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Effective writing begins with the single word when the primary purpose is to
essential, primary skills that need mastering throughout a writer’s life. This is a never-
ending process for the truly dedicated writer who wants to achieve success. Of course,
there are other important skills as well.

Writing Essentials

¾ All successful writing adheres to the principles of SENTENCE SKILLS,

SUPPORT, UNITY, and COHERENCE. Sentence skills simply suggest error-free
sentences. To accomplish this, several factors need to be taken into serious consideration.

• To begin, sentences must be complete. There must be a subject (implied or

concrete) and a verb, and this word group must make sense. If not, a fragment
has been created. On the other hand, if a word group is punctuated improperly, the
problem is classified as a run-on. There are two types of run-ons: the fused
sentence and the comma splice.

ƒ Fragment: After it began to rain. (This does not make sense. It

is incomplete.)
ƒ Run-on: It began to rain so we took our umbrella. (Fused
[A comma is necessary after rain.]
ƒ Run-on: It began to rain, therefore we took our umbrellas.
(Comma splice)
[The comma is used incorrectly. Replace it with a
ƒ Correct: It began to rain, so we took our umbrellas.

• Coordination and subordination deal with sentence management. When a

sentence is compound, that sentence uses the principle of coordination. The two
ideas are equal (independent) and need to be written as such. When ideas are
subordinated, these ideas are not equal (dependent) and need their own special
attention. There are several means for doing this:

ƒ Coordination: He went to the store, and he bought bread.

He went to the store; however, he forgot to
buy bread.
He went to the store; he bought the weekly

ƒ Subordination: Since I am hungry, I will eat a sandwich.
I will eat a sandwich since I am hungry.

• Another skill necessary in effective sentence building is subject-verb agreement.

Simply put, single subjects take single verbs; plural subjects take plural verbs.

ƒ Single subject/single verb: She is going to the party.

ƒ Plural subject/plural verb: They are going to the party.

Sometimes subjects are in places that present problems.

ƒ Questions: Where are the books? (verb comes before subject)

ƒ After demonstrative pronouns: Here are the books.
ƒ Words between subject and verb: Her cat, with all its toys, clutters
the house.

Yet, at other times it just takes common sense:

ƒ Compound subjects: Swimming and running are two good

ƒ Indefinite Pronouns: One person has responded to the invitation.
Someone is going to sing next.
Everybody needs his or her books.
Nothing is going right.
Each of the students needs a bookbag.

Note: These indefinite pronouns all look at the subject individually and so are
singular in number. This is often problematic for many writers.

• Active and passive verb use, also known as “voice,” is another issue. Active voice
means the subject is the “doer”; passive voice means the subject is the “receiver”
of the action. Thus in English, particularly, use of the active verb receives
preference because it sounds more alive and by being less wordy.

ƒ Active verb: The dog eats its food each morning and night.
ƒ Passive verb: The food is eaten by the dog each morning and

• Effective writing also takes into account the point of view of the writer. First and
third person point of view is permissible, for the most part, but second person
point of view needs to be avoided.

ƒ First person point of view: I liked the novel that we just read.
ƒ Second person point of view: You liked the novel that you just
ƒ Third person point of view: He liked the novel that they just

• Mechanics is an umbrella term for yet another category of sentence skill errors.
First is the comma and semicolon. The former is used with opening expressions,
listing, further description, and simple coordination, which uses shorter
conjunctions (three letters or fewer).

ƒ Opening expressions: After lunch, especially on hot days, I usually

take a nap.
ƒ Listing: I like candy, ice cream, and cake best.
ƒ Further description: John, who is seven feet tall, is an asset to our
basketball team.
ƒ Simple coordination. I eat large portions, yet I gain no weight.

The latter replaces the period and is used when multiple commas are present and
in certain coordination situations using longer conjunctions (greater than three

ƒ Replacing the period: I went to the store; I bought milk, bread,

and cheese.
ƒ Multiple comma use: I like many kinds of songs: “Penny Lane,”
by the Beatles; “Chain of Fools,” by Aretha
Franklin; and “Purple Rain,” by Prince.
ƒ Coordination after longer conjunctions: I went to the party;
however, I didn’t stay

• Correct use of the apostrophe is essential. Apostrophes are words used chiefly to
denote ownership and to denote letter omission in contractions.

ƒ Ownership: Tom’s boat is blue. (ownership)

Dickens’ novel is famous. (Words ending in s, add
an apostrophe.)
My boss’s car is white. (When a word ends in s and
the sound needs repeating, add ‘s.)
Tom and Jane’s new home is a mansion. (Both
own a home together.)
Jim’s and Tom’s dogs run wild. (Both own dogs

ƒ Contractions: We can’t do it. (We cannot do it.)
I’ll be ready, shortly. (I will be ready, shortly.)

• Capitalization is a skill that requires relatively common sense. A capital letter is

used for any word that begins a sentence or a quotation; names a specific person,
place, or thing; names a day of the week, month, holiday, or commercial product;
names a specific title of a work; or names an organization, religion, or nationality.

• Proper Punctuation is essential to writing correct sentences. For instance,

Quotation marks are used in two situations: To set off the exact words of a
speaker or writer, and to set off titles of short works. Italics, or underlining, is
used to denote the name of longer works and to call attention to specific words or
foreign expressions. The colon, parentheses, and dash each have their own
special requirements. The colon is followed by an example, the parentheses
clarify a specific word or concept with added information, and the dash breaks up
the sentence for dramatic effect. Note the use of punctuation and especially
capitalization in the following examples:

ƒ Quotation: “I like,” said Jim, “candy, ice cream, and cake.”

“Religion is a highly debatable subject” (Simon 57).
I like the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane.”
ƒ Colon: I like the following: candy, ice cream, and cake.
ƒ Parentheses: His birthday (April 1) is a day for foolishness.
ƒ Dash: Falling leaves, cool temperatures, and windy days—
these characterize the fall up North.

• Other important skills necessary in successful writing are learning to spell

correctly and to use vocabulary appropriately and effectively. These skills should
be on-going. In addition, the writer needs to acquire facility in the correct use of
Look-Alikes/Sound Alikes—(e.g., its, it’s)/ (e.g., your, you’re)/ (e.g., there,
their, they’re) et al. In these most commonly confused sets, the words with
apostrophes are contractions and need to be remembered as it is/ you are/ and
they are, respectively. The other words are possessive pronouns its/ your/ and
their, respectively, and in the last set, there is both a noun (place) and an
introductory pronoun.

ƒ Contractions: It’s lovely outside today. (it + is)

You’re on time for a change. (you + are)
They’re the best dressed at the party. (they + are)
ƒ Possessive Pronouns: Its coat is shiny and full. (ownership of the
Their house is on a canal. (ownership)
ƒ Noun: Put the book over there. (place)
ƒ Indefinite Pronoun: There are few cookies left. (introductory

¾ Once sentence skills are mastered, the next step is SUPPORT. This means that all
words in sentences, all sentences in paragraphs, and all paragraphs in essays and longer
works are adequately supported. Once the support is manifested, there must be UNITY.
As the name implies, ideas and thoughts must be related and connected. This is
established through COHERENCE. Two types of coherence are Order and Related
Sentences. Order consists of three types: ordering according to the way events occur,
ordering in relation to the proximity of objects, and ordering based on importance. These
help organize ideas and signal proper placement. Related sentences mean sentences that

• Three methods to help sentences relate are through the use of repeated words,
pronouns, and synonyms.

ƒ Repeated Words: I went to the doctor’s office. The doctor was

out on an emergency.
ƒ Pronouns: I went to the doctor’s office. She was out on an
ƒ Synonyms: I went to the doctor’s office. She was not in the

Note: A fourth method is to use specific transitional words, some of which are
listed below:

ƒ To add: and, moreover, besides, as well,

furthermore, in addition, not only... but also
ƒ To compare: likewise, similarly, in comparison, also
ƒ To contrast: however, although, on the other hand,
nevertheless, despite
ƒ To concede: certainly, to be sure, of course
ƒ To emphasize: above all, in fact, most important
ƒ To illustrate: for example, for instance, in fact, such as
ƒ To place: beyond, farther, above, below
ƒ To qualify: perhaps
ƒ To give a reason: because, for, since
ƒ To show a result: consequently, hence, therefore
ƒ To summarize: finally, in brief, in other words
ƒ To place in time: soon, later, then, next, meanwhile, since,
ƒ To conclude: therefore, thus, as a result, consequently

¾ Effective writing next focuses on Sentence Variety, which produces zest
and vitality. There are several techniques to follow in order to be successful when

ƒ Mix long and short sentences to break up sentence monotony.

ƒ Use question, command, and exclamation.
ƒ Vary the beginning of sentences.
ƒ Use appositives when writing to explain further and to vary the
pace of thought.
ƒ Use relative clauses that link ideas from sentence to sentence.
ƒ Avoid vagueness—remember, the goal is to communicate.
ƒ Avoid wordiness—do not bore the reader or muddle the thought.
ƒ Avoid triteness—expressions and idioms are humdrum and
ƒ Use similes and metaphors to add zest to the work.

¾ Rhetorical Modes come last and are types of writing that students need to
know exist and which fit the varied demands of the classroom. Each one serves its
own purpose:

ƒ Illustration: uses specific examples

ƒ Narration: tells a complete story about what has happened
ƒ Description: describes a person, place, or an object
ƒ Process: explains “how to do” something
ƒ Definition: explains clearly what a word, term, or concept
ƒ Comparison and Contrast: examines the way phenomena are
similar or different
ƒ Classification: gathers elements into types, kinds, or categories
that are similar
ƒ Persuasion: convinces the reader that the writer’s opinion is

An Introduction to Academic Writing

There are many different reasons why people write, and there are also many styles
of writing.

• All writing has an audience - the person who is going to read the writing.
• All writing has a purpose that determines what kind of sentence structure,
vocabulary, transitions, and tone to use.

Thesis statement

After brainstorming, the writer must answer the prompt by focusing on a chosen
argument in the form of a thesis statement. Ordinarily, this main idea statement appears at
the end of the introductory paragraph. Traditionally, thesis statements are compound-
complex sentence structures that include both the subject of the essay and the controlling

An effective thesis statement is a central idea that requires evidence to support

the argument. Therefore, keep in mind the following:

• A thesis statement cannot be a fact.

Example 1: Factual thesis statement

Beowulf, an epic poem, tells of a warrior who is called to save the Danes.

• A thesis statement cannot be too broad.

Example 2: Broad thesis statement

• Beowulf, an epic poem, tells of a courageous warrior.

An effective thesis has several varieties. Although many students are comfortable
writing a traditional three-prong thesis statement in which the points to be developed or
controlling ideas are listed, there are other creative methods by which a student may
present a thesis.

Example 3: Three-prong thesis statement

Through the use of heightened language, minstrels characterized Beowulf as a

courageous, intelligent and compassionate leader.

Writers who choose to avoid the traditional three-prong method may encounter
difficulty when spreading the controlling ideas throughout the thesis statement. Example
4, below, demonstrates the use of several grammatical structures within one sentence that
presents the thesis.

Example 4: Spread throughout the thesis statement

Through the use of heightened language, minstrels characterized Beowulf, the

courageous leader of the Geats, as an intelligent leader who compassionately rescues the
Danes from the threats of Grendel and his mother.

Possible Grammatical Structures:

1. appositive [a word or a phrase that further describes a nearby noun]
2. adjective + noun
3. adjective clause [who/whom/that/which]

Example 5: Using Various Grammatical Structures

Through the use of heightened language, minstrels characterize Beowulf, the courageous

leader of the Geats, as an intelligent leader [who compassionately rescues the Danes
adjective + noun adjective clause
from the threats of Grendel and his mother].

From Thesis Statement to Body Paragraph

The controlling ideas stated in the thesis statement must be developed in the body

Paragraph Development:

The Topic Sentence

When writers begin to structure their body paragraphs, they must

• Plan and write the topic sentence

• Plan the support for the body paragraphs
• Plan and write the conclusion to the paragraph

The body of an academic paragraph does not have a minimum or maximum
number of sentences. A paragraph’s body needs to completely explicate the controlling
idea. The following is an example of an academic paragraph with a topic sentence, body,
and conclusion.

Topic sentence >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. Body >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. Conclusion >>>>>>>>>>>>>

The Topic Sentence

The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of an academic paragraph.

1. The topic sentence has only one focused topic (this names the person, place or
thing the writer will write about).
2. The topic sentence has only one controlling idea (this tells the reader what the
writer will say about a focused topic).
3. The controlling idea is essential to the topic sentence because it reveals what
the writer will explain about the topic.

Example Paragraph – Topic Sentence

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as

the most courageous Geat called to rescue the Danes. Body >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>
Conclusion >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Step 1. Selecting the Controlling Idea

When selecting the controlling idea, the writer needs to limit that idea so that the
writing will be meaningful and interesting. If the argument is not focused, the body
paragraph will be too general. Remember that the controlling idea, or claim, points to the
part of the claim that will be developed.

Example 1: Controlling Idea - General

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as courageous.
controlling idea

Example 2: Controlling Idea - Focused

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as the most
courageous Geat called to rescue the Danes.
controlling idea

The Body

The body paragraph follows the topic sentence.

1. The body paragraph contains supporting details that may be in the form of an
example, quotation, or paraphrase.
2. The body paragraph only includes details that support the controlling idea and
avoids details that do not directly support the controlling idea.

Example Paragraph – Body

Topic sentence >>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Daringly, Beowulf fights Grendel’s mother who “ripped and tore and clawed at
him” in effort to avenge her only son (614). To save the Danes from the evil witch,
Beowulf “doubled his strength” when battling the savage monster (614). Orators
selected words such as “ripped” and “doubled” to exaggerate both the monster’s
and hero’s power. During the turbulent time of the epic of Beowulf, people lived in
fear of Scandinavian raiders, who had been ravaging the shores of England for two
centuries. The minstrels’ tale of a fearless and nearly immortal warrior who could
defeat any enemy not only entertained the Geats, but also offered them a sense of
security during a violent time. Thus, this historical discord encouraged the
storytellers to embellish the physical abilities of their epic hero. Concluding
statement >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Step 2. Selecting the Supporting Details

Now that a topic sentence has been created, the next step is to plan the supporting details
that develop the topic sentence. These supporting details comprise the body of the
paragraph. An effective academic paragraph requires that the writer ask three questions:
how, why, and so what?

Step 3. Planning the Development of the Controlling Idea

Important Questions to Ask :

- Select an example, quotation, or paraphrase from the text to support the
controlling idea or claim.
- Explain how the example or evidence supports the controlling idea or claim.
So What?
- Analyze why the point being made is relevant.
- Discuss why this point is important.

In the following example, the writer must develop the controlling idea. To do so, the
writer must ask how, why, and so what.

Example 1: Topic Sentence

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as the most
courageous Geat called to rescue the Danes.
controlling idea

How? “ripped and tore and clawed at him” (614)

“doubled his strength” (614)
- Q: How do these quotations from the text support my controlling idea?
- A: These quotations support the exaggerated speech that the minstrels used to
illustrate Beowulf as strong.

- Q: How do these quotations support my controlling idea?
- A: Despite the possibility of death, Beowulf uses his physical power to free the
Danes from Grendel and his evil mother. The words “ripped” and “doubled”
are examples of heightened language.

So What?
- Q: Why is this point relevant?
- A: Minstrels understood the importance of portraying Beowulf as a strong hero
because his image as a savior offered a sense of security to the people living
during a violent time.

Writing the Concluding Statement

The concluding statement is the final sentence in a body paragraph.

1. The concluding statement restates the controlling idea.

2. The concluding statement offers a summary or restatement of the topic

The concluding statement can be a restatement of the controlling idea or a

concluding statement based on the information in the paragraph. In longer compositions,
a concluding statement in a paragraph can be both an ending and a beginning. It can
introduce the next paragraph in the composition, and, at the same time, it can conclude
the paragraph in which it exists. The concluding statement should not contradict the
controlling idea, give a different controlling idea, or repeat the topic sentence word for

In the concluding statement of an academic paragraph, the writer could choose

one of three methods:

1. Repeat or restate the topic sentence, but NOT using the exact same words.

Example 1:

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as the
strongest Geat called to rescue the Danes. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
Whether through truth or hyperbole, orators illustrate Beowulf as the physically
superior who is the only warrior who possesses strength great enough to save a

1. Relate the concluding statement to the support in the paragraph. The

concluding statement must sound like a logical ending. It finishes developing
the controlling idea.

Example 2:

In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as

the most courageous Geat called to rescue the Danes. Body >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>
Orators carefully embellished Beowulf’s physical capabilities, hoping to restore
security in the minds of the people.

Transition Words and Expressions

Transitional words, or conjunctive adverbs, and transitional expressions show the

relationships between ideas. They connect one complete sentence to another complete
sentence or one paragraph to another paragraph.

1. Within paragraph transitions are transitional words or expressions that hold

together ideas between sentences.

Example 1:

Topic sentence>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
To exaggerate Grendel’s mother’s physical strength, orators describe the monster as
having “ripped and tore and clawed at him” (614). Moreover, bards embellished
Beowulf’s courage when the leader of the Geats “doubled his strength” to defeat
Grendel’s mother (614). >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
Conclusion >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

2. Across paragraph transitions are transitional words or expressions that hold
together controlling ideas between paragraphs. This type of transition bridges the
controlling idea of the first paragraph to the controlling idea of the second

Example 2:

Body 1:
In telling their epic, minstrels used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf as the
most courageous Geat called to rescue the Danes. Body >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. Conclusion >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Body 2:
Bards not only used exaggerated speech to portray Beowulf’s physical strength,
but also glorified his intelligence. Body >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
Conclusion >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Common Transitions: See page 5.

The Research Paper: A Guide

Organization is crucial in writing a research paper. To alleviate the anxiety and

stress involved in the research paper writing process, one should compile the proper texts
and information ahead of time. Below are preliminary steps that one should consider:

Preliminary Steps to Research Paper Writing

1. Choose a topic
2. Gather data
3. Take notes
4. Compile note cards with parenthetical references
5. Make an outline
5. Write the first draft of the paper
6. Proofread, revise, and edit the paper
7. Write the final draft

There are two types of resources used in research: primary sources and secondary

I. Primary Sources
• A primary source is an original document written or produced during a
particular time period. Examples of primary sources include:

o Original documents: autobiographies, diary entries, interviews,

letters, photographs, speeches

o Artifacts: buildings, jewelry, paintings

o Creative works: films, music, novels, poetry

Examples of Primary Sources:

• The Declaration of Independence

• Diary of Anne Frank
• Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

II. Secondary Sources
A secondary source provides analysis and interpretation of primary

Examples of Secondary Sources:

o Encyclopedias
o Literary Criticisms on novels, plays, poems, or short stories
o Textbooks

Note Cards and Outlining

• Why Create Note Cards?

o To organize relevant quotations

o To save time on shuffling information into the rough draft

• Why Create an Outline?

o To construct a structured overview of the paper

o To organize the ideas
o To present the material in a logical manner
o To show the relationship between the ideas

Note Cards

Instead of flipping through the different sources, note cards allow easy access to
quotations and main arguments for the research paper. A note card should contain
the following information:

a) Title and Author

b) Relevant quotations and page numbers
c) Summary of main arguments

Sample Note Card:

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage, 1984.

“My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild
she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off.
Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.” ( 10)

(Note card cont.)

“And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way
so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or
was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have
inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.” (11)

Summary: Esperanza does not want to inherit her grandmother’s life. She resists the traditional
role of woman as wife and mother. She envisions a different future for herself, where she is free
to make her own choices.

Proper Outline Format


I. First main idea

A. First sub-topic

1. First supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

2. Second supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

B. Second sub-topic

1. First supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

2. Second supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

II. Second main idea

A. First sub-topic

1. First supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

(Outline cont.)

2. Second supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

B. Second subtopic

1. First supporting detail

a. Example
b. Example

2. Second supporting detail

C. Third subtopic
1. First supporting detail
a. Example
b. Example
c. Example
2. Second supporting detail
a. Example
b. Example


Thesis: Beowulf exhibits the heroic qualities of courage, strength, and self-sacrifice
throughout the poem.

I. Beowulf demonstrates courage.

A. Beowulf volunteers to fight Grendel.

1. He understands the magnitude of Grendel’s strength.
a. He hears Hrothgar’s tales of Grendel’s terrible attacks.
b. He sees the effects of the attacks on the mead hall.
2. He chooses to fight Grendel alone.
a. He risks his life to fight the creature with his bare hands.
b. He fights the creature without help from other men.

B. Beowulf willingly enters a battle with Grendel’s mother.

1. Beowulf volunteers to go into unknown territory to fight Grendel’s

a. He must go into a terrifying, hellish area to find the mother.

b. He must fight creatures as he descends into the lake where the
mother lives.

(Outline – Incomplete Sample cont.)

II. Beowulf demonstrates extraordinary physical strength.

A. Beowulf is involved in an epic swimming contest with Brecca.
1. Beowulf swims a long and harrowing competition.
a. The contest is seven days and nights in a stormy winter ocean.
b. Beowulf fights many sea monsters.
2. Beowulf saves Brecca in a great storm.
a. Beowulf must rescue Brecca from enormous waves.

III. Beowulf demonstrates willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the
A. Knowing he will lose, Beowulf chooses to battle the dragon to save his

MLA Documentation

Writing that requires the use of supplemental material demands careful

documentation on the part of the writer. Aside from avoiding plagiarism, documentation
establishes a writer’s ethos (authority) over the chosen subject matter discussed in a given
essay. By documenting sources, readers bear witness to a writer’s research process, and
thus determine and substantiate the credibility of the information expounded upon in a
writer’s response.

The goals for documentation may be summarized as follows:

• Elucidation of thesis by finding information that bolsters a writer’s argument

• Legitimization of authority through using information to establish credibility

Works Cited

All essays requiring supplemental material are asked to provide a “Works Cited”
page, in accordance with MLA standards. The following examples demonstrate proper
citation of books:

One Author

McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian. New York: Vintage International Books, 1985.

Two or Three Authors

McCarthy, Cormac, Dave Eggers, and Jonathan Lethem. Writing in America Today.
New York: Vintage Books, 2007.


Arp, Thomas R. Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. New York: Thomson
Wadsworth, 2006.

Work Taken from an Anthology

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure,

Sound and Sense. Ed. Thomas R. Arp. New York: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.

Online Article, Journal, Magazine, or Newspaper

Nova, Juan. “Wit and Witticisms.” The New York Times. 12 Dec. 2007. 13 Dec. 2007

Note: The date “12 Dec. 2007” refers to the article’s publication on the Internet; the
secondary date is the date of access by the writer.

In Text Citations

The following are some examples of how to incorporate parenthetical references within a
given text.

Author Mentioned Within the Sentence

Bloom explains that Shakespeare might very well have “believed in paganism” (234).

Note: There is no need to cite the author’s name inside the parenthetical when he/she is
mentioned within the phrase.

Author Mentioned in a Parenthetical

At times, Shakespeare is “too compassionate toward the Italians” (Bloom 123).

Note: When an author is not mentioned within the phrase, his/her name is placed within
the parenthetical, and there are no punctuation marks between the author’s name and the
page number(s).

Work Without Page Numbers

Bloom believes Shakespeare’s plays are “an encounter with genius,” in the words of
Shapiro (par. 3).

Note: A writer is required to provide the correct paragraph number within the original
document from which the cited material is taken. Furthermore, when using citations

within the writer’s own sentence, proper syntax and grammar must be maintained;
therefore, a comma would be placed within the quotation marks.

Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliographies are primarily used to keep track of research. It is a

streamlined manner in which to gather and store relevant information to be used at a later
time. Annotated bibliographies are especially useful when a writer is asked to use
numerous sources for his/her paper. Here are two examples taken from one annotated

Note: Think of the annotated bibliography as an elaborate “Works Cited” page.


Helterman, Jeffrey. Understanding Bernard Malamud. Columbia: University of South

Carolina Press, 1985.

The book offers critical readings to all of Malamud’s major novels and short stories.
Helterman contends that unlike Philip Roth, whose characters appear to be familiar to the
point of being uncanny, Malamud presents characters who initially appear foreign to the
reader: “We’ve never met his characters before, and yet the shock of recognition is much
deeper.” It is as if, claims Helterman, Malamud intends for both reader and character to
partake in the journey of self-discovery simultaneously. Regarding “The German
Refugee,” Martin Goldberg learns to bond with his pupil Oskar Gassner and share in the
idea of brotherhood. Gassner is, nevertheless, unable to reconcile with the mad world
and decides it is best to die, leaving Goldberg and the reader with the responsibility
(Oskar’s inheritance) to perpetuate the ideal of brotherhood, and somehow instill this
faith in others.


Blythe, Hal. “The Narrator in Malamud’s ‘The German Refugee’.” American Notes and
Queries, 1983 Nov-Dec; 22 (3-4): 47-49.

Blythe contends that the vast majority of Malamud’s work concerns itself with the theme
of Brudermensch (brotherhood): its failure to appear or be recognized by society and/or
the individual. In past readings of “The German Refugee,” Goldberg is rarely scrutinized
for his inability to achieve and understand the concept Brudermensch; critics have
focused their attention to Oskar Gassner’s reevaluation of his German heritage and his
failure to reconcile with the loss of his homeland and family. Blythe believes that upon
closer inspection, Goldberg’s narrative reveals his myopic comprehension to the depths
of Oskar’s loss.

Revising and Editing

There are several steps to revising and editing MLA style essays. In taking each
step, the writer must consider both correct grammatical structure and appropriate
expression of the essay content. This guide will outline and provide questions to reinforce
the necessary focus for revising and editing.

I. Grammar:

A. Make sure sentence structure is grammatically correct.

1. Make certain every sentence has a clear subject and predicate. What is
the focus of the sentence and how is that focus being described?
2. Avoid comma splices.
3. Check for proper use of semicolons and hyphens.

a. A semicolon should be used to tie two sentences that share

corresponding ideas. Ex: Mary will not attend the movie; she
does not approve of violent films.
b. A hyphen may be used to reinforce a noun with an adjective.
Ex. Over-eager, year-long, half-ton.

4. Check to make sure there are no sentence fragments. Are all of the
statements phrased as a complete thought?
5. Make sure there are no run-on sentences.

a. Does each sentence represent a single idea and its

b. If the sentence has multiple subjects, predicates, or examples
to justify the subject, it may be run-on.

6. Check for proper spelling.

7. Ensure that sentences do not contain dangling modifiers, introductory
phrases that do not correctly modify the subject of the sentence.

Incorrect: At a young age, my mother took me to the circus.

Correct: At a young age, I went to the circus with my mother.

8. Avoid using conjunctions at the beginning of sentences.

B. Make sure paragraph structure is grammatically correct.

1. Paragraphs should be more than one sentence long.

2. Avoid overtly lengthy sentences. Make sure the argument is clearly
stated with reasonable justification.
3. Be certain to apply proper methods of citation for direct or
paraphrased quotations.

a. Parenthetical citations are necessary for all quoted material.

b. Longer quotations must be indented according to MLA
standards, also known as block citations.
c. Quotations must be incorporated into complete sentences and
must not stand alone as independent statements.

4. The first line in a new paragraph must be indented.

5. Make sure the tense and perspective of the sentences and paragraphs
are consistent.

a. Make sure all subjects agree with the tense of their verbs. For
example, if the essay is written in past tense, all of the verbs and
adjectives must remain in past tense.

(1) Literary analysis should be in present tense.

(2) Biographical and historical writing should be in past

b. The perspective of the essay must be consistent.

(1) Most work should be in third person. Third person

writing may not directly address the reader or author.
Some examples of appropriate third person pronouns
include: he, she, it, they, them.
(2) However, work may be written in the first person, which
directly addresses the author, or is told from a
personal point of view. First person pronouns include:
I, me, ours, we, my.
(3) Rarely are works required to be in second person. These
directly address the reader. Second person pronouns
include: you, your, yours.

6. Be certain proper punctuation is used. Sentences must end in periods

or question marks. Direct citations must have quotation marks.

II. Content:

A. Be certain that the overall paper has a consistent sense of purpose and

1. Introductory paragraphs must contain a thesis statement.
a. The thesis must address the central argument of the paper.
b. Thesis statements should provide an answer to the essay
c. Feature the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph.
Then reinforce it through each body paragraph, and
restate it in the conclusion.
d. Does the introduction to the paper effectively answer the
question: What is this paper about?
2. The body paragraphs must reinforce the thesis and provide
justification for the argument.
a. Limit the number of examples and quotations per paragraph
in order to focus on justification of their usage. A
paragraph should mostly contain the argument, followed
by a reference or example, and then a justification for its
b. Limit the number of quotations and their length—the paper
is meant to primarily reflect the ideas of its author, not the
references the author has chosen to cite.
c. Be certain each paragraph addresses the thesis argument.
Do not get distracted by excessive summary or needless
repetition. The purpose of the argument, as stated in the
topic sentence, should be developed until the conclusion.
d. Does each paragraph answer the essay prompt?
e. Does each paragraph address the arguments presented in
the thesis?

3. The essay’s conclusion should revisit the argument of the essay.

a. Conclude with a brief summary of the essay’s content.
b. Restate the thesis statement.
c. Do not introduce any new ideas or example in the
d. Avoid quotations or unnecessary reinforcement.
e. Do not use the phrase in conclusion as an opening

B. Be certain that the content of the paper is stylistically appropriate.

1. The essay must be written in a formal, academic manner.
a. Do not use informal language, such as a conversational
b. Avoid using abbreviations.
c. Do not use contractions, such as: don’t, won’t, can’t,

d. The essay should not read like a discussion between
friends, an email, or a text message.

2. The language used should be reflective of an academic, mature

a. Avoid using bland or unnecessary qualifiers, such as: very,
really, truly, just.
b. Do not use repetitive vocabulary. If the same words are
being used over again, make use of a thesaurus and find
alternative words.
c. Diversify sentence structure. Do not start sentences with
the same words, phrases, or transitions.
d. Avoid clichés, colloquialisms, and slang.
e. Do not curse.
f. Alot is NOT a word nor is its correct spelling appropriate
for formal writing.
g. Do not confuse of and have.

III. Tips for Revision:

A. Try using the following methods when drafting and revising material:
1. Set the format standards on the word processor to 10 point, single-
spaced font. Begin writing material without thinking about length
requirements. After the argument has been addressed and clarified,
change the format to its appropriate 12 point, double-spaced font and
check the length of the essay. Make the appropriate adjustments based
on the essay’s requirements. Note: Gulliver Preparatory School
requires a 12 point, double spaced font—Times New Roman
2. Try reading the material aloud as it is being written. Revise any
material that sounds awkward or unclear.
3. Keep bibliography cards and reference materials on-hand and in the
order of the outline. Check these and remove them in the order they
have been used to ensure the essay content reflects its outline.

B. When rereading material, try some of these methods to ensure clarity:

1. Read the paper out loud. If material sounds awkward or unclear, there
is a good chance that it is grammatically or structurally incorrect.
2. Write the material ahead of time, take a break, and then revisit it. Take
time to disconnect from the writing so that it is no longer freshly

3. Keep a checklist of the argument intended to be covered, the material
meant to reinforce it, and the examples reserved for support. Make
certain that the paper attends to each detail.


Work that is not one’s own is considered plagiarism. In essence, plagiarism is

blatant stealing of another person’s ideas, thoughts, or facts. This can be avoided if the
proper documentation is followed. Work that needs documenting consists of direct
quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This would be followed by parenthetical
citations and a Works Cited list at the end of the paper. An example of each of the above
is offered below.

Direct Quotation:

Plagiarize: to steal and pass off (the words and ideas of another) as one’s own:
use (a created production) without crediting the source: to commit literary theft:
present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
(Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition)


Plagiarism is committed when a writer uses somebody else’s words without

properly giving that original source credit. The act committed is “literary theft”
(Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition).


When we fail to document the source of our ideas, thoughts, or facts, we are
committing an act of cheating, also known as “literary theft” (Webster’s
Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition).

Note: A good rule to follow is that when a writer does research on any topic or writes
about subject matter in general, if another source of any kind is used, that writer should
be prepared to cite and document. Writing “off the top of one’s head” is usually safe;

once another source is consulted, though, then sources need to be identified. Plagiarism is
a serious offense and always damages a writer’s reputation. It is always better to over-
document one’s writing than to be dishonest, either knowingly or by accident.