Writing Workshops

Workshop #2

When you submit paper #2, please include a draft.  Also, please attach your graded paper #1.  Paper #2 is due  Tuesday, November 26.

  1. Remember, a thesis is an argument, one that contains multiple claims, you will prove with specific textual evidence and discussion.  It is an opinion, or an interpretation, you want to teach your reader about your subject.  It organizes your entire essay, so it is the most important part of your project.  In order to generate a thesis, you must ask questions.  Intellectuals think and ask questions.  Your answers become arguments.  Before you begin writing, test your thesis.  Can you identify the separate claims that will organize your paragraphs?  Can you prove those claims using quotes from the text?  If you cannot identify the multiple claims of your thesis, then your argument is too general.Remember, the more specific your argument, the more you will have to say.
  2. Pay attention to your paragraphs.  A paragraph argues one idea.  It contains a topic sentence that articulates the paragraph’s single claim—that claim originates from your thesis. Use the topic sentence to announce the point your will prove in that paragraph. The body of your paragraph should include evidence—quotes from the text—and your explanation of what those quotes mean and how they prove your argument.
  3. When you discuss quotes, be sure to translate the quotation into your own words.  Tell your reader what it means. After you translate it, describe what you see and how it works.  This is called close reading.  Point out words, metaphors, and or formal concerns that help your reader understand your interpretation of its symbolic meaning. Finally, explain how your interpretation supports the claim of the paragraph. Do not try and do all of these things at once.
  4. Use the present tense when writing about literature.
  5. Remember to include an original title and page numbers.


Ten Style Tips:

These tips come from William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style:

  1. Use the active voice.  The active voice is more vigorous and direct than the passive:  “I will always remember him.” is much stronger than, “He will always be remembered.”
  2. Put statements in positive form.  Make definite assertions:  “He usually came late,” is clear.  “He was not very often on time,” is unclear.
  3. Use definite, specific, concrete language. Always prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract:  “It rained every day for a week,” is concrete.  “A period of unfavorable weather set it,” is vague.
  4. Omit needless words.  Vigorous writing is concise.  This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  For instance, the phrase “the question as to whether…” more effectively should read, “whether…” Or, “he is a man who…” should read “he…”
  5. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  6. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective has not been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.
  7. Avoid the use of qualifiers. Strunk and White are clear:  “Rather, very, little, pretty—these are leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”
  8. Revise and rewrite.  Revising is part of writing.  Do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written.  Save your drafts.  It is no sign of weakness that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery.  This is common among the best writers.
  9. Be clear.  When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through the terrible odds of syntax.  Break apart the cumbersome sentence, and replace it with two or more shorter sentences.
  10. Use simple language.  Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute.  Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.


This style advice comes from William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th Ed. 

And two more tips:

  1. Avoid contractions in formal writing.  Doesn’t becomes does not; can’t becomes cannot.
  2. Avoid plot summary.  If you find yourself describing events in a narrative for more than two sentences, stop what you are doing and consider the relevance.  Make sure your prose supports your thesis rather than fills space on the page.
  3. Avoid historical generalizations.  Argue only what you can prove via the available evidence.


Workshop #1

Before you can develop your thesis, you must choose a topic.  A topic is a general subject. Once you identify your topic, you can develop a thesis by asking questions about your topic.  Use your knowledge of the text and quotes from the text to help you develop answers and to find evidence to support your claims.

The most important aspect of a successful critical writing assignment is your thesis, your argument.  It organizes your essay, and without a viable thesis, your essay will fail. In order to generate a thesis, you must ask questions of your topic.  Your answers are arguments.  Intellectuals think and ask questions.  Trust yourself and what you know.  What themes in the novel or poem preoccupy you? What were you thinking about when you read the book, essay or poem you plan to write a paper about?  What terms are most important to your thesis?  Was there any part of the class discussion that made you think?  What confused you?  Use the details of the text to answer your questions; this specificity not only reinforces your attention to detail, it also identifies the evidence you will use for textual discussion.

Here are some writing tips:

  1. A thesis should have more than one point that you will have to prove.  A thesis is more complex than a topic; and, if you think your argument is obvious, it isn’t worth arguing.  In order to generate your own thesis, you must ask yourself questions and answer them.  Ask more questions.  Taken together, the answers can become an argument. Be sure to offer a thesis/argument/claim you can prove through specific textual evidence and discussion.
  2. Use a dictionary and the novel to define the most crucial terms of your argument.  In your essay, take the time to show your reader how you mean to use terms.
  3. Consider the implications of your thesis.  How does your argument nuance your topic?  In other words, what difference does it make that you offer your argument?  What will your reader learn from your insights?
  4. Evidence justifies a claim in your thesis.  You should include a discussion of evidence–a quote from the text– in every paragraph that follows your introduction.  Concerning textual evidence and discussion:  be sure to show your reader what you see.  Analyze the passage from multiple points of view.  Tell your reader what your passage means; in your own words, translate the passage. After you translate the passage, interpret it:  explain its metaphorical or figurative significance. You may be drawn to a passage because of its syntax, voice, or maybe the way it articulates a theme.  Explain to your reader how you arrive at your interpretation of the passage you quote.  This kind of analytic discussion will help you avoid plot summary.
  5. Use strong verbs and strong nouns.  Strong nouns and strong verbs do not depend on adjectives and adverbs.  When you find yourself using too many adjectives and adverbs, you may be writing a sentence that has little content or one that is unclear.  If you choose strong verbs and strong nouns, you will not have to fake it with adverbs and adjectives.
  6. Always use the present tense when writing about literature (even when you describe events in the novel or story).
  7. Write more than one draft of your essay.  Great writing comes from revision. Eliminate extraneous words and phrases–often these come with the overuse if prepositional phrases.  Make sure your paragraphs utilize evidence to argue one–only one–claim.
  8. Be sure to proofread and spell-check your work.  Proof-reading is not the same as revising.
  9. Always submit a paper with an original title and with page numbers.
  10. Plagiarism is not only cool, but illegal.  Unless you are writing a research paper, do not consult outside sources.  Use your own ideas and your own words.  Follow this link for a tutorial on plagiarism.