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Learning Skills

Writing Workshop

  • Must include all the ideas included in the body of the paper in the order they later appear
  • Provide the complete name of author(s) and title(s) of the work(s).
  • Any necessary plot summary -- keep it brief!
  • Main idea/argument also known as thesis statement
Thesis Statement

The thesis statement serves as the controlling idea or argument of your paper and usually appears in the introduction of the paper. All supporting evidence and analysis must respond to the thesis. The thesis has three main components that tell your reader:

  1. What your objective is. Answer the question, "In this essay I will (argue, describe, critique, compare and contrast, etc.) ..." (edit out later). 
  2. How you will prove WHAT you said. Finish the sentence, "To do so I will..." (edit out later). At this point introduce the main argument (or section) of the text to which you are responding.
  3. Why you are writing this paper (other than because you have to!) Finish the sentence, "In doing WHAT I said I was going to do, and HOW I was going to do it, I will (show, prove, unveil, challenge, etc.)..." (edit out later). Answering this question sometimes requires a lot of thought, but it is a crucial part of your argument. It answers the question, "So what?"
  4. Please note the thesis does not need to be three separate sentences. Work on combining at least two components.
Body Paragraphs

Introduce the main idea of the paragraph (topic sentence)
Topic Sentences present the main idea of the paragraph and should be stated in your own words. I suggest students avoid using quotes as topic sentences. While using quotes in topic sentences is a stylistic technique used by some writers, I encourage students to use quotes to support an argument, not create one. I also discourage students from repeatedly using the name of authors or texts in topic sentences. Doing so often leads to plot summary of the authors' arguments instead of the students'.

"Unpack" /Develop main idea
Define key concepts.

Present evidence (personal anecdotes, quotes, paraphrase)
Every argument needs support and often quotes provide that evidence.
There are, however, some general rules about quotes writers should follow:

  • Quotes support an argument, not create one. State and develop your argument, then introduce quote(s) as supporting evidence. 
  • Every quote needs an introduction. In general, do not begin a sentence with a quote.
    example: Songs of the South pay homage to the trials of African Americans and document their experience in the United States. "They represent the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas" (p.30). revision: Songs of the South pay homage to the trials of African Americans and document their experience in the United States. DuBois writes, "[Sorrow songs] represent the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas" (p.30).
  • Every line quoted needs at least one line of analysis. You cannot assume the reader interprets the material in the same way you do. Avoid ending a paragraph with a quote.

Analyze evidence. Answer the question, "How does this example support the main idea of this paragraph?"

  • Analyzing evidence is like analyzing poetry. Answer the question, "Through these words/images (pick out specific words/images) what message does the author convey?" example: "History is told by the winners." Your analysis must answer the questions, "Who are the winners?" "How and by whom are the winners determined?" example: According to the author, the "winners" are those who colonize people and replace native languages with their own.

Remember: Avoid plot summary. Deal with plot summary in the introduction.


A conclusion is a lot like an introduction. You should restate all of your arguments in the order they were addressed in the paper, but it should not read like a laundry list of ideas. It is vital your conclusion address the question, "What's the relevance of everything I argued?" "Did I prove the why / so what part of your thesis?

Common Errors

Ambiguous Antecedents: Words like this, that, these, those, (and sometimes many, all, some), must be followed by a noun. example: Many oppose Proposition 209. revision: Many students oppose Proposition 209.

Brackets[ ]: Brackets are used when your own words or ellipses appear within a quote. example: In "Uprooting Racism and Racists in the United States," James Boggs writes, The first thing we have to understand is that racism is not a 'mental quirk' or 'psychological flaw' on the individual's part" (1970). revision: In "Uprooting Racism and Racists in the United States," James Boggs writes,"[...] racism is not a 'mental quirk' or 'psychological flaw' on the individual's part" (1970).

Cliches: Avoid them! They show no originality. example: My life is like a roller coaster; it has its ups and downs.

Colon(:): Use a colon when a list of three or more items follow or when introducing a formal sentence, idea, quote or question. example: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: "I have a dream."

Contractions: Avoid them! ...But know how to use them. Examples: can't (cannot); it's (it is); its (possessive)

Dashes -- : Use a dash (two hyphens), to emphasize a side thought. Dashes give a stronger emphasis than a comma or semi-colon. example: I have a mid-term today --and I haven't studied!

Passive Voice: Eliminate it! The passive voice slows down your prose. When the subject of your sentence is not doing the action, you have employed the passive voice. example: Affirmative action has been perceived by many people to have out-lived its original purpose. revision: Many people believe Affirmative Action no longer serves its original purpose.

Semi-Colon(;): Connects two separate, but closely related sentences. example: Many people doubt I'm a US citizen; they ask me, "Where were you born?"

Titles: Titles should be "catchy" and shed light on your thesis. example: NBA Equals Never Believe Anyone: An Analysis of Exploitation in Hoop Dreams

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Learning Skills Department
Located on the second floor of the Life Sciences Building

English: LS 201
Math: LS 205
Testing: LS 206

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