UPenn Museum, MS 4842, Eucharides Painter, 500-480

Guide to Writing Papers


Underlying Principles

  • An essay has a goal: to give your reader good reasons to agree with you about something.
  • Even if an assignment has come to you in terms like "analyze" or "explore" or "discuss", which don't necessarily seem to aim at demonstrative proof, you will write a stronger paper if you plan for persuasion.
  • Intellectual work must always respect the principles of Academic Integrity, or it is not really getting the job done.

Think strategically

  1. Perform your analysis. You need to understand, fully, how the problems and the evidence you're studying work. (If your ideas like to come to clarity as you're writing, start writing now. You will be able to adapt some of this material to fit in to the main body of your paper once you've got it framed up.)
  2. Boil down the results of your analysis to a single, central point. It will be the issue about which you should try to persuade your reader.
  3. What does your reader need to understand in order to be able to agree that your point is valid? Make a list of relevant pieces of evidence, and explain why each helps support your point. (Refer to what you thought or wrote at step 1).
  4. Does your list of supporting evidence take account of all the evidence that relates to your central point, or is there also some contrary evidence? If so, you need to show that it does not refute your central point. Make a list, and explain why each piece of contrary evidence does not overturn your main line of reasoning. (Refer to what you thought or wrote at step 1).
  5. Organize the main body of your argument, incorporating both supporting and contrary evidence.
  6. Review your main body. Readjust it as necessary to meet its goals well:
  7. Set your central point and your argument supporting it in context: why should your reader care to read your paper? Write an introduction that draws the reader in to your topic.
  8. Why does your central point matter? Write a conclusion that sends your reader out from your paper, a wiser and better person (as far as the topic permits) for having considered your arguments.
  9. Review the whole paper. Does it hang together? Readjust as necessary.
  10. Perform housecleaning, and polish as necessary:

© 1999, 2005, 2010 Jacqueline Long

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This page last updated 5/20/10.