Nick's 2000/3000-level Writing Tips

Unlikely as it may seem, students at the 2000 and 3000 levels often need help in writing their papers. 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 2000/3000-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.

»» Get a college writing handbook and read the sections on MLA style now -- you'll write in this format for this class, so familiarize yourself with MLA guidelines for writing, citation/documentation, and Works Cited right now, before you even start.

»» See also packet pages on editing and revising (early in the packet) for help in tightening your language.

»» Do you know the UF Writing Centre? The first content pages of the course packet are the Writing Centre brochure, detailing this useful resource.

»» #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 whatever writing handbook you've selected.

»» #3 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.

»» #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 they all 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 paper).
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:

»» 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 early pages of course packet for help.

»» 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

As to the mechanics of quotations, here are some pointers to add to whatever you find in your chosen handbook:

»» 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 END of the previous ¶, NOT at the beginning of the next ¶.

»» 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 or the editing sheets you receive with a "but-I-thought-you're-supposed-to-grade-me-on-my-ideas " attitude -- as I indicate on both the syllabus and on the editing sheets you receive with each initial paper draft, 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. I expect you to revise and rewrite your papers.

Any other advice, tips, pointers, or specifics will be discussed in class, in conference, and on the revision sheets you'll receive with your initial paper draft. HEED THESE ITEMS -- they're here to make both our work easier.

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