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In reality, people read because they want to write. Anyway, reading
is a sort of rewriting
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905 - 80
French existentialist author

Writing assignment series

Essays in Literature Classes

Brainstorm the question/assignment:

  • Restate key words
    in the assignment with synonyms or in your own words;
  • Use these equivalent terms
    throughout your paper to keep focused.;
  • Write down everything
    you can think of that is related to the assignment;
  • Generate two or three specific sentences
    that answer a question posed by the assignment;
  • Write your introduction last,
    after you've had a chance to work your way to a conclusion;
    Often it helps to take your conclusion, use what you've learned,
    and then write the introduction in the next draft.

Refine your focus:

  • After writing your initial "guiding sentence"
    (thesis statement), write a draft, then go back to the thesis and perhaps re-write it;
  • Include in each paragraph an explicit reference
    to the language you use in your thesis. If the paragraphs are not an extension of something in your thesis, either re-write your thesis statement, edit the paragraph, or cut it. Often you can revise the paragraph by adding words that more explicitly make the connection.

Make sure that your essay is developed
out of your close analysis of selected passages found in the readings:

  • Choose one or two short passages
    from the text(s) to help focus your paper;
  • If using a quote, elaborate
    on its meaning using words from it. Don't leave it up to the reader to figure out how to interpret the language quoted.

Think about how to organize your paragraphs
to create an effective argument.

  • Is there a "scheme"
    you can use to organize your thoughts to help structure your paper?
  • How will your examples
    "build" upon each other? Think of logical possibilities:
    less important to more important, or vice versa;
    similar ideas versus contrasting ideas;
  • Is there a central concept
    or metaphor you can weave throughout your paper to add coherence?

For short papers, start fast.

  • Provide an immediate, specific answer
    to a question posed by the assignment.

Writing assignments

Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments | "Lessons learned"

Adapted from: Ida Masters Hollowell, James A. Levernier, A. Franklin Parks, Structuring Paragraphs: A Guide to Effective Writing. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's,1986.