Advice on academic writing || University of toronto
LEEIV, ISFD 18
GENERAL ADVICE ON ACADEMIC ESSAY-WRITING
• An essay should have an argument. It
should try to prove something by reasoning
• It should formulate a thesis or hypothesis.
• The organization should be designed to
present your argument clearly and
ORGANIZING AN ESSAY
The best time to think about how to organize your paper is during the pre-writing
stage, not the writing or revising stage. A well-thought-out plan can save
you from having to do a lot of reorganizing when the first draft is completed.
Moreover, it allows you to pay more attention to sentence-level issues when
you sit down to write your paper.
When you begin planning, ask the following questions: What type of essay am I
going to be writing? Does it belong to a specific genre? Knowing the patterns
of reasoning associated with a genre can help you to structure your essay.
Understanding genre can take you only so far. Most university essays are
argumentative, and there is no set pattern for the shape of an argumentative
You must be ready to come up with whatever essay structure helps you to
convince your reader of the validity of your position. In other words, you
must be flexible, and you must rely on your wits. Each essay presents a
AVOIDING A COMMON PITFALL
The structure of an essay should not be
determined by the structure of its source
If your essay is not well structured, then its
overall weaknesses will show through in the
WHAT IS A REVERSEOUTLINE?
When you have completed your first draft, and you think your
paper can be better organized, consider using a reverse
outline. Reverse outlines are simple to create. Just read
through your essay, and every time you make a new point,
summarize it in the margin. If the essay is reasonably well-
organized, you should have one point in the margin for each
paragraph, and your points read out in order should form a
HOW MUCH OF MYTIME SHOULD I PUT INTO PLANNING?
Planning provides the following advantages:
• It helps you to produce a logical and orderly argument that your
readers can follow.
• It helps you to produce an economical paper by allowing you to spot
• It helps you to produce a thorough paper by making it easier for you
to notice whether you have left anything out.
• It makes drafting the paper easier by allowing you to concentrate on
writing issues such as grammar, word choice, and clarity.
When you are asked to write an essay that creates an argument, your reader will
probably expect a clear statement of your position. Here are some
characteristics of good thesis statements:
• It makes a definite and limited assertion that needs to be
explained and supported by further discussion.
• It shows the emphasis and indicates the methodology of
• It shows awareness of difficulties and disagreements.
INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
A good introduction should identify your topic, provide essential
context, and indicate your particular focus in the essay. It
also needs to engage your readers’ interest. A strong
conclusion will provide a sense of closure to the essay while
again placing your concepts in a somewhat wider context. It
will also, in some instances, add a stimulus to further
SOME GENERAL ADVICE ABOUT INTRODUCTIONS
• Some students cannot begin writing the body of the essay until they feel they
have the perfect introduction. Be aware of the dangers of sinking too much
time into the introduction. Some of that time can be more usefully channeled
into planning and writing.
• You may be the kind of writer who writes an introduction first in order to
explore your own thinking on the topic. If so, remember that you may at a
later stage need to compress your introduction.
• It can be fine to leave the writing of the introduction for a later stage in the
essay-writing process. Some people write their introduction only after they
have completed the rest of the essay. Others write the introduction first but
rewrite it significantly in light of what they end up saying in the body of their
SOME GENERAL ADVICE ABOUT INTRODUCTIONS
• The introductions for most papers can be effectively written in one paragraph
occupying half to three-quarters of the first page. Your introduction may be
longer than that, and it may take more than one paragraph, but be sure you
know why. The size of your introduction should bear some relationship to the
length and complexity of your paper.
• Get to the point as soon as possible. Generally, you want to raise your topic
in your very first sentences. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
• If your essay has a thesis, your thesis statement will typically appear at the
end of your introduction, even though that is not a hard-and-fast rule. You
may, for example, follow your thesis with a brief road map to your essay that
sketches the basic structure of your argument. The longer the paper, the
more useful a road map becomes.
SOME GENERAL ADVICE ABOUT CONCLUSIONS
• A conclusion is not merely a summary of your points or a re-statement of your
thesis. If you wish to summarize—and often you must—do so in fresh
language. Remind the reader of how the evidence you’ve presented has
contributed to your thesis.
• The conclusion, like much of the rest of the paper, involves critical thinking.
Reflect upon the significance of what you’ve written. Try to convey some
closing thoughts about the larger implications of your argument.
• Broaden your focus a bit at the end of the essay. A good last sentence leaves
your reader with something to think about, a concept in some way illuminated
by what you’ve written in the paper.
• For most essays, one well-developed paragraph is sufficient for a conclusion.
In some cases, a two-or-three paragraph conclusion may be appropriate. As
with introductions, the length of the conclusion should reflect the length of
WHAT IS A PARAGRAPH?
A paragraph is a series of related sentences
developing a central idea, called the topic. Try to
think about paragraphs in terms of thematic unity: a
paragraph is a sentence or a group of sentences
that supports one central, unified idea. Paragraphs
add one idea at a time to your broader argument.
HOW DO I UNIFY MY IDEAS INA PARAGRAPH?
Probably the most effective way to achieve paragraph unity is to express
the central idea of the paragraph in a topic sentence.
Topic sentences are similar to mini thesis statements. Like a thesis
statement, a topic sentence has a specific main point. Whereas the
thesis is the main point of the essay, the topic sentence is the main
point of the paragraph. Like the thesis statement, a topic sentence
has a unifying function.
An essay is unified if all the paragraphs relate to the thesis, whereas a
paragraph is unified if all the sentences relate to the topic sentence.
HOW DO I DEVELOP MY IDEAS IN A PARAGRAPH?
Often, the body paragraph demonstrates and develops your topic sentence
through an ordered, logical progression of ideas. There are a number of
useful techniques for expanding on topic sentences and developing your
ideas in a paragraph:
• Illustration in a paragraph supports a general statement by means of
examples, details, or relevant quotations (with your comments).
• The definition paragraph does exactly what you would expect: it defines a
term, often by drawing distinctions between the term and other related ones.
The definition that you provide will often be specific to your subject area.
• The analysis or classification paragraph develops a topic by distinguishing
its component parts and discussing each of these parts separately.
HOW DO I DEVELOP MY IDEAS IN A PARAGRAPH?
• A comparison or a contrast paragraph zeroes in on a key similarity or
difference between, for instance, two sources, positions, or ideas. Decide
whether to deal only with similarities or only with differences, or to cover
both. Also, keep in mind that a single comparison can be spread out over two
• A qualification paragraph acknowledges that what you previously asserted
is not absolutely true or always applicable.
• The process paragraph involves a straightforward step-by-step description.
Process description often follows a chronological sequence.
Very often, a single paragraph will develop by a combination of these methods.
HOW DO I MAKE MY IDEAS FLOW INA PARAGRAPH?
The best overall strategy to enhance flow within a paragraph is to show
connections. A variety of simple techniques can help you to clarify
those connections and thereby communicate your intended logic.
Deliberate repetition of key words helps. Reiterating the focus of
your analysis by repeating key words or synonyms for key words
enhances the overall flow of the paragraph.
While the deliberate repetition of a key word is a useful tool, you
generally want to avoid repeating an entire idea. Strategic use of
pronouns such as it, they, and this keeps the focus on the ideas
announced at the beginning of the paragraph—as long as they are
clearly linked to specific nouns.
Specialized linking words can also be powerful tools for pulling ideas
The focus of your essay should be on your understanding of the topic. If you
include too much quotation in your essay, you will crowd out your own ideas.
Consider quoting a passage from one of your sources if any of the following
• The language of the passage is particularly elegant or powerful or
• You wish to confirm the credibility of your argument by enlisting the support
of an authority on your topic.
• The passage is worthy of further analysis.
• You wish to argue with someone else’s position in considerable detail.
USING TOPIC SENTENCES
A topic sentence states the main point of a paragraph: it serves
as a mini-thesis for the paragraph. When read in sequence,
your essay’s topic sentences will provide a sketch of the
essay’s argument. Thus topics sentences help protect your
readers from confusion by guiding them through the
argument. But topic sentences can also help you to improve
your essay by making it easier for you to recognize gaps or
weaknesses in your argument.
PARAPHRASE AND SUMMARY
To paraphrase means to restate someone else’s ideas in your
own language at roughly the same level of detail. To
summarize means to reduce the most essential points of
someone else’s work into a shorter form. Along with
quotation, paraphrase and summary provide the main tools for
integrating your sources into your papers. When choosing
which to use, consider first your discipline and the type of
writing in which you are engaged.
HOW DO I PARAPHRASE?
Whenever you paraphrase, remember these two points:
• You must provide a reference.
• The paraphrase must be in your own words. You
must do more than merely substitute phrases here
and there. You must also create your own
BASIC PRINCIPLES THAT CAN HELP YOU TO PARAPHRASE MORE
• Refer explicitly to the author in your paraphrase.
• Don’t just paraphrase. Analyze.
• Not all of the details from the original passage need to be
included in the paraphrase.
• You don’t need to change every word. For the sake of clarity,
keep essential terms the same .However, avoid borrowing
entire phrases (unless they are part of the discourse of your
HOW DO I SUMMARIZE?
Summary moves much further than paraphrase from
point-by-point translation. When you summarize a
passage, you need first to absorb the meaning
and then to capture in your own words the most
important elements from the original passage. A
summary is necessarily shorter than a paraphrase.
• Prof. C. A. Silber.(n.d). “Some General Advice on Academic Essay-Writing
“from University of Toronto website:
• Jerry Plotnick. (n.d). “Organizing an Essay” from University of Toronto website:
• Margaret Procter. (n.d). “Using Thesis Statements” from University of Toronto
• Leora Freedman and Jerry Plotnick. (n.d). “Introductions and Conclusions”
from University of Toronto website:
• Margaret Procter, Writing Support, and Vikki Visvis. (n.d). “Paragraphs” from
University of Toronto website:
• Jerry Plotnick. (n.d). “Using Quotations” from University of Toronto website:
• Jenny Hall and Jerry Plotnick. (n.d). “Using Topic Sentences” from University
of Toronto website:
• Jerry Plotnick. (n.d). “Paraphrase and Summary” from University of Toronto