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How to Write a Paper. Compiled from many sources; revised by L. Thornton, J. Pound and L. Woods. 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 ”

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How to Write a Paper

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How to write a paper

How to Write a Paper

Compiled from many sources; revised by L. Thornton, J. Pound and L. Woods

The title

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

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

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

    • “A Little More than Kin”: Fathers and Sons in Hamlet

  • 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

The Introduction

  • Yes, they are hard to write

  • How do you introduce something you haven’t written yet when you don’t know what it is you are going to say?

  • It can either draw the reader in or turn the reader off

The introduction1

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

The Introduction: How to Begin


  • 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 begin1

The Introduction: How to Begin

  • Hardest: A Brief Example or Anecdote



    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

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

How to write a paper

  • Don’t 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?

How to write a paper

  • 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”.

How to write a paper

  • Three characteristics of a good thesis

    • Non-trivial, something that must be PROVEN

    • Clearly expressed so that the reader knows exactly what you are trying to prove

    • Fairly specific

  • A road map of the body of the paper

The body paragraphs

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

Body Paragraphs

  • Four features of body paragraphs

    • Paragraph unity

    • Paragraph transitions

    • Paragraph coherence or “flow”

    • Paragraph development

Paragraph unity

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 unity1

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

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 transitions1

Paragraph Transitions

No Paragraph Transitions


BP 1

BP 3

BP 2

Paragraph transitions2

Paragraph Transitions

Paragraph Transitions

Good Paragraph Transitions


BP 1

BP 3

BP 2

Paragraph transitions3

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

Paragraph Coherence or “Flow”

  • How you move from sentence to sentence within a paragraph

  • Clarity

    • Grammatical

      • Sentence Structure

      • Verb Tense

    • Ideas

      • Related to the topic sentence

      • Related to sentences before and after

Paragraph coherence or flow1

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 topic sentence and text evidence

Paragraph Development:Topic Sentence and Text Evidence

  • Main point spelled out clearly and thoroughly

    • Within the topic sentence—first sentence of the paragraph

  • Main point supported with good textual evidence/CD/Concrete Detail/Facts

    • 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 text evidence quotes

Paragraph Development:Text Evidence/Quotes

  • 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 per paragraph)

Paragraph development integrating quotes

Paragraph Development:Integrating Quotes

  • Integrate the quotation smoothly into your own prose (words)

  • 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 quote integration

Paragraph Development:Quote Integration

  • Grammatically correct

    • Commas

    • Quotation mark

  • Syntactically correct

    • No fragments or run-ons

  • Stylistically correct

    • MLA format

    • Author and page number after the sentence, before the period.

Paragraph development commentary cm analysis

Paragraph Development:Commentary/CM/Analysis

  • EXPLAIN yourquotes/paraphrase/proof

    • What the quotation shows

    • How it supports or illustrates your point

    • At least one piece of analysis for EVERY quote

    • DO NOT assume your reader is following your logic

  • More Sophisticated:

    • “Weave” your CM into the sentence with your quote

    • Work towards having two pieces of analysis for every quote.

Strategies for writing a conclusion

Strategies for Writing a Conclusion

Conclusions are often the most difficult part of an essay to write, and many writers feel that they have nothing left to say after having written the paper.

A conclusion should

  • stress the importance of the thesis statement

  • give the essay a sense of completeness

  • leave a final impression on the reader

Suggestions for conclusions

Suggestions for Conclusions

  • Answer the question "So What?"

    • Show your readers why this paper was important. Show them that your paper was meaningful and useful.

  • Synthesize, don't summarize

    • Don't simply repeat things that were in your paper. They have read it. Show them how the points you made and the support and examples you used were not random, but fit together.

  • Redirect your readers

    • Give your reader something to think about, perhaps a way to use your paper in the "real" world. If your introduction went from general to specific, make your conclusion go from specific to general. Think globally.

Suggestions for conclusions1

Suggestions for Conclusions

  • What is the most important idea with which I want to leave my reader?

  • What should I stress about the character and/or theme?

  • How does this character and/or theme tie to life in general, to human nature?

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