Formal writing tips
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Formal Writing Tips. A variety of ways to improve your formal writing. Topic Vs. Thesis. A thesis is a specific opinion about a topic. Topic: Are movies too violent?

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Formal Writing Tips

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Formal writing tips

Formal Writing Tips

A variety of ways to improve your formal writing.

Topic vs thesis

Topic Vs. Thesis

A thesis is a specific opinion about a topic.

Topic: Are movies too violent?

Thesis: Even popular, PG-rated movies such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire use themes of violent competitiveness and images of murder to tell their stories.

Topic: Joy can be found in everyday life.

Thesis: Although his life had started with sorrow, Babe grew to love his place on the farm and his relationships with those around him.

Do not summarize

Do Not Summarize

  • Unless the topic says so, do not summarize!

  • Assume your readers have already read the text and now want to hear your opinion on it

  • Effective formal writing is centered around an argument—something that you must prove to your reader

Avoid self reference

Avoid Self-Reference

  • Unless you have been asked to write a personal narrative or editorial, do not say “I” (or me, my, myself)

  • Why? Because it presents your idea as an opinion—which is easy to argue with. Instead, present it as factual, so that it doesn’t invite argument

  • Example:

    • NO: I believe that polar bears are cute.

    • YES: Polar bears are cute.



  • Italicize titles of longer works—things normally published or produced on their own

    • Novels, movies, TV series, music albums, etc.

    • E.g. The Cat in the Hat, The Simpsons, Thriller

  • Use quotation marks for shorter works—things normally published or produced in an anthology or collection

    • Short stories, poems, TV series episodes, songs, etc.

    • E.g. “Little Red Riding Hood”, “O, Canada”

Titles names

Titles & Names

  • Spell them right!

  • If you mess up something this important, your reader will wonder what else you overlooked

Introducing texts

Introducing Texts

  • Avoid summary—but still clearly introduce the title(s), character(s), and situation(s)

    • Tip: Assume your readers read the text a long time ago and need a refresher before you begin

  • In the introduction, state the text and/or character you will be talking about, but leave the details for later. Example:

    • NO: Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkein’sThe Hobbit, written in 1937…

    • YES: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit…

Using quotes

Using Quotes

  • Have at least one long, or two short, quotes (or other evidence) per point. Don’t pick quotes that are very similar—you will sound repetitive

  • Integrate quotes into your own sentences

    • NO: “Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink.” This is ironic.

    • YES: The narrator ironically states, “[w]ater, water, everywhere,/[n]or any drop to drink.”

  • Use [ ] to change the tense of the quote to match your writing

    • NO: While we cringe at toilet humor, “they laughed for hours.”

    • YES: While we cringe at toilet humor, “they [laugh] for hours.”

  • Use an ellipsis (…) to take something out of the middle of a quote (usually when the quote is too long). But be careful not to take out too much, or the meaning can change!

    • Example: As one critic pointed out, “Macbeth is guilty for two reasons: because of the deeds he actually committed…and because of his desire to commit them.”

  • Give long quotations (3+ lines of poetry or 4 lines of prose) their own indented paragraphs

  • When quoting poetry, use a slash (/) to show the original line break

    • Example: Hopkins describes it as gathering “to a greatness, like the ooze of oil/crushed.”



  • Always capitalize names, titles, and the first letter of every sentence

  • Missing this is a sign of lazy writing and poor proofreading

Verb tenses

Verb Tenses

  • Be careful not to shift between: pastpresentfuture

  • When writing about fictional events, write in the present tense

    • NO: In Chapter One, the animals on the farm learnedabout Old Major’s dream.

    • YES: In Chapter One, the animals on the farm learn about Old Major’s dream.

Oops i made a mistake

Oops—I Made a Mistake!

  • If you make more than one draft, your final draft should have NO mistakes or typos. However, if you notice an error two seconds before handing in your work, neatly use “white-out” or cross out the mistake and, just as neatly, fix it

  • If you are only making one draft (e.g. in-class essay):

    • Small mistakes (like a misspelled word) can be “whited out” or crossed out neatly and fixed

    • Large mistakes (like taking out a whole paragraph) should be crossed out neatly—once—through each line to be ignored

  • If you need to add a section, write it at the end of your draft and indicate with an asterisk (*) where it goes

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