Give the paper a meaningful title. Think of one that sums up your thesis. If you donít have a good title, maybe you havenít found a focused thesis yet. Begin with explaining the title/thesis. Donít start with general statements, or with historical background of the problem.
Work from an outline. A thesis develops through the paper. Following an outline facilitates a flowing and unrepetitive writing and ensures that your reader stays with you.† A paper usually follows the following structure: (1) Beginning paragraph: stating the argument made in the paper and its importance (why should the reader bother with the paper?);†† Introducing the text at hand. (2) Body: advancing the argument, one point at a time.† Each point is made in a separate paragraph, starting with a topic sentence, introducing the material (quote or paraphrase), explaining the material, and ending with an analytical perspective on the material.† (3) Conclusion: what have we learned from the paper?† What are the consequences of the argument?† What questions are left open?
Donít try to reiterate all that the primary text says. You need to refer only to what is relevant to your point. Take it for granted that a text is inexhaustible. You are better off relating to a small point and expanding on it.†
Paraphrase rather than include long quotes. Quote a text only when it uses particular rhetoric which you are about to analyze or that presents an argument in an inimitable manner. Rephrasing a text in your words helps you understand it better, shows the reader your mastery of the text and clarifies how you understand it (which may differ from othersí understanding).
Donít be wordy or too colloquial. Write as if you pay for every single word. Use a word rather than a phrase, a short word rather than a long one, and a simple one rather than an uncommon one. Choose your words for accuracy and consult your dictionaries and thesaurus frequently. "Donít be wordy" reads better than "Refrain from being verbose."† On the other hand, donít write the way you talk. Remember that vague descriptions, dangling pronouns and other monsters that lurk behind every comma. Talking of commas, familiarize yourself with standard English punctuation.
Use secondary sources critically. For a regular undergraduate paper, secondary sources are not necessary.† Encyclopedias are the trickiest ó what they say is supposed to be common knowledge, not research, and they usually do not need to be quoted.† Yet encyclopedias are written by people, biased as we all are (which is why they are continuously revised).
Make revisions.† Donít write at the last minute ó it always shows. Revision makes up at least half of the writing process. Leave the paper aside for a couple of days, if possible, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. The best revisers end up the best writers. Show the paper to other readers ó a friend, a writing consultant, or both.
Do not write the way you speak (clarify causal relation between sentences; choose the precise words carefully and avoid generalized verbs); avoid the passive voice, dangling pronouns and unspecified pronouns.
††††††††††† †Describe fictional narrative only in the present simple; start with a punch-line rather than with a historical survey of the theme; check spelling (including names); pay attention to verb-noun coordination; explain quotation marks unless used for quoting.
Work out from a very short passage or scene and a limited set of questions; †substantiate the argument with textual evidence.
††††††††††† Do not base your findings on personal reaction; do not assume how others may understand the scene or the directorís intentions; do not quote if you can paraphrase; provide plot synopsis only when it serves your argument; do not mention irrelevant details.
Provide a clear argument in the beginning and work systematically through its implications; make sure that the argument does not rely only on what has already been discussed in class or secondary material.
††††††††††† Aim for formulations to which your friends will react, ďI never thought about that!Ē; keep the same level of innovation and motivated questioning throughout the paper.