Ten Tips for Good Writing

Ten Tips for Good Writing:

The following tips cover the most common student errors. Please re-read them before submitting your essays.

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  1. Thesis and conclusion: Your first paragraph should contain the main idea of the essay and list the main examples that you will explore. Restate the thesis and main examples in your conclusion in a way that sheds new light on the topic and wraps it all up.
  2. Avoid self-reference.You may refer to yourself in the essay, but don’t refer to the essay, or your writing of the essay, in the essay itself.

Weak: “In this essay I will write about how The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest novel ever written.”

Much stronger: “The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest novel ever written.”

Don’t tell your reader the behind the scenes story of your essay.

Weak: “When I was first deciding which story to write about for this essay, I wasn’t sure which one to choose. I finally decided to write about ‘The Story of an Hour’ which is a fine example of the third person point of view.”

Much stronger: “’The Story of an Hour’ is a fine example of the third person point of view.”

Have an opinion and state it. Cut all phrases such as “I believe,” “I think” and “In my opinion.” If you wrote the essay, we know it’s your opinion.

Weak: “In my opinion, The Color Purple is a fine and moving novel.”

Much stronger: “The Color Purple is a fine and moving novel.”

  1. Write in statements, not questions. 

Weak: “What is a role model? Do you have a role model? Why do people need role models?”

Much stronger: “Role models are people who inspire us.”

  1. Always use specific details and examples. If you’re writing about “my sister” or “my country,” your reader needs to know your sister’s name – and which 

If you’re writing about how your grandfather always made you feel better when you were feeling down, tell the reader about a specific time when his did this— and the impact it had on you.

Never use “etc.” (which means “and so on and so forth”). Be specific.

  1. Sentence structure: Each sentence needs a subject and a verb and expresses one idea. If it’s missing a subject or a verb, it’s a  If it contains more than one idea, it’s a run-on. Make sure that each sentence is clear, specific, and to the point.
  2. Word choice: Always use the most specific, direct word or phrase you can. Don’t try to sound intelligent or fancy – it always backfires. Don’t write about individuals or human beings— write about

Weak: “The most important person in my life would have to be my mother.”

Much stronger: “The most important person in my life is my mother.”

Don’t over-use the word “that.” “John is a person who is admired by many people.” “France is a place where most people speak French.” “The 1960s were a time when a lot of social unrest began.” “Gifts are things that everyone enjoys receiving.”

Keep tenses (past, present or future) and plurals consistent throughout the same sentence.

  1. Paragraph structure: Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that relates to your thesis, and support the topic sentence with a specific example.

A paragraph is one idea thoroughly explored. When you move on to the next idea, indent five spaces and start a new paragraph. Double space throughout.

A page is not a paragraph. If you have a full page with no paragraph breaks, break it up into different paragraphs. New idea = new paragraph.

  1. Give credit where credit is due: When writing about literature, or an essay that another author has written, always credit the author(s) and title(s) of the work you’re writing about in the thesis.The first time you mention the author, use their first and last name (William Faulkner). Thereafter, refer to the author by last name only (Faulkner).
  2. Titles: The titles of books, full-length works, movies, and plays should be written in italics with all major words capitalized. The titles of short works (stories, articles, essays, and poems) should be written in“quotes” with all major words capitalized.

And most importantly when analyzing another writer’s work:

  1. Analyze, don’t summarize. The biggest trap you can fall into when writing about literature or another writer’s work is merely summarizing the work. Assume that your reader has already read the work,and your essay is an analysiscalling attention to specific aspects of the work that your reader may not have noticed.

To make sure that you’re analyzing (vs. summarizing), begin each paragraph with a statement about the workThen support your statement with a quote from the work itself.


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