Guidelines for writing good papers

Writing a good paper, whether an interpretive essay or a full-fledged research paper, involves several skills. In what follows I outline what I think are the most important aspects of paper writing (indeed these are the aspects Iíll be grading you on). Overall, a good paper should state clearly at the outset what its conclusion (or conclusions) will be; it should provide arguments and evidence supporting this conclusion; it should be organized clearly and coherently.

See also this Paper Grading Rubric.

1. Content: The content of your paper illustrates the extent of your understanding of the material and your ability to produce meaningful conclusions about the material using the various critical tools involved in the particular course. What I look for in evaluating a paperís content is as follows:

  • The paperís thesis should be provocative and original, not mundane and derivative. That is, the paper should say something that is interesting and non-obvious, original and sophisticated.
  • The paperís argumentation should be sustained and not piecemeal. In other words, the paper should argue consistently in favor of the same thesis and not wander from point to point without any overarching coherence.
  • The paperís use of evidence and supporting material should be well-documented and fully explained. A good paper, in other words, contains specific textual support for its argument in the form of quotations and/or paraphrases, and explains clearly how these passages relate to the paperís overall argument.

2. Style: Your paperís style illustrates your ability to articulate both your understanding of and thoughts about the material. I look for the following things in evaluating style:

  • The paper should be written using standard English grammar and syntax. Make sure your sentences follow the basic rules of grammar and are so constructed as to admit of no ambiguity.
  • The paper should present its argument clearly and concisely. State your thesis at the beginning. Make it clear how each stage in your reasoning relates to your overall thesis. Do not indulge in excessive summary or paraphrase of the material. Make your argument convincing without introducing extraneous details or observations.
  • The paper should employ an accepted and consistent mode of citation. Italicize the names of all books, ancient and modern. The titles of modern articles and book chapters should be surrounded by quotations marks. For the citation of ancient writers, consult the Oxford Classical Dictionary. For the citation of modern works, use a standard handbook, such as the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. See here for some specific suggestions.

3. Production: A well-produced paper demonstrates the seriousness and care with which you go about your academic endeavors. A paper that has been revised for clarity and is error-free makes a better impression on me and the rest of your readers. The production of such a paper shows that you are sincerely committed to the study of the material in this class.

  • The paper should contain a well-organized argument. You will greatly improve the clarity and forcefulness of your argument by outlining your ideas initially, by composing rough drafts of your full argument, and by revising these drafts.
  • Your writing style should be refined and sophisticated. Revision will help you express specific points in a more effective way. After your initial draft, think of better ways of stating your main point(s) and more effective ways of organizing your arguments and evidence.