Writing your Core Papers

Here are some general guidelines for your papers (use this document as your cover sheet for all submissions):

First, structure them as so:

1. Your first paragraph should function as an introduction. It should introduce the reader to the subject and briefly summarize your main argument.

2. The middle of your essay should function as an exposition, providing evidence to support your argument.

3. Your last paragraphs should offer up a conclusion, fully summarizing or recapitulating your argument.

Second, embrace specifics and avoid generalizations, especially in your first paragraph (Trimble’s Writing in Style has great advice on opening sections; consult pages 23 through 28).

1. Tell compelling stories and offer examples from your text (or texts) that you think support your argument.

2. Avoid generalizations or vague observations about life, politics, reality, science, or other great big things—especially in your introduction and conclusion. Spare your reader opening sentences like “Never before in history . . . ” or “Globalization has changed our lives dramatically over the last twenty years.”

Third, use action verbs as often as possible; avoid existence verbs as often as possible. I refer to the verbs “is,” “was,” “are,” and “were” as existence verbs. Avoiding these verbs will almost immediately make your writing more succinct and interesting. So:

Write “hurricanes devastated the city” rather than “the city was devastated by hurricanes.”

Write “Queen Elizabeth I ruled England and Ireland from 1558 until 1903” rather than “Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 1558 until 1903.”

Write “she mailed the letter” rather than “the letter was mailed out by her.”

Write “we give each of you an iPad” rather than “each of you is given an iPad.”

Write “I lost it,” rather than “it was lost by me.”

Write, “the audience mocked her” rather than “she was mocked by the audience.”

Write, “I heard it through the grape vine,” rather than “it was heard by me through the grape vine” (thank you Marvin Gaye).

You can read more about active versus passive constructions here (I borrowed some of the above examples from the referenced essay). Also see: “How Texas Teaches History.” 

Fourth, quote sparingly, and only quote from your text when the quote seems quotable.

Don’t quote this: “From 2005 through 2012 Mr. Anderson stole approximately 14 million dollars from the Fleishacker account.” Do quote this: “Holy bleeping crapola that SOB stole 14m from us! Where is he? I want to kill him!”

You easily can summarize the first sentence, but not the second. Use quotes to give your prose flavor.

Fifth, don’t use clichés. For example:

“It was the mother of all party battles.” [zzzzzzz] “He was thinking outside the box.” [megasnore] “The hall was a mecca for political discussion.” [passing out now]

Other clichés words: “disruptive” technologies, game changer, deconstruct, synergy.

Using these words will single you out as a bore, so don’t.

Please use the reference guidelines in your core reader.

Other stuff: only one text block per paper please; staple your paper; give it page numbers; spell my name correctly (“Matthew Lasar”); use a spell checker; write grammatically correct sentences; do not plagiarize.


Excellent paper: explores a clearly articulated original argument which is bolstered by a strong narrative and referenced evidence. The writing is compelling and free of spelling or grammatical errors.

Very good paper: explores an argument with competent writing and references. The paper contains no spelling or grammatical errors and is competently presented.

Satisfactory paper: explores a vague but identifiable argument with adequate writing and references. The paper contains some errors but is competently presented.

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