How to Write a Paper



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How to Write a Paper

    • Compiled from many sources; revised by L. Thornton, made into powerpoint by J. Pound, and shamlessly made “pretty” by C. Murphy

The Title

  • Vital because it is the reader’s first impression. CLARITY IS ESSENTIAL
  • Three to avoid
    • The title of the work: “Hamlet” or “Shakespeare’s Hamlet
    • “An Analysis (or Discussion or Interpretation, etc.) of Hamlet”
    • The creative title that means something to you but not to the reader: “She Loves Him, She Loves Him Not”

How to develop a good Title

  • Think about the title while working on the paper
  • Brainstorm and generate a list of possibilities
  • It MUST contain:
    • Author
    • Work
    • Topic

Examples of Effective titles

  • Fathers and Sons in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Fate vs. Choice in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
  • Use a phrase from the work that is related to your topic or that appears in a key passage and add a subtitle with the required author/title/topic
  • Be creative AND keep the required elements
    • She Loves Him, She Loves Him Not: Dido’s Changing Love for Aeneas in Virgil’s The Aeneid

The Introduction

  • Yes, they are hard to write
  • How do you introduce something you have not written yet when you do not know what it is you are going to say?
  • It can either draw the reader in or turn the reader off

The Introduction

  • DO NOT
    • Make the mistake of trying to write it first
    • Turn the reader off by making a general, sweeping, trite opening
    • Begin with a “since the beginning of time” opening
      • Example: “Throughout history, fathers and sons have had complicated relationships.”
    • Begin with the thesis. (The thesis is the LAST SENTENCE!)‏

The Introduction: How to Begin

  • Easiest:
  • 1-3 sentences of summary about the play, novel, passage
  • One sentence thesis at the end
  • Harder: Quotation
  • “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Hamlet’s first words immediately draw attention to the nature of his relationship with his step-father, Claudius.

The Introduction: How to Begin

  • Hardest: A Brief Example or Anecdote
  • (BE CAREFUL!! THIS MAY
  • LEAD TO PLOT SUMMARY)‏
  • Having only recently seen off Laertes with his blessing and with advice about the virtues of honesty, Polonius hires one of his sons friends to spread false rumors about Laertes’ behavior that he might “by indirections find directions out” (3.2.72). Such deception, however, is common to the father-son relationships in Hamlet.”

The Thesis

  • Last sentence of your introductory paragraph (my preference)‏
  • One sentence (my preference)‏
  • Stated with enough clarity and economy that the reader knows EXACTLY what the paper will argue

Do not confuse the topic with the thesis

  • Do not confuse the topic with the thesis
  • Topic: The paper’s subject
  • Thesis: The paper’s argument about the subject
  • Bad Example #1: “Hamlet contains many father-son relationships.” Yeah, SO?
    • Ask: “Is this a statement with which someone could reasonably disagree?
  • Bad Example #2: “By examining the various father-son relationships in Hamlet, we can determine Shakespeare’s views about them.”
    • What ARE Shakespeare’s views?
    • What will your examination of the play’s father-son relationships reveal?
  • It is not necessary to announce your thesis with such expressions as “This paper will argue” or “In this paper I will show that”.

Three characteristics of a good thesis

  • Three characteristics of a good thesis
  • A road map of the body of the paper

The Body Paragraphs

  • Your excellent thesis provided a road map
  • The body MUST FOLLOW the map
  • Lead the reader through your argument, step by step

Body Paragraphs

  • Four features of body paragraphs
    • Paragraph unity
    • Paragraph transitions
    • Paragraph coherence or “flow”
    • Paragraph development

Paragraph Unity

  • Each paragraph must make a single, main point
  • DO NOT shift topics
  • Disunity frustrates readers
    • What am I supposed to be getting out of this?
    • What point is the writer making?
    • What am I supposed to be looking for?
  • Since your teacher is your reader, it is best to avoid frustrating him or her. 

Paragraph Unity

  • The expression of that single, main point is made in the topic sentence, which is the first sentence of the paragraph (my rule)‏
    • Work at writing an explicit topic sentence for every paragraph
    • Ask “What is the point that I want to make in this paragraph? What is it, exactly, that I am trying to say?”
    • During revision, make sure that EVERY sentence in the paragraph relates to the single, main point made in the topic sentence

Paragraph Transitions

  • The topic sentence must establish a transition from the previous paragraph
  • Relate main point of the new paragraph relate to the main point of the previous one
  • Chronological structure
    • Good idea for your paper
    • Bad idea for your transitions/argument
    • Review transitional words/phrases

Paragraph Transitions

  • No Paragraph Transitions
  • Thesis
  • BP 1
  • BP 2
  • BP 3

Paragraph Transitions

  • Good Paragraph Transitions
  • Thesis
  • BP 1
  • BP 2
  • BP 3

Paragraph Transitions

  • Each paragraph relates to thesis
  • Each paragraph relates to other paragraphs
  • Transitions make it possible for your READER (me ) to follow your ideas and argument

Paragraph Coherence or “Flow”

  • How you move from sentence to sentence within a paragraph
  • Clarity
    • Grammatical
      • Sentence Structure
      • Verb Tense
    • Ideas

Paragraph Coherence or “Flow”

  • Avoid the machine gun style
    • Each sentence fires a new but self-contained bullet of information
    • Relationship between each bullet unclear to the reader
    • “Choppy”
    • Turns into plot summary
    • Argument is lost
    • Reader must become “mind reader”

Paragraph Development

  • Main point spelled out clearly and thoroughly
    • Within the topic sentence—first sentence of the paragraph
  • Main point supported with good textual evidence
    • Quotes
    • Paraphrasing (if directed by your teacher
    • Choose the best evidence: that which most directly proves your point
    • Cut ALL text evidence that does NOT support your point

Paragraph Development

  • How many quotes? It depends!
  • You must examine your CLAIM (thesis)‏
    • If you claim that something is true throughout the work, then your proof must come from several places
    • Seldom will one quote sufficiently prove your point (except for TAKS)‏
    • Generally more is better (I like three)‏

Paragraph Development

  • Incorporating quotes
    • Give adequate context for the quotation
      • Where within the story the quote occurs
      • Who is speaking
      • What, exactly, is happening at this point

Paragraph Development

  • Integrate the quotation smoothly into your own prose (words)‏
      • Grammatically correct
        • Commas
        • Quotation mark
      • Syntactically correct
      • Stylistically correct
        • MLA format
        • Author and page number after the sentence, before the period.

Paragraph Development

  • EXPLAIN your quotes/paraphrase/proof
    • What the quotation shows
    • How it supports or illustrates your point
    • DO NOT assume your reader is following your logic


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