When I read and evaluate papers I am looking for a clear and controversial thesis, and an insightful, well organized, strong argument that considers counterarguments and is supported by sound evidence and logic. I also look for well integrated apt quotes that are fully analyzed, a range of sentence structures, precise language, and good mechanics (see grading standards.)

The following guidelines will help you develop your idea into a strong paper. Some (or many) of them you may already know, but they are worth reviewing. Please refer to these guidelines (or other guides on writing research papers) as you work on your first and final drafts.

Developing your thesis statement
Developing a solid thesis statement is the first and most vital step in the organization and development of a good research paper. It usually grows out of your readings and informal writing (notes, reading journals, response papers) you engage in. A thesis statement is a proposition that must be proved, e.g. it is not self evident, it is not a fact but presents one possible answer to an open, controversial question. This being the case, you must come up with your view as to why the phenomenon you have chosen to discuss merits the attention you are about to give it. Your thesis should be able to fit into the "Magic Thesis Sentence":

By looking at _______________________, we see _________________________, which most readers don't see; this is important because _______________________________.

If you can't paraphrase your thesis statement by using the MTS, take some time to carefully consider why it does not work and to modify your thesis accordingly. Note: You should NOT use the wording of the MTS in your paper. Use your own language and logic of presentation in your argument. The MTS is good for test of viability, a way of checking that your thesis will carry you through the whole paper.

Opening paragraph

Catch the reader's interest. This one is difficult to quantify, but we all know a good introductory paragraph when we see it. Caution: While a shocking or tasteless opening sentence may initially get attention, it will hurt your credibility with the reader. You should also refrain from broad-sweeping generalizations. Statements like: "Since the beginning of time…." will automatically knock your paper down a grade.

Set the stage. What issue are you exploring? Why? What is the context for your thesis? If you discuss texts we read in class you should assume a reader that is familiar with them, but does not necessary know the specific issue you are tackling.

State your thesis, the proposition that you want your reader to accept after reading your argument. Present your question and indicate the position you plan to take to answer it.

Body of the paper

Provide background and context for the question(s) you are addressing, Think about what your reader should know in order to understand the arguments you are about to make, but don't overdo it.

Present your arguments in support of your thesis. Each paragraph should be built around a unifying argument or point. Make a clear point in every paragraph! Do not do plot summaries or dump assorted information into a paragraph just because it seems to relate to your thesis in some way.

Provide several arguments to support your thesis. Outlines help as a useful guide.

Cite specific information. This includes not only paraphrasing or quoting relevant passages from your reading, but also fully referencing your sources in footnotes. Do not just plug in quotations from a source without providing analysis. Each citation from a text should be carefully chosen and should be accompanied by your own commentary. You should be asserting your own point of view throughout your paper, even when you cite others: Why is the particular passage you chose important? How does this illustrate your point?

End with a paragraph (or two) that briefly restates your thesis and show how your conclusion is significant. You can suggest ways for exploring the issue further. As in the introduction, do not succumb to the temptation to end with a grandiose or broad-sweeping statement. Assertions such as "children's books shape the development of a child" are too general to be meaningful. Stick to the point of your paper even if it is a small one. Remember this is a short paper with a defined purpose and focus.


Be sure to give your paper a title that captures the main idea of the paper. Usually titles for academic papers come in the form of a question, a succinct summary of thesis or purpose, or a two-part title with a colon.

Brief checklist

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my question?
  • Why should people care?
  • What is the evidence for my claim?
  • What are potential counterarguments? How would I respond to them?
  • What title best sums up my paper?

Resources: Individual tutoring is available in the Writing Center for all students. Located in Bryan 341, the Center is open Monday-Friday. It gets busy as the semester progresses, but you can make an appointment by calling 924-6678.

(Adapted from Margarita Nafpaktitis's guidelines for "Writing a Good Paper")