Guide to Writing Papers
- An essay has a goal: to give your reader good reasons to agree with you about something.
- Even if an assignment has come to you in terms like "analyze" or "explore" or "discuss",
which don't necessarily seem to aim at demonstrative proof, you will write a stronger
paper if you plan for persuasion.
- Intellectual work must always respect the principles of
or it is not really getting the job done.
- Perform your analysis. You need to understand, fully, how the problems and the
evidence you're studying work. (If your ideas like to come to clarity as you're writing,
start writing now. You will be able to adapt some of this material to fit in to the main
body of your paper once you've got it framed up.)
- Boil down the results of your analysis to a single, central point. It will be the
issue about which you should try to persuade your reader.
- What does your reader need to understand in order to be able to agree that your point
is valid? Make a list of relevant pieces of evidence, and explain why each helps support
your point. (Refer to what you thought or wrote at step 1).
- Some arguments need to line up several steps of reasoning from the evidence to
your conclusions. Treat each stage of the argument as a subsidiary point, of which you will need to
persuade your reader in order to get to your central point, which ties the whole paper
together. You may want to sketch a flow-chart.
- Does your list of supporting evidence take account of all the evidence that
relates to your central point, or is there also some contrary evidence? If so, you need
to show that it does not refute your central point. Make a list, and explain why each
piece of contrary evidence does not overturn your main line of reasoning. (Refer to what
you thought or wrote at step 1).
- Organize the main body of your argument, incorporating both supporting and contrary
- Review your main body. Readjust it as necessary to meet its goals well:
- Does it take all the relevant evidence into account, explaining how it
helps or, at least, does not harm your central contention?
- Is the evidence set forth clearly enough for your expected reader to know
what you're talking about?
- Does your reasoning from the evidence make good sense? Is the logic clear?
- Does the argument keep focused on the ultimate goal you're trying to prove?
- Set your central point and your argument supporting it in context: why should your
reader care to read your paper? Write an introduction that draws the reader in to your
- Why does your central point matter? Write a conclusion that sends your reader out
from your paper, a wiser and better person (as far as the topic permits) for having
considered your arguments.
- Review the whole paper. Does it hang together? Readjust as necessary.
- Perform housecleaning, and polish as necessary:
- Proofread. Is everything spelled and formatted correctly?
- Do all the words actually mean what you want them to be saying? If you feel the
tiniest sliver of a shadow of a doubt, check a dictionary. Remember, spell-checkers only
catch things that they aren't programmed to recognize as words.
- Does all the grammar work correctly?
- Can anything be said more smoothly and directly? Long, awkward sentences can strangle
even a logically cogent argument. Too many abstract nouns waft it into irrelevance.
Passive verbs lumpishly trip it up. You want simple, vivid language, to pack a wallop.
- Proofread again.
© 1999, 2005, 2010, 2016 Jacqueline Long
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This page last updated 1/9/18.