Even though students may have taken "advanced" (I.B., advanced-placement, honors, etc.) courses in high school, they aren't always adequately prepared for writing at the college level -- even if high school teachers, the SAT, and college advisors told them they were prepared. With this fact in mind, I've compiled a list of hints for students writing in my 1000, 2000, and even 3000-level classes.
--- ULTIMATE RULE: it's our job as writers to guide readers; to be exact; to give sufficient information; to explain clearly and carefully; and to proofread our own work. Don't expect readers to "just get it"; to "just understand"; to correct your factual or writing errors; or to fill in gaps you've left. In other words, as far as your paper is concerned, you are GOD. You have final say over everything that goes in to your paper -- nothing goes in that you don't put there. The catch, however: with absolute power comes absolute responsibility.
»» We'll be writing in Modern Language Association of America (MLA) style for this class. Even though we'll discuss the applicable specifics of this format in class, read the sections on MLA style in your handbook now and begin familiarizing yourself with MLA guidelines for writing, citation/documentation, and Works Cited.
»» Do you know the UF Writing Centre? The first content pages of the course packet are the Writing Centre brochure, detailing this useful resource. The Centre offers reinforcement in specific areas, so if you go there have one or two specific items to go over. The Writing Centre is not a proofreading service -- don't walk in, hand them your paper, and say "read this" or "tell me what's wrong with this." No one pays enough for that.
»» #1 TIMESAVER: use your reading notes -- that's why you took them. (You did take good reading notes, yes?)
»» #2 TIMESAVER: write your paper in the active voice from the start. See "active voice" and "passive voice" in our writing handbook even before we discuss them in class.
»» #3(a) TIMESAVER: DO NOT MAKE YOUR PAPER UP AS YOU GO ALONG, IN ONE SITTING, AT THE KEYBOARD -- down that path awaits total disaster. You may have gotten away with it in high school, but no longer -- in college, a thrown-together paper reeks from miles away. Instead, create an outline with a thesis statement, mapping out each ¶ with its topic sentence and indicating what quotations/paraphrases/ideas you wish to borrow and cite from your reading material. STICK TO THIS OUTLINE. Believe me, the more time you spend on this kind of organizational work early on, the easier writing and revising your paper will be.
»» #3(b) TIMESAVER: trouble thinking up a thesis? MAKE ONE THAT FITS! If even composing a thesis is stopping you, try it the other way around: carry out your analysis, then look at what you have and create athesis based on that, based on what you've already written. As you'll see in "TIMESAVER #4" below, readers don't know, and won't care, in what order you wrote things, as long as everything's in the order it's supposed to be in when the paper's finished.
»» #4 TIMESAVER: If composing your paper from the introduction frustrates you or keeps you from moving on, leave writing the introduction for last -- write the actual body of the paper first and then go back and figure out what you need to do to introduce readers to what you've written. Readers will never know, and will never care, in what order you wrote the parts of your paper, as long as all the parts do their job in the final draft and read smoothly. Whomever told students to "start writing from the beginning" should be prosecuted for child abuse.
»» Academic papers are NOT personal essays -- you're studying literary works, not telling anyone how fulfilling you find them, how much you hate them, or how they changed your life; neither are you writing treatises against social injustice. Those elements encompass different kinds of writing; class discussion and the listserve provide time/space for those issues.
»» Maintain a professional voice -- don't address readers directly or coloquially (using "you"), and don't become conversational (informal tone, slang, etc.).
»» Don't tell readers that anything is "obvious" or "proves" something -- it's your job to make that thing obvious or to prove that something happens (that's why you're writng that paper!).
»» You call it a "typo"; readers call it a "distraction". Proofread!
»» START THINKING AND WRITING WITH A FABULOUS THESIS STATEMENT -- have as clear an idea
as possible of your topic before you begin (we call this
the "tentative thesis" because things may change as you write your
paper; if things do change, you can then tweak your thesis
statement for the final draft to fit what you actually achieve in the
Your thesis statement should make a claim that you defend/prove/illustrate through your paper; phrase your thesis with this intent in mind.
Example thesis statements:
Immigrants to the United States often experience assimilation.This thesis denies readers any idea of what writers and what literature the paper discusses -- you're surely not going to discuss all immigrants everywhere. (What does "experience" here mean, anyway? "Experience" makes "assimilation" sound like only an intransitive verb, which for this class it certainly isn't .)
The relation between Geok-lin Lim's sense of assimilation and its inherent "amnesiac condition" explain the narrator Maxine's experiences within her Chinese-American community in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior.This thesis tells readers what writers the paper refers to, what it uses from them, and what the paper does with that material; buried in this thesis is the claim which the paper explains or defends. (No, your thesis does not have to be as elaborate as this one -- it only needs to be as specific.)
Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye shows white solipsism.What does "show" here mean -- "show" how? Leaving "white solipsism" unmarked treats the term as something universally familiar, which it isn't.
The plight of many characters in Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye exemplify the result of what theorist Adrienne Rich terms "white solipsism."This thesis tells what novel you're writing about, the novel's author, what idea you're studying the novel through, whose idea it originally was, and what specifically you're observing in the novel through that idea.
»» In your introduction, be sure to mention/introduce
all the writers you'll refer to in your paper BY THEIR FULL NAMES. Your reader will
then know what to expect in your paper, who you'll use, and have a
general sense of what your paper's about without giving it all away.
After the introduction, refer to writers by their LAST NAME.
Remember that you neither explain nor define anything in your introduction; you only set your paper's tone and list who/what you're using and what you'll show (see entry on "thesis statement" above).
»» Fictional characters have names -- use them! Referring to a character as "that girl from Chapter 2" sounds daft; go back to Chapter 2, find out the character's name, learn it, and use it in your paper.
»» Don't confuse authors and narrators -- narrators are the voices who tell us the stories we read (even if it's an impersonal voice); authors create those narrators just like any other character. Even though Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye doesn't mean that she is Claudia Mac Teer, the narrator of most of the book.
»» Punctuate titles in MLA style: -- see your handbook and/or class motes for instructions.
»» Consult MLA guide for quoting lines of poetry: indicate line #s and reproduce line breaks as indicated by MLA guidelines.
»» Explain all special terms/concepts the first time you use them (not when you only mention them the first time in your introduction). The introduction is there only to introduce your topic; it's not the place to explain anything. Briefly define/explain a new or complex term or concept the first time you actually use it in a body ¶, and then proceed from there (since you've done the job of educating your reader in what that term/concept means, and can from there on just use the term). Why not quote the original source of that term/idea in your explanation, and name and cite that source?
»» Use quotations from both theoretical material and fiction CAREFULLY -- use quotations ONLY to
dropped/floating quotation:All we have here is a quotation that "floats" inside a student's own ¶; we have no idea what purpose it serves, or how to read it.
"In other words, individuals are the vehicles of power" (Foucault 98).
quotation with signal phrase:This writer indicates just what Foucault does when he states this phrase in his text: he insists.
Foucault insists that "individuals are the vehicles of power" (Foucault 98).
»» When quoting or providing examples, provide also a sentence that connects your quotation/example with, or puts it into context of, your paper. Ask yourself, "what's my reader supposed to get from this quotation/example?"
»» DOUBLE-CHECK ALL QUOTATIONS AND REFERENCES for accuracy -- don't mislead readers, and don't make yourself look unprofessional, irresponsible, or foolish.
»» Don't put anything in your paper that isn't directly/explicitly tied to your thesis, no matter how interesting you find that other piece of information. It's already understood that your paper reflects your opinion/interpretation anyway, so don't soliloquize.
»» Make each ¶ focus on only ONE topic -- anything else gets its own ¶.
»» Transitions from ¶ to ¶ go at the BEGINNING of the next ¶, NOT at the END of the previous ¶.
»» Expand your vocabulary! You must accomplish this feat on your own. Read news journals like Newsweek and cultural magazines like The New Yorker, listen to NPR news on the radio (WUFT 89.1FM), flip through academic journals -- all sources of advanced vocabulary and linguistic style. Flip through a college dictionary or a thesaurus instead of sports or entertainment magazines at home. Even films -- like Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close and John Malkovitch -- offer linguistic complexity. You'll soon realize that "big words," "five-dollar words," and "SAT words" aren't "big" at all -- they're just specific.
»» Do not approach either your papers with a "but-I-thought-you're-supposed-to-grade-me-on-my-ideas " attitude -- this is, after all, a writing course. Even the best ideas are utterly useless if they're buried in bad writing. If writing errors and carelessness distract me (and anyone else) from your ideas, then there's no point. Therefore, we will work on revising and rewriting your drafts -- but you must pay attention to your work!.
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