Essay Pointers

Professor Fleming


·     Always begin with a clear, unambiguous thesis statement which lays out everything you are going to talk about.


·     A thesis must be an argument: it must be a statement which someone else might disagree with, and which you will have to defend.  If your thesis is a statement of fact, it is not a thesis.


·     Include your conclusion in the thesis.  It’s not a mystery story or a TV commercial.  I should be able to read your thesis instead of your paper.



·    Avoid colloquial (“coll.”) writing.  There are many thing which are perfectly acceptable to SAY, but not necessarily appropriate in formal, academic writing. 

                        **Hamlets actions are whack.

                       **Claudius is on thin ice at this point


·     I often have question marks after “coll.”; this suggest that I am not sure whether or not this is formal enough, but invite you to think about it before you use the same word/expression in writing.


·     Try to keep the “I” out of your writing, but don’t get carried away. 

Sometimes, using the first-person personal pronoun might be clearest way of expressing something, but it is very often not necessary at all.  Certainly do not begin many sentences with anything like I believe .  Because of the fact that you wrote this paper, I believe” is implied in every sentence, so you never have to say it.


·       Be as concise as possible; “tighten up” your writing:

This is a tremendously useful skill, which is widely applicable in the real world


   Don’t waste words.  Don’t use two sentences if you can say it in one:

Shakespeare wrote a famous play called Hamlet.  In this play, the main character is named Hamlet.  Hamlets father has recently died.  His uncle is now king, and Hamlet does not know how to deal with this.

    Clunky, wordy, not concise


In Shakespeares Hamlet, the title character is forced to decide how he is going to cope with the fact that his uncle has succeeded his recently deceased father.” 

   All the same facts, but clear, concise and formal


·     Support all your arguments with clear textual support.  Prove to me that what your saying is true.  In other disciplines there are lots of ways to do this.  In literary studies, the proof is the text.  You may “feel” lots of things about the text, but the only things which can strongly support your arguments are quotations from the text.


·     Quote wisely: Don’t drop a ten-line block quotation on the middle of your paper and expect for it to speak for itself.  Read closely and decide the most important sections—or even words—within the quotation and pull them out.


·     Introduce and explain your quotations, but don’t over explain.