Elevator Pitch Paper Workshop

Students present an “elevator pitch” of their paper idea to their peers, and then receive feedback about their idea.

Goals: Students will

  • articulate their thesis statement more clearly, ensuring that they are making an argument about the evidence rather than summarizing
  • uncover new problems or possibilities with their final paper ideas through dialogue with their peers

Class: Expos 20: Paradox in Public Health

Introduction/Background: This course introduces freshman to writing at the college level. Students read and write about paradoxes in public health, such as between personal choice and population health. Near the end of the course, students work on a final research paper. To help them draft a workable argument for their paper, students are instructed to give an “elevator pitch” of their paper idea to their peers.

An “elevator pitch” is a short summary of an idea that is explained to someone verbally. The name comes from the premise that the speaker has the duration of an elevator ride with a colleague (or perhaps a boss they want to impress!) to communicate their idea clearly and succinctly.  Generally, an elevator pitch takes from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. 


Students are working toward a final research paper.

  • At this point in the course, each student has selected a final research paper topic and done some library research; most are trying to draft a workable thesis/argument for the paper.
  • Students are placed in groups of three and given a handout explaining the assignment (attached).
  • Students are all given 5 minutes to review their work and decide how to present their elevator pitch.
  • Then, students take turns assuming each of the following three roles:

1)      Pitcher:  In 2 minutes, they present their paper idea, research context, and try to persuade the audience of their idea.

2)      Skeptic: After the “Pitcher” ends, the Skeptic takes 2 minutes the Pitcher about points that did not make sense.

3)      Mirror: This person takes notes on the presentation and the pitcher’s response to questions. By recording and giving a summary of this conversation, they will be able to provide a clearer sense of what needs to be articulated differently and how that could be done more effectively.

  • After everyone has had a chance to pitch their idea, return the transcribed feedback to the speaker for their reference. Everyone should leave class with a sheet of helpful feedback, as well as practice articulating their paper ideas clearly.



Timer or clock for the instructor to give time signals


  • Give the students time to read the directions fully. Time everyone as a group and enforce the times.
  • Remind students to avoid a) outlining the sequence of ideas in the essay, rather than making the argument itself, and b) describing their topic, rather than their argument about that topic. 

Submitted by Jerusha Achterberg, Preceptor, Harvard Writing Program, with credit to Adrienne Tierney and David Hahn, Harvard Writing Program

achterberg_316_elevator_pitch.pdf99 KB