University of Houston-Downtown
To help your writing become clear, unambiguous, and effective in communicating your message to your reader.
The Big Stuff:
· Don’t organize your essays around the plot of the text you are discussing; rather, focus on “patterns of evidence.” While this linear method represents the way we first encounter a text, it’s almost always not the best way to present an argument or analysis. Remember, the second time you read a text, you begin to see how the different aspects of it relate to each other; in your essay, you will need to elucidate these relationships, so organize your arguments around various patterns or themes, not just on the chronological order of events.
· A Research Essay is not simply a collection of ideas from other writers. In a literature class, use research as springboards for your own discussion. Use secondary sources as tools to help you build your own argument; for example, you might agree with and expand another writer’s idea; you might take an idea from one context and apply it in another; you might take an argument and disagree with its conclusions or methods; etc. But your ideas (your analysis, your argument) always should remain central to your essay.
· Quote for language use or ideas, not for plot. Don’t simply quote from a novel to prove that something happens; rather, quote so that you can discuss how the author uses language to help us come to an understanding about an issue.
The “Picky-Yet-Important” Stuff:
· Use MLA format. Your work needs to follow MLA style for citations and Works Cited, of course, but also for the design of your document as a whole, including proper headers, margins, page numbers, spacing, etc. UHD’s library has a helpful (if a bit slight) guide to MLA citation available on-line at <http://www.uhd.edu/library/li/mla.html>. See also the MLA's Frequently Asked Questions About MLA Style. Our Annotated Bibliography Example demonstrates MLA document design by example; note that the entire document (every single line) is double-spaced.
· Do NOT use full justification. This format makes your text harder, not easier, to read.
· Use an original, descriptive title. Not “Research Essay” – not “Analysis Essay” – not “Theme #1” – not “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”
· Introduce texts in your introduction. Be sure to give the complete title of a book, its author, and the year of publication when you introduce a novel you will discuss in your essay.
· Refer to incidents in the novels in present tense. Example: “When Holden Caulfield talks to the nuns on the train, he says…” not “When Holden Caulfield talked to the nuns on the train, he said…”
· Provide context for quotations. If you quote from a source, don’t simply “drop in” the quotation. Introduce it, giving the reader a sense of the larger story or argument in needed to understand the quotation; and follow it with a discussion in which you demonstrate to your reader why the quotation is important, and what you want your reader to learn from it.
· Incorporate quotations grammatically. If you need to quote only a portion of a sentence to make your point, remember that your overall sentence must still make grammatical sense.
· “This ‘n’ that.” Avoid beginning sentences or phrases with “this” or “that” unless you follow “this” or “that” with a noun to modify it. This practice will make the connection between your sentences easier to follow.
· Avoid long paragraphs. In most academic essay writing, paragraphs generally run between one-third to two-thirds of a page in length. If your paragraphs are very short, they might represent ideas which need more development; if your essay includes very long paragraphs, you need to look at them carefully – long paragraphs often indicate a lack of focus (ideas wander from one to another without clear connections).
· Use underlining or italics, not both. Book titles should either be underlined or italicized. Whichever you choose, be consistent over the entire document; the two styles mean the same thing, so pick one and stay with it.
· Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and revision count! ’Nuff said.
If you have any questions on any of this material, please let me know, either in class or in office hours or over WebCT.