Note that most
academic papers and projects have designated guidelines and criteria
specific to their purposes. Be sure to adhere to those individual criteria.
sure you understand the requirements of every assignment, and contact your teacher
promptly if you have questions.
- See Writing Guides and Resources for additional resources.
A clearly stated
thesis or central idea presented in one or more sentences provides
a necessary focus for your entire paper. Academic writing and most professional
writing require an explicit rather than an implied thesis; therefore, your
papers for this class should usually state your central idea clearly early in your essay.
and surrounding sentences of your introduction usually must include a comment or opinion and must show clearly the significance of the topic and its impact on your
life and/or others. Concrete, specific examples and details throughout your paper will illustrate
and emphasize that impact. You can use the following checklist to double-check
that you have an appropriate central idea.
- Clear statement of central
- Precise topic
- Comment, viewpoint, or opinion about
- Context and significance
- Background information
Unless otherwise specified, consider your classmates
and students as your primary readers, along with your teacher. In fact,
you may be asked to exchange your draft or paper with one or more classmates.
Keep in mind that this general readership brings a variety of backgrounds
to the class, including a range of ages, job experiences, and social experiences
such as living in other parts of this country and in other countries. Therefore,
midlevel general diction and nontechnical vocabulary would be most appropriate.
Standard usages, clarity of expression, and readability are essential.
- Your introduction should have an opening or lead
to attract readers' interest and attention. Consider how you would appeal to a
reluctant audience instead of to the captive audience of the class and teacher.
You can begin with a short story or anecdote, an interesting or provoctaive example,
a challenge, a quotation, or a question to entice your reader. If you ask a question,
answer it right away to ensure your reader understands your thinking on the topic.
the relevance or significance of your topic. Make clear why you care and
why readers should care about the topic and your treatment of the topic. Always
include sufficient background information and any necessary definitions
to clearly establish the context for your discussion.
- End the introduction
with a clearly stated or clearly implied thesis or central idea so that
readers have no doubt about your limited topic and your purpose or opinion.
- Body paragraphs (also called topical paragraphs
because they develop the topic through subtopics) must be fully developed and
supported with sufficient, relevant, concrete, specific support for clearly
- Use as many body paragraphs as necessary to
develop your thesis. In general, separate well-developed points into paragraphs not only for meaning but for visual emphasis.
- Use the best details, examples, expert testimony,
anecdotes, statistics, reasons, and other concrete, specific information to
make your paper credible and interesting.
- The clearest and most effective
body paragraphs in academic papers include all the following elements in each
- a clearly presented topic sentence or two as the central
idea with a sense of purpose,
- appropriate connections to the paper's
main point or thesis as reminders throughout, and
words and phrases within the paragraph to aid unity and coherence.
that body paragraphs are logically organized in relation to each other
and that the information within paragraphs is logically organized as well.
At the minimum, a concluding paragraph should restate
your thesis/central idea and give your essay a sense of completion. Two or
three sentences will suffice for a short paper, but more may be appropriate. In
fact, some reflective commentary at the end strengthens your paper and
makes your point more emphatic and memorable. Your conclusion gives you an opportunity
to make a dramatic restatement or appeal; a conclusion allows you to make generalizations
related to your purpose. Some of the same techniques that make effective openings
can be used in conclusions, but avoid questions at the end.
of Papers and Projects
readers see your title first, you might want to write it last, after you have
drafted your paper and know what the paper is about.
- Compose a title that
fulfills both of the following goals. In order to accomplish both goals, many
academic papers have a main title and subtitle separated with a colon.
your reader's attention and
- identifies the topic and focus
title can set the tone for your paper but cannot substitute for full information
in your introductory paragraph.
- Consult a recent college handbook for
rules on capitalizing and punctuating titles. Do not underline, italicize,
or quote your own title. Do punctuate the name of a literary work appropriately.
- Here are some examples of titles:
- Not Just a Sneaker: Tips
for Buying Athletic Shoes
- Success in School: How Pat Smart Makes Dean's
List Every Semester
- Keeping the Sand in Sandbridge
- Breaking the
Bottleneck: Alternatives for Highway Planning
- The Perils of Perfection:
Aylmer's Obsession in "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Revising, and Proofreading
In many ways, what we understand as "good writing"
really is careful re-writing, re-thinking, and editing and revising. Some Revision Strategies can help you change a "good" paper into an "excellent" paper.
- After you have sufficiently planned and drafted your essay, consider getting
feedback from readers by asking one or more objective people to read it
for clarity and development.
- Allow time to set the draft aside for a day
or at least for a few hours so you can reread with a fresh perspective and
- Reread your draft and revise as many times
as necessary for clarity, unity, coherence, development, adherence to the
criteria of the assignment, and effective diction and syntax.
- When you are satisfied or out of time, whichever comes first, carefully proofread
for appropriate and accurate spelling, grammar, and mechanics. If you use spell
check or grammar check software, be aware of the benefits and shortcomings (such
as inability to distinguish usage differences between here and hear
or imply and infer). You are responsible for determining that accuracy.
you have prepared the final copy according to the format guidelines for
the specific assignment (usually MLA format for English and Humanities classes),
proofread again, making any last-minute corrections.
- Be sure to keep a
paper copy as well as a backup file.
and Acknowledging Sources - Academic Integrity
You are the author of your paper, and your language and views should be clear as well as clearly your own. Give yourself credit by differentiating clearly between your own words and ideas or those of others. When you do use additional resources to add authority and information, use appropriate scholarly conventions
to give credit to any personal, print, audiovisual, online, and other resources that
helped you develop and support the ideas and information.
Giving credit is both a courtesy and a requirement for academic work.
Failure to do so is academic dishonesty. See Academic
following brief outline covers some key points about using sources. Consult my
Documentation Guide Website for full details.
- Incorporating Quotations and Paraphrases
- When you quote
or paraphrase sources other than a literary work, credit the author by name, usually
at the beginning of the citation, and include the page number in parentheses at
the end. For online resources, a date might be a reasonable substitute. Or use your wording to make clear that the reference has ended. See In-text Citations for explanations and models.
Follow the guidelines and models in your textbook and at Writing
Guides and Resources.
- When you quote from a literary work such
as a play, novel, or short story, the way you construct your sentence should make
it clear what author and work you are quoting. Therefore, you do not need to mention
author's name in your parenthetical citation.
in Appropriate Format
- Current Modern Language Association
(MLA) formats usually are required for formal papers in composition and literature classes.
- Some classes require
other documentation formats, for example, American Psychological Association (APA)
- See Works Cited and Acknowledgments and Writing Guides and Resources.
Assistance and Support
You can also include a page of acknowledgements
after the conclusion of an undocumented paper or after the Works Cited of a documented
paper to express appreciation to helpful people such as librarians, friends and
relatives, or the Writing Center. An example follows.
Thanks to Sean Kazinsky, Chris Thermopolis, and Pat O'Flaherty from my literature class, who reviewed my early drafts and made helpful suggestions. I also thank my friend Kelly Sanders-Martin, who drove me to the library so I could use the computers.
for Formal Papers - MLA Manuscript and Documentation Formats
Most English classes and other classes in the humanities
require Modern Language Association (MLA) format for formal papers.
an MLA Essay Format Sample.
- Format according
the requirements for an MLA-style essay - designed for maximum readability as
well as for consistency in college papers:
- book font such as
- 12-point type size
- 1-inch margins all around
spacing throughout, 1/2-inch new-paragraph tabs, no extra space between
- automatic header and pagination with last name and page
number set flush right
- student identification at left margin:
student name, professor name, course information, submission date, other information
designated by professor
- last name and page number as automatic header
set in word processor
- title centered and properly capitalized and
- parenthetical in-text citation of sources - see Documentation
Guide: In-text Citations a
- separate page with alphabetical Works Cited
for bibliography - see Documentation Guide: Works Cited
and Acknowledgments for entry patterns and hanging indent format
an example of a documented essay that uses correct MLA format: "A
Zoo Way of Thinking" by Kelly Columbus, pseudonym for a former English
composition student (if the file does not open automatically, download and install
free Adobe Acrobat
- See the MLA Style Guide and online updates
at the MLA Website.
for educational purposes only
developed and copyright ©1996 by D. Reiss
modified and copyright ©8 October 2005 by D. Reiss