Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Literature Papers
You write a paper to present and support a thesis. A thesis is an arguable statement about the subject; in a short paper it can be expressed in a sentence or two. Don't write a thesis that puts off getting to the main point.
- Instead of: Aristophanes' Lysistrata makes an important social statement.
- Try this: Aristophanes' Lysistrata shows the folly of war by making its supporters look foolish.
Keep vague, abstract words like “important,” “interesting,” “experience,” “situation,” and such out of your thesis.
If you find outlining useful, make a list of the points necessary to prove your thesis. Next to each point, make a note of where textual evidence for it can be found. Don't be afraid to mark up your book.
Keep your outline in sight while you write your first draft. Check off points on the outline as you make them in the draft.
Arrange the points in your outline in the logical order that will be easiest for the reader to follow. Think of them as a series of steps; you have to prove one point before you can claim another.
- Our literary tradition usually depicts love as a noble, admirable thing.
- We also like to see the underdog come out on top.
- Even though Calidorus is a whining fool, he is a young man in love, facing formidable obstacles.
- Thus, we want to see Calidorus get his girl, and we also enjoy watching Pseudolus help him.
Your paragraphs should never be interchangeable: you should be able to give your paragraphs on separate pieces of paper to someone who has never read your paper before, and that person should be able to arrange the paragraphs in the correct order.
Make sure that each paragraph covers only one topic. Paragraphs are the basic unit of your paper's structure. Every point on your outline should have at least one paragraph to itself.
Often the beginning of each paragraph (frequently the topic sentence) makes some reference to the one before it, so that your reader knows why each new subject is brought up.
Likewise, within paragraphs, make sure that it is obvious why one sentence follows another.
Support every claim you make with specific evidence from the text. Quotations are best; accurate paraphrases or clear references to specific events are second best. Don't simply toss in a page or line reference and expect your reader to go look it up.
- Instead of: Viola notes that a professional fool must be intelligent (3.1.63).
- Try this: Viola notes that to be a professional fool “craves a kind of wit” (3.1.63).
Explain how your evidence supports the conclusion you draw from it, if that is not self-evident.
- Instead of: Olivia proves herself a liar when she falls in love with Cesario.
- Try this: Since Olivia falls in love with Cesario almost instantly, we can assume that her earlier reported determination to mourn for seven years was false.
Construct your sentence so that quotations fit their grammatical structure. The sentence should be grammatically correct with or without the quotation marks.
State your subject right away; don't begin with generalities.
- Instead of: Many comedies are about love.
- Try this: In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare explores the foolishness that often accompanies love.
Somewhere in your opening paragraph, usually in the first sentence, you should identify the work you are writing about, including the author (if known).
Don't use the conclusion merely to restate your thesis. And don't waste your time (and the reader's) praising the work you are writing about (criticizing it is another matter, but you must be reasonable).