Writing a Paper


I. Getting started.

-    Prepare an outline of your topic. Jot down some main ideas that you would like to convey in your paper. Place supporting points under main topics to organize them. Then, number them to determine the order in which they should go in the paper. You should structure your argument so that you begin with your weakest point and built to the strongest. Then, begin writing.


II. Suggestions for organization.

-    The three main parts of a paper are the introduction, the body and the conclusion.

-    Your Introduction should include brief background info on your topic and a thesis statement. I find that introductions are difficult to write first, so I write my thesis statement and I save both the introduction and conclusion for last.  You may write differently, and that=s okay!

-    Your body should include the meat of your argument in paragraphs with topic statements. Make sure that all of your body agrees with the thesis statement.


-    Conclusion should sum up your argument and ties up loose ends. Your conclusion should be the climax of your paper. You should make efforts to provide provocative suggestions in your conclusion or bring in new information or observations. You should point out the significance of your argument. Try to avoid making your conclusion wishy-washy (e.g., I’m not sure what this means. I do not know what Sophocles really meant by y) In other words, provide a concise reiteration of your arguments. Make sure your conclusion agrees with your thesis statement.

-    Flow.   Your paper should include transitional elements between paragraphs to make your essay seamless. You should try to write transitions that connect each paragraph to the previous paragraph. Make sure that the first sentence in each paragraph somehow connects that paragraph to the previous paragraph.


III. Writing a thesis statement


-    Your thesis statement should tell your reader what you will argue, what you are writing about. A thesis statement should not be a statement of fact. It should be something that is worth arguing. And, you should consider counterarguments. Someone should be able to argue against your thesis statement.

-    Examples:  “The major reason for the fall of Rome was bad economic policy.”  Or “Three main factors which contributed to Anne Bolelyn’s death were her unpopularity with the English people, her fall from Henry’s favor, and her inability to bear a son.”


IV. Writing Topic Sentences

-    Your topic sentence should tell your reader what the paragraph is about.

-    For example, you might begin a paragraph with the following: The myth of Gilgamesh reflects the unpredictability of Mesopotamian geography. Or Egyptian insistence on satisfying the Pharaoh reflects the belief that the Nile’s regularity depended on the happiness of their ruler, who was seen as the embodiment of a god on earth. 

-    Each of these statements would be followed by details/examples that illustrate your point.


V. Citing sources


-    Cite your sources how you choose, in footnotes, parenthetical citations, etc. Be consistent, and let us know where you found your quotes/info (especially if you rely heavily on a text to make your argument).


VI. Take a stand and argue your point.

-    Don’t be afraid to make an argument (as long as you can back it up with the readings)


VII. The Basics

-    A sentence has a subject and a verb. Always use active rather than passive voice (i.e., active verbs rather than passive verbs). Using one of the examples above, You should say “The myth of Gilgamesh reflects the unpredictability of Mesopotamian geography.” Rather than saying “The unpredictability of Mesopotamian geography was reflected in the myth of Gilgamesh.”

-    Vary your sentence length. Try to use both short and long sentences in your writing, and try to use them to offset each other.


-    You needn’t use “I think” or “I feel”  to qualify that your paper is your opinion and/or analysis. Your name is on the essay. Therefore, it will be assumed that the contents are your opinion. Also, using “I think” or “I feel” make the paper sound tentative. You want to argue a point.

-    Use the same verb tense throughout the paper. (Rule of thumb: Past tense for historical events, present tense for works of art or literary works.)

-    Avoid grammar and spelling mistakes. Exchange papers with a roommate or classmate or read your paper out loud to see if you have avoided all of these mistakes.

-    Try not to use block quotes (i.e. four lines of text or more), especially in a short paper such as the ones that you will write for this class. Quotes should be short and sweet B just long enough to illustrate your point. And, use them sparingly. If you do use block quotes, separate it from the text. (Example on board.)

-    Avoid contractions.

-    If the essay question has several parts, make sure that you answer all parts (e.g., if you are asked to write about religion and culture, be sure to include sections on both).


-    If the essay question requires that you make a choice, make it! (e.g., If you are asked to choose between writing an essay on the culture of early civilizations and between writing on religion in early civilizations, don=t write on both). Read your instructions/questions carefully.


VIII. Some quick references.

-    Strunk and White=s Elements of Style (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

-    Simon and Schuster=s Handbook for Writers (Edgewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990)

-    Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1993)

-    Kate Turabian=s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1996)


IX. The Most Important Thing

-    The ultimate goal of paper writing is to present your argument clearly and powerfully.