First, have a main point, some central idea you want to get across, so that you are actively involved in communicating an idea of your own, rather than mechanically fulfilling an assignment; so that you don’t give the sense that “the point of this paper is to write a paper because it was assigned.”

    A “thesis statement” is not a “topic,” but a statement made about a topic, an idea or point of view. A thesis statement is NOT “the civil rights movement in America,” but “the civil rights movement in America changed from the early to late sixties because of the government’s commitment to desegregating the schools.” Not “the nature of man in King Lear” but, “In King Lear Shakespeare presents man as a complex creature with potential for both good and evil.”

    There are many ways of writing. Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to say before they say it and are able to write from an outline. Others do not know what they mean until they have said it and discover their ideas in the process of writing–that is most of us! If you are one of these, you may not know the main point of your paper until you get to the end and find it embedded somewhere in the final paragraph, or in the third paragraph from the last. This is an acceptable way to proceed; BUT you must then re-write and re-organize your paper, stating your main point at the beginning and developing it in the succeeding paragraphs. Don’t put your poor reader through the same process you’ve had to go through, of having to discover your ideas as you go along.
    1. Your reader can’t read your mind: you may know what you want to say, but I have no way of knowing until you have made it absolutely clear. Really! Writing depends on a precise and complicated system of signals. Every mark on the page commits you to a specific meaning, raises expectations which you must follow through on. “This!” means something different from “this:” or “this,”. Your reader is easily confused…trust me!
    2. Get used to revising: It’s a misconception to assume that because you can talk, you can write. Writing involves care and revision. How many times you will need to revise varies from person to person; some get by with two or three drafts, some require more.
    3. Leave time between when you write the paper and when you hand it in. This will enable you to read it over with a fresh eye. When you write, you’re so close to the material that you can’t tell whether you’ve said what you mean. Time and distance from your own writing enables you to see it as though it were someone else’s writing and to detect your own errors.
    4. Read your paper aloud to yourself. This is often a way of detecting problem areas or knots. If you have difficulty following your own meaning, don’t assume that it will be easier for anyone else. When you get entangled in a sentence, stop and start over, asking yourself, “What exactly am I trying to say? Don’t be so committed to the sentence you have begun that you’re afraid to scrap it and start over.
    5. PROOFREAD!! It is difficult to have any respect for a manuscript whose author appears to despise it. Clear and correct writing is not a matter of demonstrating your typing skills, but of showing some respect for your work and for the sanity of the person trying to read it. A change in one letter can change your meaning entirely. Writing “not” for “now”; “does” for “dies”; “shit” for “shot” (none of which spell check will catch!!) can make nonsense of your sentence and drive your reader crazy
    1. Get right down to business, particularly in short papers: you don’t have much time not to. Padding is obvious. Opening paragraphs that function like, “Let me get my thoughts together while I figure out what I’m trying to say,” are clumsy, inefficient, and just fill space. Purge this kind of thing from your writing.
    2. State the main idea at the beginning, then develop and support it in the paragraphs that follow.
    3. Organize your supporting and concluding ideas. There must be some principle of organization or logical progression in the paper, some reason why one paragraph follows another. (for example, in writing a paper about a work of literature, rarely is it appropriate to follow the organization of the work being discussed). If you find yourself writing, “as I said above,” or “as I have already mentioned,” then there is probably something wrong with your organization.
    Paragraphs are indispensable to both writers and readers. Imagine what it would be like to read a long work without them. They are a unit of organization, and the indentation on the page is a visual guide to the organization of the work.
    1. A paragraph deals with one thing—one point, one aspect of a point. It is not a random group of sentences thrown together; there must be some reason why each sentence is included within the same paragraph; each must be related to the main point. A paragraph should have a topic sentence, preferably at the beginning, which states the main idea. The idea should be developed in the sentences that follow, according to some principle of organization—as in the paper as a whole—which determines why one sentence follows another.
    2. A logical progression of ideas from sentence to sentence within the paragraph—and from paragraph to paragraph within the paper--is crucial in clear, smooth writing. Each sentence raises expectations that the next sentence should follow through on; if it doesn’t, then meaning is derailed. Leaps in thought, omissions of steps, can make nonsense of what might otherwise be a respectable idea. Take these two sentences:

      “The teacher was very mean. I like her a lot”

      The first sentence raises expectations, which the second sentence contradicts, leaving the reader confused. Sometimes the problem can be remedied by supplying the missing information in the sequence:

      “The teacher was very mean. However, considering the way some students acted, she seemed pretty fair, and I liked her a lot.”

      Sometimes, the problem can be remedied simply by supplying transitions (words or phrases that serve as bridges or links between thoughts):

      “The teacher was very mean. Still (or Nevertheless), I liked her a lot.

      “Still” or “Nevertheless” qualifies the response, creating a statement that indicates a complex emotion rather than a simple contradiction.

    Avoid passive and “there is” constructions, and stick to subject—active verb—object word order.
    1. What’s wrong with the passive sentence? It’s acted upon, not active, and like all passive creatures, it tends to get flabby. “The book was given to me by him” is much more awkward and inefficient than “He gave me the book.” It has two problems: it’s vague and wordy. The “doer” is not immediately apparent and has to be specified: “by him.” If you omit it, it’s vague; if you include it, it’s wordy. This is a simple example, but when you get into more complex ideas and elaborate constructions, sentences easily get out of control. However, the passive construction can be effective when used sparingly (See note on passive at the end of this section).
    2. What’s wrong with “there is” constructions? They are flabby and vague: “For most of the characters, there is a learning process.” Instead, use an active verb: “Most of the characters go through a learning process.”
    3. Simplify and condense. Just as machines include no unnecessary parts, sentences should include no unnecessary words; both should be streamlined for maximum efficiency. When in doubt, leave it out.
    4. Subject—active verb—object! This is the simplest, clearest, and most efficient sentence construction. It immediately specifies, who or what is doing something (subject), what they are doing (verb), and to whom or what they are doing it (object). Don’t, of course, write every sentence like this. But at first, it’s best to make sure you have your construction under control; then, as you become more practiced, use more complicated and varied sentence constructions.
    5. Connectives (conjunctions). These are words used to connect two parts of a sentence (e.g., clauses), or two sentences—“and,” “but,” “since,” “yet,” “still,” “nevertheless,” “however”—imply specific logical relationships between the parts they’re connecting. Be aware of these relationships, and don’t use these words randomly.
    6. Parallel construction is a helpful principle in writing clear sentences. It means, simply, lining up nouns, verbs, or clauses, in similar forms. It makes your meaning clearer to your reader, and may help you to detect logical inconsistences:
      “I like eating, sleeping, and skiing,”
      rather than,
      “I like eating, sleeping, and to ski,”
      “This novel is about the uses of the imagination and the possibilities of survival,”
      rather than,
      “This novel is about the uses of the imagination and how to survive.”
    7. Note on the passive construction (see above). At times the passive construction can be effective and useful for varying sentence structure or emphasis.
      1. The simple, active construction (subject--active verb--object) can become monotonous to your reader. The passive can break the monotony for special effect, particularly when you wish to emphasize the inactivity, submission, suffering, or obedience of the object: “The Junior Anti-Sex League indoctrinates the virtue of celibacy;  procreation will soon be carried on solely through artificial insemination  (“artsem,” in Newspeak).”
      2. The passive construction is useful for intentional emphasis.
        Consider the two sentences:
        “The elegists of Rome are poorly understood today.”
        “Modern readers have a poor understanding of the elegists of Rome.”
        The first (passive) would be appropriate for a paragraph on the elegists; the second, in a paragraph of the sophistication (or lack thereof) of modern readers.
        Consider these two sentences:
        “He was assaulted by jeers.”
        “Jeers assaulted him.”
        The first (passive) imparts a discomforting sense of personality to the jeers, as if they were actual agents; the second has a less forceful impact.
      3. The passive construction is sometimes necessary for placing the intended subject or focus of the sentence where it can be modified appropriately.
        “He was assaulted by jeers, lambasting of the most vehement sort and obscenities rarely spoken, which re-echoed through the city streets from dawn to dusk.”
    1. Be sure you know exactly what you mean by each word you choose. Keep a dictionary at hand while writing and check it frequently. Don’t use “big words” because they “sound good”; if you’re unsure of their precise meaning, they will only sound pretentious or confused. Don’t be afraid to say things simply and directly: talk straight! Simplicity is not the same as simple-mindedness. Polysyllabic words and complicated sentence constructions which are used to create an impression of sophistication create only confusion.
      In the digital age, you can refer to Dictionary.com (for meaning) and Thesaurus.com (for synonyms and antonyms), or, better to the Merriam-Webster page.
    2. Use definite, specific, concrete language. Avoid general, vague, and abstract expressions. Definite, specific, concrete language, as well as specific examples to illustrate a point, clarify your thoughts for your reader. Precision, both in language and examples, tells the reader that you know what you are talking about.
    Quoting is an art. It takes skill and care to incorporate gracefully the language and ideas  of another into your own writing.
    1. Always introduce a quotation in your own words. State its source (don’t just bury the author’s name in the footnote); state the relevance of the quotation to your argument. Don’t assume that its relevance will be self-evident to your reader, and don’t rely on it to express ideas that you yourself should.
    2. Reduce quoting from secondary sources to a minimum. Don’t substitute lumps of quotation from someone else’s writing for your own analysis. Paraphrase, quoting crucial words where necessary, working ideas in smoothly. Always acknowledge sources.
    3. Substantiate ideas by quoting from literature. This can be effective. Specific references to the text can substantiate ideas which might otherwise be left vague and unsupported. Quoting can give your reader a sense of your understanding of the work and can re-create the experience of a novel or poem—though, again, don’t rely on large clumps of quotations to express ideas that you yourself should. When quoting from literature, it is sometimes necessary to identify the speaker and the context, rather than just allowing the quotation to hang, floating freely (Ex. At the end of the play, Malvolio says, “I’ll be revenged on the lot of you!”)
    4. Be sure your quotation makes grammatical sense. When you quote, you are taking someone else’s words out of context. Be sure you include somewhere the essential information you have taken out: make sure the pronouns “he,” “it,” “this,” etc., are identified somewhere in the sentence with which you introduce the quotation, or else include them brackets within the quote.
    5. Be sure your quotation makes syntactical (structural) sense. Accommodate your sentence structure to the quote. Avoid long quotations that interrupt the syntax of a sentence: “When Hamlet says ‘—ten lines from Hamlet—‘ he means…”
    6. Isolate long quotations. For prose quotations over four to five lines and for verse of two or more lines, triple-space vertically above and below the quotation; indent at least one or more spaces than your paragraph indentation; single-space the entire quotation. For verse, retain the beginnings and ends of the lines as the poet wrote them. If the end exceeds your right margin, begin a new line with additional indentation of two spaces. Then begin the new verse on the next line. Indentation takes the place of quotation marks, so omit them. For quotations within the text of a verse of more than one line, whose structure is enjambed [is completed in following line] use a slash [/] to indicate the end of a line: “…the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”
    7. Use double quotation marks ( “ ” ) for direct quotation, for titles of poems, chapters of books, essays, stories, articles from newspapers, journals, and magazines, short musical compositions (as distinct from symphonies and operas), works of art. Use them also to emphasize a word or phrase which is itself the subject of discussion, to indicate a technical term or special usage (e.g. dialect, slang).
    8. Use single quotation marks (‘ ’) for a quotation within a quotation.
    9. Place quotation marks with other punctuation carefully. Periods and commas go inside quotation marks; semicolons and colons go outside.
    10. Use italics for titles of books, journals and magazines, plays, symphonies and operas, and for all words in a foreign language. When handwriting, underline instead.