Writing Papers

Expository writing requires language to express far more complex trains of thought than it was biologically designed to do. Inconsistencies caused by limitations of short-term memory and planning, unnoticed in conversation, are not as tolerable when preserved on a page that is to be perused more leisurely. Also, unlike a conversational partner, a reader will rarely share enough background assumptions to interpolate all the missing premises that make language comprehensive. Overcoming one's natural egocentrism and trying to anticipate the knowledge state of a generic reader at every stage of the exposition is one of the most important tasks in writing well. All this makes writing a difficult craft that must be mastered through practice, instruction, feedback, and--probably most important--intensive exposure to good examples. . . . [A] banal but universally acknowledged key to good writing is to revise extensively. Good writers go through anywhere from two to twenty drafts before releasing a paper. Anyone who does not appreciate this necessity is going to be a bad writer.

-Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

The following links form a natural sequence, but they are also interactive. I suggest you begin reading them in order, but you can read each independently, and links are provided in each selection to other documents as appropriate.

I. Four Keys to Writing in the Humanities
Basic structure and elements of a successful paper.
II. Four Stages of Writing
Selecting a topic, free writing, revising and refining, and technical check.
III. Paper Writing Guidelines
Guidelines for basic elements of paper writing.
IV. Sentence Structure and Puncuation: Clauses and Commas
Basic elements of sentence structure
V. Writing: The Bridge between Consciousness and Unconsciousness
An essay on the creative aspect of writing papers, especially for writing drafts.
VI. Checklist for Papers
A checklist to hand in with your longer papers.
VII. Writing Sample with Parenthetical In-line Page References
A sample for formatting elements of a paper such as endnotes, block quotations, and the like.
VIII. Peer Review Guidelines
Instructions for peer review of drafts.
IX. On-line guidelines
MLA-style endnotes/footnotes
Elements of Style by W. Strunk
American Heritage Book of English Usage
Roget's Thesaurus
Grammar and Style Guides for Writers



[Early on] I approached writing as primarily a matter of wording. Like the beginning pianist who focuses on the notes rather than the music, I thought of writing as a matter of choosing and arranging words in such a way as to sound impressive, or intelligent, or amusing, or touching. I had not reached a point at which writing becomes an end in itself, a means of discovering meaning. Nor had I developed an appreciation for the mystery of life. It was not that I lacked [life-]experience -- I lacked reverence for experience.

-Jake Gaskins, "On the Sorrow of Receiving a Teaching Award"

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Mark T. Unno 2000