Please use this as a “checklist” to keep yourself focused regarding any of our major writing assignments. Instead of reminding you of these very basic (i.e. bare mini-mum) standards on every assignment, I expect you to consult this list both before you begin writing and after you are done.
Do not wait till the last minute to start writing.
Carefully examine the question or problem you are to write on. Make sure you understand what the question is looking for. Be certain that your answer addresses the question.
Use prewriting and single-word outlines as a means of getting into the assignment.
Always remember to keep asking yourself the question “Why?”: Although the “how” and the “what” of the given problem are both very important (often making up the backbone of a paper), it is the “why” (your explanation) that will ultimately give your analysis any real value.
Make sure the reader knows your subject (the author and title of the text) by the end of the first sentence.
Use your introduction as a means of easing your reader into your paper. Catch your reader’s attention by asking a question, telling a story, creating a scenario, or providing an interesting fact or quote.
Remember to have a persuasive statement—a thesis—driving your work. It should appear somewhere within the first paragraph (usually as the last sentence—thereby taking advantage of the fact that you have a whole paragraph to lead the reader into the point of your paper). Your thesis should be as specific as possible; use the thesis as an opportunity to set up the key terms of your paper. Also, please do not tell me anything I already know—be cautiously creative with your thesis.
Keep a proper sense of perspective when quoting from a text: Only use those words, phrases, or passages that are relevant to your analysis. Remember that I want to know what YOU have to say about the text; I do not want a paper that strings together great chunks of primary text with a few colorful comments.
Remember to make sure that each quote you use has 1) a “lead-in”—a sentence or series of sentences that warns the reader that a quote is coming. It should identify the author and the title of the source you are quoting (or, if you are consistently quoting only one source, subtly remind the reader of where the quote is coming from). 2) a “lead-out”—where you explain to the reader why this is such an important quote that it takes up space in your paper. The most important things you have to say about the quote should always FOLLOW the quote.
Remember to have a conclusion—it is the last thing an instructor reads before giving you a grade. The conclusion should sum up the paper, returning the reader to its main point, but it should not be repetitious or overly obvious. DO NOT REPEAT YOUR THESIS STATEMENT OR YOUR TOPIC SENTENCES WORD FOR WORD; find another way of saying something similar (or of reinforcing the complications that the paper has developed around the thesis). The best conclusions are those that give the reader some new piece of information—something that clinches, complicates, or strengthens your argument while giving your reader something to think about.
One of the most important things to do is to keep your paper interesting. What does “interesting” entail? (a) Going beyond the scope of the class discussion or lecture. Do not regurgitate what we have already talked about; rather, use our discussions as a jumping-off point for greater depth (examining in detail or taking issue with specific ideas). (b) Telling me something I did not know (an obscure factoid that relates to the topic) or convincing me (through argumentation) of something I either did not believe or was unsure of. (c) Always writing like you are composing a conclusion: I hate reading papers that are generally boring that then have stunning conclusions. Good conclusions are characterized by their confident, assertive, and engaging (though not melodramatic) style. Try to maintain this tone throughout the paper. (d) Varying your sentence structures. Remember to keep your sentences clear and concise, but also attempt to make the structures complex.
Do not use contractions in formal writing—it is one of my pet peeves and will lead me to perform acts of violence on your paper.
Avoid the use of the singular first person pronoun—“I.” There are times that writing in first person can be very useful, but few students use it well enough for me to encourage it. Avoiding “I” also assists with the problem of maintaining objectivity and authority. Compare the following sentences: 1) I think this essay is good. 2) This essay is good. The second sentence universalizes the experience of the essay, creates a greater sense of objectivity, and denotes more authority all by avoiding the use of the word “I.”
Avoid vague words: this, that, they, you, good, bad, big, a lot, them, it and so on. Ambiguous words in general (and pronouns specifically) are another one of my pet peeves—be very careful, if you have to use them. Try to remain specific as possible. What is crystal clear to you may be quite unclear to your reader.
“Alot” is not a word. If you use it, I will laugh as I throw your paper in the trashcan. A lot.
Make sure you have a Works Cited page. Always cite and document your source(s) correctly. Use MLA style citations. I love grading MLA citations on Works Cited pages and will check everything down to the last period.
Make sure that your paper is well-organized. An after-the-fact outline (a one word or short phrase summary of each paragraph) will help you make sure your paragraphs do not ramble and show you the general organization of the paper.
Be certain to use your mind in addition to your word processor: proofread (computers do not catch everything) and spell check. Watch out for homonyms because the computer usually cannot tell the difference between the write word and the wrong one. :)
Make sure your paper has a title. Spend some time (after you are done writing) on the title itself. Avoid boring titles. Do not use the title of the text you are working with as your title. Choose something that catches the reader’s attention immediately and makes them want to read (think of it as a commercial slogan or jingle for your paper).
Remember to always be considerate and use a stapler to keep your pages (each labeled with your last name and page number according to MLA format) together. Origami corners never keep things together. It would be a shame if I accidentally lost the page that had your grade on it and was thereby forced to make up a grade based on my mood.
that you are always writing to be read—keep your audience in mind.
A lot of the time, half the problem with an essay is that it makes perfect
sense to the author—and only the author. Read the essay out loud
(either to yourself or to someone else), use the Writing
Center (located at 016 Memorial Hall—831-1168 for an appointment),
or e-mail it to a friend. Nothing shows true friendship like being
willing to read over someone else’s paper.