establish context and purpose early on to help your reader understand right away why they should care about your topic. In other words, at least one of these questions should be answered in the introduction.
Koszykowska, Patrycja. “The Fragmented Global Culture.” Lexington Review. 5 Feb. 2018, https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/lexingtonreview/journal/the-fragmented-global-culture/.