Essay Writing Guidelines
The Writing Process
We’ve already begun the process because we have been taking notes while reading, highlighting important passages, noticing repetition of imagery, and tracing a theme throughout your reading. All your small and large group discussion posts are excellent prewriting exercises for writing on literature. Another part of your process would be to review your own discussion posts, reread the lectures, and consider how your ideas on the paper topic have developed. Jot down inspiring thoughts that come your way. Some critics make indexes of their own in the back of the book or in the margins so that they can notice important repetitions of scenes and/or ideas. You might start formulating a thesis by asking yourself questions, or by discussing questions online with others in the class or friends who have read the stories.
Your next step might be to make an outline. But you need not be so rigid about following this outline. Some people prefer making maps or drawings about their argument. I begin by selecting scenes that I think work well together. I spend some time analyzing them separately. Then I bring them together in my draft. When I bring them together, I work at making smooth transitions between them.
The Writing Paradox
Begin with a thesis but realize that during the course of writing your paper you may discover the need to revise or refine that thesis. This is normal and part of the writing process. Allow yourself enough time for this kind of necessary and fruitful revision. Remember, your responsibility as a writer is to demonstrate your thesis to your reader. Your evidence is the work under discussion. You may not have developed this thesis until you have written at least one and maybe more drafts. So in your process, the thesis comes near the end. But in your paper, you must begin with this thesis and proceed to show your reader exactly how one could arrive at that thesis.
The Difference between a Topic and a Thesis
Once you have chosen one of the topics provided, you must take a position on that topic. Your thesis is the position you take and in your thesis sentence you express the position you will support throughout the paper. The thesis is your idea on the topic. It focuses the topic of your paper on particular scenes and/or characters; it defines abstract ideas like violence with concrete scenes; it explains why these scenes and/or characters are important to the point you are making about the stories considered together.
You usually build your opening paragraph around your thesis. In the rest of your paper, you carefully support your thesis with evidence from the stories. Thus, each paragraph is organized around an idea that in turn supports your thesis. The thesis answers the question, So What? What are you going to tell your reader about the topic? Your thesis represents your position on the topic you have chosen and reveals something meaningful about the stories.
Build in Transitions.
When you are supporting your thesis, you want to be thinking about how certain evidence connects with other evidence. The most effective essays place persuasive evidence in the beginning. Avoid holding off on evidence because you want an element of surprise. This approach usually only confuses the reader. Establish your credibility at the beginning. And a strong point is your best means of doing that. Then carry your reader through your evidence with well thought out transitions.
The convention when writing about actions in literature is to use the present tense (regardless of the tense the author uses). Since we are not writing research papers, most of your text will be in the present tense. Be consistent in your use of tense. Also use the active rather than the passive voice. Use strong verbs!
Use quotes selectively. Your job is to support your thesis with textual evidence. Your job is not to retype the novel or memoir. When you use direct quotes from the work, make sure they are accurate and place them in your text within double quotation marks. Introduce the quote with a phrase, and then comment specifically upon it to defend your inclusion of it. Explain why the language or phrase is important to your thesis.
A good title often reflects a good essay. Sometimes, if you are having difficulty with a title, that difficulty may reflect a lack of focus in your essay. A good title should be succinct and give the reader some general idea of what your essay is about.
In your opening paragraphs you introduce the author's full name and the title of the work you are discussing. Thereafter refer to the author by her last name. Characters are usually referred to with the name the narrator most frequently uses. The format for quotations is that you close the quote, place the page number within parentheses, and put the punctuation mark outside the parenthesis. If you are writing on two works, and for some reason it is not clear from which you have taken the passage, include the author's last name in the parentheses. For example: (Jacobs 101).