How do I get better at writing?
Know the rules of writing and learn when to break
them. Establish a schedule for writing and stick to it.
Write regularly. Practice, practice, practice.
Q: What is a good time to write?
A: The same time.
Read good writers.
In your opening sentences, give readers some
background information about the issue you have
chosen to debate; as you do this, establish your own
credibility by showing that you are knowledgeable and
At the end of your first paragraph, state your thesis—
your own stand on the debatable issue. Provide your
Build common ground with readers who may disagree
with your position on the issue.
Attempt to refute opposing arguments—or at least to
explain why they are less weighty than your own
• An argumentative paper will have a strong claim for
which you can imagine an intelligent opposition.
• Define your central terms and stick to your definitions.
• You should support your claims with quotations from
other texts. Take a stand on the issue and defend your
position to a general audience of intelligent but skeptical
readers. Evaluate a source carefully before deciding to
use it. Anticipate objections to your thesis.
online: author, date
online vs. print
Create a bibliography
Web search engines often amass vast results, from
memos to scholarly documents. Many of the resulting
items will be peripheral or useless for your research
Source. Author/producer is identifiable. Author/producer
has expertise on the subject as indicated on a credentials
page. You may need to trace back in the URL (Internet
address) to view a page in a higher directory with
background information sponsor/location of the site is
appropriate to the material as shown in the URL.
Don't take the information presented at face value
point of view
evidence of bias
Source of the information should be clearly stated,
whether original or borrowed from elsewhere
Prefer sources with named authors; do not rely heavily
on unsigned articles or anonymous Web site material.
People judge you based
on your communication skills.
Every essay or report you ever write should have a
title, and that title should give prospective readers a
sense not only of your topic, but also of your thesis.
College-level papers are ideally essays that create
their own context, and not private correspondences
between students and their professors. The title
should be centered on the first page.
• Enforce a unity of pronoun (e.g., first person),
unity of tense and mood.
Quotation Marks vs. Apostrophes
Never substitute an apostrophe, <’>, for a quotation
mark, <”>, and never use a quotation mark unless
you’re really quoting. Students often use
apostrophes when they are paraphrasing a
stereotypical view, or use apostrophes for what are
often called “scare quotes”—an indication that one
is quoting an opinion which one does not really
believe. Don’t make this mistake. The only time you
should use apostrophes to indicate a quotation is
when you find yourself needing to present a
quotation within a quotation:
With whom did Alan go out last night?
With whom do you think you’re speaking to?
Whom you know counts more than what you
The breakfast menu included ham and eggs, pancakes,
omelets, and french toast.
an honorary degree
a hospital, a hotel
Avoid using passive constructions whenever
possible. You all should know what a passive
construction looks like by now:
“A compositional error was committed”; as opposed
to “Johnny committed several compositional
errors.” Passive constructions conceal questions of
agency, precisely the questions with which critical
essays should be most concerned. Passive
constructions most frequently appear when a writer
Samantha went to the store. She forgot to buy milk.
Samantha went to the store; she forgot to buy milk.
Samantha went to the store, she forgot to buy milk.
i.e. versus e.g.
quot;I.e.quot; stands simply for quot;that quot;E.g.quot; means quot;for example.quot;
quot;I.e.quot; is used in place of quot;in It is used in expressions
other words,quot; or quot;it/that is.quot; similar to quot;including,quot; when
It specifies or makes more you are not intending to list
clear. everything that is being
Respect the difference between hyphens, <->, and
dashes, <-->. They mean very different things. When
you wish to use a dash, type the hyphen key twice.
He versus him
Do not assume that humanity can be universally
described by the male pronouns. If you feel you
must use pronouns in the abstract (i.e., not for a
specific person), do not use “he” and “him”
exclusively. There are a number of stylistic
substitutions you can use. You can use “him/her,”
“s/he,” or, “him or her.” You may also alternate
pronouns from one usage to the next.
The roads were almost impassable. However, we at last
succeeded in reaching the camp.
The roads were almost impassable. At last, however, we
succeeded in reaching the camp.
You should avoid presenting quotations as
independent sentences, unless you are block
quoting. Introduce a quotation, and then set it off
with a comma or a colon.
Ellipses, < . . . >, are unnecessary at the beginning
or end of quotations—it is assumed that you are
excerpting when you quote. Use ellipses when you
interrupt a quotation.
The word “this” is not a pronoun: it cannot be used
as the subject of a sentence without an
accompanying noun or noun-phrase. The only
exception to this rule is when “this” is immediately
followed by a verb of being. “This is a case in point.”
But, for your purposes, it is better to avoid the
The punctuating of quotations. Periods and
commas, in American convention always go inside
quotation marks; colons and semi-colons go outside
(if you use a book published in Britain you’ll find
that different conventions pertain). Consider the
In Eliot’s view, poetry cannot be written without a
sufficiently developed “historical sense,” a sense he
finds “indispensable to any one who would
continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth
year” (Selected Essays, 4).
Its and It’s.
The possessive for a non-gendered object is “its.”
For example, “When opening the peanut butter, I
lost its cap.” The contraction for “it is” is “it’s.”