The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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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.

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.

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.

Explain how your evidence supports the conclusion you draw from it, if that is not self-evident.

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.

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).