Make a Plan

Before starting to work on anything, make a strategic plan. What does that mean? Pull out a calendar/agenda/planner, pull out/up all of your classes' syllabi, and mark down everything required of you during the entire semester. You are going to have a difficult time balancing the requirements of all of your classes if you don’t know when things are happening. College is meant to teach personal responsibility along with everything else, and time management falls under this category.

The worst thing you can do is short-change yourself with time. Unfortunately, no one has discovered a way of regaining lost time, so you need to plan and plan well. Only you know how long an activity is going to take. Give yourself the proper amount of time. You will thank yourself later when multiple things start needing your attention simultaneously.

Okay, now we can tackle writing.

The Three Phases of the Writing Process

We are going to split the process down into three overarching phases: The Thinking Phase, The Writing Phase, and The Editing Phase.

Reading Space

The first step in what we are calling the thinking phase is to establish a reading space. The best place to absorb information varies depending on the person. Some people need total silence in order to concentrate while others need a constant stream of sound.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that reading for class is different than reading for fun, so the normal reading space might have to be adjusted. Take some time to experiment to find the most optimal location. Once you’ve found it, get comfortable. You'll probably be there for a while.

Don’t forget to bring headphones wherever you decide to set up. (The way you study might be a hindrance to someone else around you.)

Below are a few Youtube music streams and channels that might help with concentration:

LoFi Hip-Hop Music:

Relaxing Mixes:

Movie Soundtracks:

Active Reading: How to Digest a Text

For the purpose of serving our bread and butter, we are going to be focusing primarily on English-related texts (i.e., novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, etc.), but we do have some resources below that will help students navigate textbooks and parse the information therein.

Awesome! Let's get started.

Step 1: Read the text.

I know this sounds sarcastic, but you would be surprised (or maybe not) how many students try to get away with never opening the assigned reading material for class. The purpose in active reading is to slow down in order to absorb the information the professor is trying to teach you. Some things to keep in mind while reading are: (1) Why did my professor assign this text? (2) How does this text factor into the overall theme of the class? (3) What is the significance of the assigned text? Is there something socially/politically/historically relevant about it? (4) Is this text revealing something about current events? Is it demonstrating a continuation of a certain type of behavior? Does it break from the norm? (These questions can help with answering the larger implications or the "So What?" of your essay.)

The first read through of the material is to ascertain plot, narrative structure, some of the big themes, and the motivation of the main characters, but don't limit yourself to only these things. You should also start paying attention to the things that grab your focus. Is there a minor character that you are fascinated with? Is there a setting that you are honing in on? A certain scene that you keep thinking about? You also might want to pay attention to where a text is missing information. Are there any blind spots in the presentation? What's the text's bias? You don't need to answer these questions now; you just want to make a note of it if you observe it.

We advise that you take notes as you read (see Annotation and Note-Taking below for some helpful tips and resources). Writing down your observations as they occur will help keep the information in your head. Also, the more you write down the more material you will have to reference back to when you move to start brainstorming and forming an argument.

(What if you don't have time to read the entire text? At the bottom of this page, we have some tips on how to effectively skim material. We've all done it. No one reads every word or every piece of assigned literature. Don't worry. You can find shortcuts and still succeed.)

Step 2: Re-read the text, but this time with intent.

I know, I know, who has time to read something all the way through once, let alone twice, when taking multiple classes and working on multiple assignments. This step is more for essay preparation than for class preparation. When you are writing an essay, you will have to re-read either the entire text over again or at least large sections; this is why it is important to take good notes and make sensible notations when reading. Notes will help with formulating the argumentation of your essay and in finding evidence to support the pre-established claim.

The second read through is primarily about parsing the language utilized within the text. (This is especially true if you are looking at poetry.)

The important thing to remember about language is that the connotation of a word can change over time, so don't forget to reference the Oxford English Dictionary if you are ever  trying to figure out the definition of a word in a different century. (You are going to need to log in with the first part of your email username [everything before the] and password to use the OED.) The way words were used in Shakespeare's England are different than how we use them today.

You also want to think about the author's intentionality during the re-read. Why did they write it? Is it in protest of something? Is it to draw the reader's attention to something? Are they informing you about something or misleading you? You will also need to re-evaluate the author's biases here. Have they purposely not explored something? Whose narrative is being privileged? What does that privilege mean? What does it reveal?

Additional Resources:

Annotation and Note-Taking

Annotating a text is all about slowing down to really understand the material; it forces you to take the text apart and digest it into consumable pieces. Plan accordingly to give yourself the time and space to breakdown the text.

While it might go against everything you've been taught up until now, the easiest way to make notes while reading is to write directly on the text. Yes, this includes books. (But still not library books. Those don’t belong to you. Respect the property of others' by not defacing them.) If you feel uncomfortable writing in a book, invest in some sticky notes; they are a great way to keep track of your thoughts while not scribbling on the text itself. Sticky notes also come in a wide variety of shapes and colors that can add a bit of personality to note-taking.

Below are a few things you might want to have on hand/keep in mind when annotating:

  • Supple List (Optional):
    • Sticky Notes
    • Post-It Flags
    • Highlighters (assorted colors)
    • Pens (assorted colors)
    • Pencil
    • Notebook/Paper
  • Chart Key (Optional):
    • Mark sentences or passages that are confusing with a question mark
    • Bracket information you might want to get clarification on in class or from the professor
    • Circle words that are new to you and need to be looked up. (Don’t be afraid to pull out your phone for a quick Google search.)
    • Highlight or underline passages you think are important. (If you want, you can use different colors for different pieces of information.)
  • Marginal Notations: (These could also be taken on a separate piece of paper or in a notebook.)
    • Write down if something:
      • Reminds you of a different text
      • Interests, impresses, surprises, disturbs, confuses etc.
      • Is historically significant or references a specific date
      • Is a literary device or significant to the author’s use of language

The important thing to remember is that these are your personal notes to help you decipher what information you might utilize when writing your essay. You can organize them any way you see fit; these notes are for you.

Additional Resources:

Annotation Apps:

Understanding the Assignment

Every assignment has its own unique purpose. The professor expresses this purpose in the language of the assignment/prompt/directions. It's your job to parse this language to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. The easiest way to derail your grade is to deviate from what the professor is asking you to do within an assignment.

(You can utilize some of the same materials from your annotation supplies here. Different color pens/pencils will help with parsing the language of an assignment.)

Below are a few strategies for decoding a prompt from Swarthmore College1:

  • Look for key words. Look for words in the assignment that indicate what type of writing the professor wants you to produce. Such words help you frame your paper, find your audience, and generate the type of writing your professor expects. For example, there is a difference between "summarize" and "analyze." Be aware of the meanings of words like "discuss", "evaluate", "explain", "describe", and "define." If you aren't sure what your professor means by a certain word in the assignment, don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
  • Know the purpose of the paper. Once you've figured out what the assignment is telling you, think about how you will write to fulfill the expectations of your audience. The assignment may require you to persuade your reader, compare and contrast ideas, or summarize an author's point of view. Considering your purpose at this point will make it easier for you to figure out what kind of thesis you'll need when you start to write the paper.
  • Fulfill the criteria in the prompt. This point may seem self-evident, but it's important! It's easy to get off-topic when you're in the brainstorming stage. When considering your ideas, look back at the assignment to make sure you're still within the parameters set by your professor. Be aware of the specific details of the assignment and know your audience, word limit, and other guidelines.
  • Ask for clarity. Sometimes professors make assignments vague or open-ended so that you have an opportunity to work on a topic that interests you. If you don't understand the assignment, if you're having trouble developing a topic, or if you're worried that your topic may stray from your assignment, ask your professor for guidance or visit the Writing Center.

Additional Resources:


The main point is to get your thoughts down on paper. (This is where good notes and annotations come in handy.) Brainstorming is meant to help focus in on an argument. The easiest way to determine what an essay should be about is to figure out where your attention/interest is with the assigned reading material. Once you have ascertained your interest, start narrowing in on a topic/argument.

Brainstorming an Idea from Student Success's exploration of the research process demonstrates one type of brainstorming with an included example.

Other types of Brainstorming, which were compiled by UNC Chapel Hill2, are as follows:

  • Free-writing. Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Choose a topic, idea, or question you would like to consider. It can be a specific detail or a broad concept-whatever you are interested in exploring at the moment. Write (on paper or on a computer) for 7-10 minutes non-stop on that topic. If you get stuck and don’t know what to say next, write “I’m stuck and don’t know what to say next…” or try asking yourself “what else?” until another idea comes to you. Do not concern yourself with spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Your goal is to generate as much as you can about the topic in a short period of time and to get used to the feeling of articulating ideas on the page. It’s okay if it’s messy or makes sense only to you. You can repeat this exercise several times, using the same or a variety of topics connecting to your subject. Read what you have written to see if you have discovered anything about your subject or found a line of questioning you’d like to pursue.
  • Clustering/Webbing. Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Put a word you’d like to explore in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. As fast as you can, free-associate or jot down anywhere on the page as many words as you can think of associated with your center word. If you get stuck, go back to the center word and launch again. Speed is important and quantity is your goal. Don’t discount any word or phrase that comes to you, just put it down on the page. Jot words for between 5-10 minutes. When you are finished you will have a page filled with seemingly random words. Read around on the page and see if you have discovered anything or can see connections between any ideas.
  • Listing. On a piece of paper list all the ideas you can think of connected to subjects you are considering exploring. Consider any idea or observation as valid and worthy of listing. List quickly and then set your list aside for a few minutes. Come back and read your list and do the exercise again.
  • Cubing. This technique helps you look at your subject from six different points of view (imagine the 6 sides of a cube and you get the idea). Take your topic or idea and 1) describe it, 2) compare it, 3) associate it with something else you know, 4) analyze it (meaning break it into parts), 5) apply it to a situation you are familiar with, 6) argue for or against it. Write at least a paragraph, page, or more about each of the six points of view on your subject.
  • Journalistic questions. Write these questions down the left hand margin of a piece of paper: Who? What? Where? When? How? And Why? Think about your topic in terms of each question. What? So What? Now what? To begin to explore an idea first ask yourself, “What do I want to explore?” and write about that topic for a page or more. Then read what you have written and ask “So what?” of the ideas expressed so far. Again, write for a page or more. Finally ask yourself, “Now what?” to begin to think about what else you might consider or where you might go next with an idea.
  • Summarizing positions. Sometimes it’s helpful to simply describe what you know as a way to solidify your own understanding of something before you try to analyze or synthesize new ideas. You can summarize readings by individual articles or you can combine what you think are like perspectives into a summary of a position. Try to be brief in your description of the readings. Write a paragraph or up to a page describing a reading or a position.

Additional Resources:

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical Thinking as defined by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform3:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.

Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.

Additional Resources:

Skimming (and other reading strategies)

Below are the definitions of skimming and scanning from Butte University4:

Skimming and scanning are reading techniques that use rapid eye movement and keywords to move quickly through text for slightly different purposes. Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts. While skimming tells you what general information is within a section, scanning helps you locate a particular fact. Skimming is like snorkeling, and scanning is more like pearl diving.

Use skimming in previewing (reading before you read), reviewing (reading after you read), determining the main idea from a long selection you don't wish to read, or when trying to find source material for a research paper.

Use scanning in research to find particular facts, to study fact-heavy topics, and to answer questions requiring factual support.

Additional Resources:

Skimming Activities:

If you decide to use online resources like Sparknotes or watch a film adaptation instead of doing the reading, you are still going to need to do a little extra reading about your text. Sparknotes is not going to tell you everything so still read some of the actual text before going to class. As for film adaptations, you are going to need to know what they changed. Some adaptations might as well have a completely new title with how far they are from the original text. Be very careful relying on outside resources. Your professor will spot that you haven't done your reading very fast if you mention something completely off the wall during class discussion.


  1. "Understanding Your Assignment." Writing Associates Program, Swarthmore College, Accessed 28 March 2020.
  2. "In-Class Writing Exercises." The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Accessed 29 April 2020.
  3. "Defining Critical Thinking.", Foundation for Critical Thinking, Accessed 1 May 2020.
  4. "Skimming and Scanning." Center for Academic Success, Butte College, Accessed 4 May 2020.

On this page, we are walking you through the writing phase step-by-step. We will provide you with instructions, examples, and curated lists of resources to utilize as you work on your own essay projects. Please, do not use any of our examples within your papers; that would be plagiarism unless they are properly cited and sourced.  

In order to demonstrate how to write an argument, we are going to take apart an NPR Throughline episode call "Zombies"1 to showcase the different parts of an essay. The episode is not the perfect example of a traditional college essay, but we will discuss why some of their methods are not to be mirrored while explaining how each example functions within the writing process. When we have pulled directly from the transcript of the episode, we will mark those passages with quotation marks.

Creating an Argument

The place to start when writing an essay is, first and foremost, creating an argument. Now, we're not saying that you need to know every step of your paper from the very beginning; what you are doing at this stage is looking at your brainstorming activities and sorting through your notes to ascertain a topic to explore. Is there a theme to your brainstorming notes? Is there something that you focused on? Repeated? As we talked about in the Brainstorming section (of the Thinking Phase), the easiest way to begin developing an argument is to concentrate on the things that pique your interest. Once you have settled on a topic, you will begin outlining.

Additional Resources:


Ashford University created the outline structured below2:

I. Introduction

• Thesis: Indicate your topic, your main point about that topic, and the points of discussion for that topic.

II. Body Paragraph 1: Topic sentence goes here.

• Supporting evidence: A paraphrase or quote from one of your sources goes here, along with an in-text citation.

◦ Explanation of the meaning of the supporting evidence.

◦ So what? A direct statement on how the supporting evidence does in fact support the claim made in the topic sentence.

III. Body Paragraph 2: Topic sentence goes here.

• Supporting evidence

◦ Explanation

◦ So what?

IV. Body Paragraph 3: Topic sentence goes here.

• Supporting evidence

◦ Explanation

◦ So what?

V. Conclusion:

• Rephrased Thesis Statement: Rephrase your thesis.

• Strong Closing: Close your paper with the significance of this discussion. Why is this discussion important?

The example outline structure can be adapted or expanded as needed. While it is structured as such, it is rare that a college essay is going to fall into the five-paragraph form. You will more than likely have more paragraphs, but in some cases, you could actually have less than three topics to explore.

The UWC has an outline structured for the research process – How to Create an Outline – that can be adapted to help with organizing counterarguments and incorporating quotations. Research and quotations should be handled in similar ways; both need to be rigorously evaluated before inclusion into the essay proper as well as fully explored and explained when they are incorporated. (For more information about quotation integration, check out The Writing Process: Finding the Evidence.) 

Additional Resources:

Thesis Statement/Claim/Argument

The information below is moderately adapted from Writing in Ethical Reasoning 22: Justice by Professor Michael Sandel from Harvard University3:

Your thesis should directly respond to the question asked in the assignment. It should clearly and concisely state your main argument. A strong thesis is crucial to a good paper.

  • Take a position and provide a reason for that position. It might be helpful to test whether your thesis could fit into the following model: (Statement of your position) because (reason for your position). You want to avoid simply restating the paper topic without actually making an argument. If your thesis is an argument it should be arguable, which means that it should be possible for a skeptical reader to disagree with the thesis. There also should be evidence available to support your thesis.
  • Evaluate, don’t just describe. Your thesis should be your argument. Don't fall into the trap of simply summarizing the plot of your text or listing what you want to look at in your essay. You need to draw the readers attention to the "why" and not the "what" – why is the author presenting information in a certain way not just explaining what the author is saying.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Make sure that your position is something you can actually defend in the required page limit of your assignment. Don't have a vague or overly broad sentence that would exceed your allotted space to fully explore. [Professor Sandel's example: you probably should not try to prove that Lockean liberalism is right or wrong, but you might be able to demonstrate that a particular moral controversy reveals a weakness in one facet of Locke’s theory. Also be careful about using language that is too broad such as “the free market is always unjust” or “rights may never be infringed by the state.” Such sweeping generalizations are usually uninformative and false.]
  • Be specific. Don't use general or vague terms in your essays. More specific concepts can help you focus your paper and keep you from having to discuss all the different versions of rights theory, which would be beyond the scope of the paper. Your thesis should encapsulate the main argument of your paper in one or two sentences so make every word count. A vague thesis is a weak start to your paper. [The example Professor Sandel uses is the general term “rights”. To make sure that your thesis is strong, you would want to uses the more specific terms “inalienable rights” or “natural rights” or “property rights.”]
  • Check to ensure your thesis fits the paper. After you have finished writing the paper, you should check to make sure it actually argues for the position you take in your thesis and for the reasons that you give in your thesis. It often helps to rewrite your thesis after you have completed a draft of the paper, since your position may have evolved as you wrote the argument. 

Podcast Example Thesis:

"Our collective fascination with zombies started almost a century ago, which made us wonder - who invented the zombie, and why are we still so drawn to these flesh-eating monsters?"

Thesis Breakdown:

This is a two-fold thesis: they are setting up for their reader/listener that they will be exploring the origins of zombies (history) and the modern fascination with the mythology (cinematic representation as well as a contemporary over-saturation within pop culture).

Problems with Thesis:

As a draft thesis, this is a fine place to start, but you would not turn in a paper with your argument structured in this way.

The main problem with the example thesis is that it is in the form of a question. You never want to have a question as your thesis unless your professor specifically asks for it. You also don't want to draw attention to yourself as the writer ("us") or to your reader ("our" and "we") as demonstrated above; in academic papers, you want to maintain an academic distance when writing essays.

Revised Thesis:

While people's collective fascination started almost a century ago, the historic delineation of the zombie's literal connection to enslavement and oppression directly influences the metaphoric interpretations of the flesh-eating monsters popular in contemporary film franchises.

Additional Resources:

Active vs. Passive Voice

As mentioned above, one of the important things to keep in mind while writing a thesis is being precise in your language. (You should keep this in mind for your essay as a whole. You want to be as specific as possible whenever possible.) We thought it would be a good time to pause with the foundations of the essay to explain an important piece of grammar to keep in mind while you write: active vs. passive voice. Here's a small overview to help you identify it so you can avoid it.

Note: Some paper/subjects require you to use passive voice rather than active, such as Nursing papers. You need to keep in mind the objective of your assignment when deciding which verb type should be implemented.

  • Active Voice is putting the subject at the beginning of the sentence, followed by an action, and then the object that receives the action. (Subject + Action + Object = Active Voice)
  • Passive Voice is when the object of an action is turned into the subject of a sentence, which means that whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. (Form of “to be” + Past Participle = Passive Voice)
    • UNC Chapel Hill has a very helpful webpage detailing what passive voice is and how to revise your paper to eliminate it: Passive Voice.

Active Verbs

In order to keep you writing in active voice, you will need an active verb in your sentence. We are proving you with a list of verbs to choose from. (You can also use the list below to replace the word "said" when introducing quotes.)

UsageList of Options
Literary EssayAlludes to, Attests, Clarifies, Confirms, Connotes, Conveys, Denotes, Depicts, Determines, Displays, Emphasizes, Entails, Establishes, Exemplifies, Explains, Exposes, Expounds, Highlights, Hints, Illustrates, Implies, Indicates, Portrays, Represents, Reveals, Shows, Signifies, Substantiates, Suggests, Typifies, Underscores
Dealing with an expert’s opinion or research studiesAnalyzes, Assumes, Concludes, Confirms, Considers, Construes, Deduces, Deliberates, Demonstrates, Examines, Explores, Identifies, Imparts, Indicates, Maintains, Manifests, Misconstrues, Observes, Perceives, Pinpoints, Presumes, Questions, Reasons, Refers, Remarks, Scrutinizes, Speculates, Substantiates, Supports, Supposes, Theorizes, Upholds, Validates, Verifies
Describing beginnings, causes, effects, etc.Advances, Affects, Commences, Compels, Discovers, Empowers, Forces, Generates, Ignites, Impacts, Imposes, Incites, Includes, Influences, Initiates, Instigates, Introduces, Involves, Kindles, Launches, Leads to, Presents, Pressures, Promotes, Prompts, Provokes, Results in, Sparks, Stimulates, Triggers, Yields
Referring to possibilities of what ideas can do, create, or assist withAccomplishes, Achieves, Aids, Alleviates, Ameliorates, Assembles, Assists, Attains, Attempts, Augments, Builds, Constructs, Delivers, Develops, Discourages, Emits, Encourages, Engenders, Enhances, Enriches, Establishes, Expands, Facilitates, Grants, Improves, Increases, Manufactures, Offers, Produces, Progresses, Provides, Reaches, Supplies, Transforms
Laws or Legal ProposalsAuthorizes, Allows, Averts, Bans, Bars, Consents, Defends, Disallows, Documents, Endorses, Forbids, Guarantees, Guards, Hinders, Inhibits, Licenses, Neglects, Outlaws, Permits, Precludes, Prevents, Prohibits, Protects, Safeguards, Sanctions, Secures, Thwarts

Topic Sentences

Defined by Aims Community College4:

Since body paragraphs for an essay should be centered around one main idea that relates the thesis, creating a clear topic sentence is helpful for both the writer and the reader. For the writer, a topic sentence makes it easier to stay on topic and develop the main idea without getting off track. For the reader, topic sentences announce what the paragraph will be about and demonstrate how different paragraphs and ideas are connected to each other. 

topic sentence generally appears early in a body paragraph (often the first or second sentence) and controls the paragraph. A topic sentence is like a mini thesis sentence for each paragraph and serves to unify the contents of the paragraph. Everything that follows in the paragraph needs to relate to the topic sentence. Not all essays call for explicit topic sentences, but most beginning writers should learn how to write effective topic sentences early on in order to achieve paragraph unity.

It is also important that all topic sentences relate to the thesis statement. This allows for the essay to have greater unity and focus.

Podcast Example Topic Sentence: 

"To understand how the zombie came to be associated with a death-like state, a body without a soul, we need to go back to the original zombie in Haitian culture. [...] [H]ow the myth of the living dead was born out of being enslaved."

Problems with Sentence:

The example is too conversational in tone. While you are talking to your audience through your essay, you need to maintain that academic distance throughout your paper; this sentence addresses the audience with "we" in an inclusive nature with the presenter (writer). The problem with the above statement derives from the medium’s argumentation structure. Now, if you were writing a conference paper or the written draft for a presentation, the topic sentence could and would work. You need a different type of distancing for an oral argument than for a written one. I would however still caution you about using pronouns in either type of presentation; it's not totally against the rules, but it is best to avoid if you are not 100% sure how you should include them. When in doubt, tell the audience who these placeholders are.

Revised Sentence:

The original zombie from Haitian culture – a death-like state or a body without a soul – demonstrates the destructive nature of the institution of slavery, which lead to the creation of the myth of the living dead.

Additional Resources:


The information below is moderately adapted from Writing in Ethical Reasoning 22: Justice by Professor Michael Sandel from Harvard University3:

In the body of your paper, you will provide reasons and evidence that support your thesis and acknowledge counterarguments to your position.

  • Break your argument down into parts. If you have trouble with the organization of your papers, then you may want to break down the argument to be presented in the rest of the paper in your introductory paragraph. 
  • Make sure you provide support for your argument. Do not write a paper that focuses too much on the practical problems of an issue without defending a broader claim. While some students have a problem with being too general or vague, others have a problem with being too focused and narrow.
  • Acknowledge counterarguments. You can strengthen your argument by anticipating counterarguments, even if you cannot conclusively refute them. Entertaining counterarguments shows that you are aware of alternative explanations and demonstrates your knowledge and fairness. When selecting counterarguments try to find a balance between which are the strongest and which highlight some aspect of your argument.
  • Organize your argument so that it has a logical flow. It is important that the different stages of your argument are easy for the reader to identify and understand and that the later stages of your argument follow directly from the earlier stages. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that indicates what point that paragraph will cover. Topic sentences should also help the flow of the paper by connecting the ideas covered in each paragraph. Using transition words can help you connect your ideas (however, therefore, on the other hand, moreover, furthermore). Clear transitions will also help to avoid a laundry list style paper that lists seemingly unconnected points about an issue.

Paragraph Structure

The MEAL Plan is the easiest way to explain how to structure a paragraph.

  • Main assertion: an arguable claim that relates to or expands upon the thesis (i.e., Topic Sentence)
  • Evidence: in the form of examples, reasons, illustrations, observations—use the most salient examples to support the thesis; think of examples as a springboard into substantial analytical inquiry (i.e., Quotation)
  • Analysis: probing “so what;” drawing compelling conclusions; interpreting significance and relevance of ideas; unpacking meanings (i.e., figurative vs. literal; connotative vs. denotative); addressing “how” and “why” questions; arguments, assumptions, assertions, deductions, etc.
  • Link between a paragraph and the paper’s thesis while as linking to the next paragraph

In the following example, we are taking the revised topic sentence from above and breaking down how the podcast strategically develops the Haitian association with the zombie mythos. We are going to demonstrate Kaplan-Levenson's argument through paraphrase with the outline format, because her historical exploration is quite lengthy. (Note: Topics can exceed a single paragraph. Transitional phrases help maintain the structural integrity of the argument for the reader.)

II. The original zombie from Haitian culture – a death-like state or a body without a soul – demonstrates the destructive nature of the institution of slavery, which lead to the creation of the myth of the living dead.

• A brief historical overview of slavery on the island of Haiti by the French.

• The two types of zombies – the broken and the revolutionary – and the duality of fear associated with the enslaved and the enslavers.

◦ The linguistic history of the word zombie and how it became synonymous with enslavement and death.

◦ The historical relevance of the Haitian revolution, and how despite earning independence, France maintained a strangle-hold over the economic prosperity of the island's people, thus continuing the elements of slavery through subjugation.

• The 20th century US occupation of Haiti created a propaganda campaign to demonize people resisting social and political oppression, which birthed the introduction of cannibalism into the zombie zeitgeist as well as began the popular culture's fascination with the zombie mythos as metaphor. 

Transitional Expressions or Phrases

The below information is from UNC Chapel Hill along with the table of phrases5:

Effectively constructing each transition often depends upon your ability to identify words or phrases that will indicate for the reader the kind of logical relationships you want to convey. The table below should make it easier for you to find these words or phrases. Whenever you have trouble finding a word, phrase, or sentence to serve as an effective transition, refer to the information in the table for assistance. Look in the left column of the table for the kind of logical relationship you are trying to express. Then look in the right column of the table for examples of words or phrases that express this logical relationship.

Keep in mind that each of these words or phrases may have a slightly different meaning. Consult a dictionary or writer’s handbook if you are unsure of the exact meaning of a word or phrase.

Group NamePhrases
Similarityalso, in the same way, just as … so too, likewise, similarly
Exception/Contrastbut, however, in spite of, on the one hand … on the other hand, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on the contrary, still, yet
Sequence/Orderfirst, second, third, … next, then, finally
Timeafter, afterward, at last, before, currently, during, earlier, immediately, later, meanwhile, now, recently, simultaneously, subsequently, then
Examplefor example, for instance, namely, specifically, to illustrate
Emphasiseven, indeed, in fact, of course, truly
Place/Positionabove, adjacent, below, beyond, here, in front, in back, nearby, there
Cause and Effectaccordingly, consequently, hence, so, therefore, thus
Additional Support or Evidenceadditionally, again, also, and, as well, besides, equally important, further, furthermore, in addition, moreover, then
Conclusion/Summaryfinally, in a word, in brief, briefly, in conclusion, in the end, in the final analysis, on the whole, thus, to conclude, to summarize, in sum, to sum up, in summary

Additional Resources:

Introductions: Not Your Average Starting Point

You may have noticed that we did not start this page off with walking you through how to write an introduction before showing you how to essentially write an entire paper. While it might seem contrary (or even go against your professor's trajectory), the introduction should be written towards the end of the writing process. Why? How are you supposed to adequately introduce an argument when you have yet to write one. If you try to start with a solid introduction (thesis included), you might divert from your initial argument when writing the majority of you paper. 

You do still need to have a thesis statement when you are writing. Don't let me confuse that point. You just don't necessarily need to begin the writing phase with struggling through your introduction until you have written most, if not all, of you paper.

For novice writers, the introduction will always be the first paragraph of an essay. The objective of an introduction is to establish the topic of your argument for your reader. As you advance in you writing skills, you can experiment with the structure of an introduction, but for beginners, the easiest way to format an introduction is as follows:

  • The Hook: You want to start your paper off with something to grab your audience's attention: a "hook". Hooks can be an interesting fact or statistic about your topic, a rhetorical question, a common misconception about your topic, establishing the scene of your story (who, when, where, what, why, how?), an anecdote (a humorous short story) that encapsulates your topic, or a quotation that is relevant to your topic.
  • Introducing the Topic: After the hook, write a sentence or two about the specific focus of your paper. (What is your paper about? Why is this topic important?) This part of the introduction can include background information on your topic or a brief summary of your text that helps to establish context.
  • Thesis: The last sentence of you paragraph should be the thesis. Make sure that your thesis encapsulates the argument of your chosen topic; it should act as a one-sentence summary for what the whole paper is going to be about. Remember, be specific. The easiest way to derail your argument is to have a vague thesis or one that does not line up with you paper.

Podcast Example of an Introduction (I've removed the names associated with speaking parts in order to give a better impression of what an introduction looks like, but I have maintained the quotation marks to indicate that these are not my words.):

"The fear is to become a zombie,” explains Patrick Sylvain. “The moment a family member is dead, they will drive a stake into the person's heart or into the person's head so that their children and so forth will not be turned into a zombie. And so the people are taking precautions out of their own understanding that perhaps a dead person is not fully dead. The zombie is real.” […] "Zombies are a global phenomenon. They're in the news [...] and appear in the countless number of books, movies, video games, and TV shows that make up the zombie genre. A genre that's going strong – at least 10 zombie movies have come out in 2019 alone. Some people are so zombie-obsessed that they dress up like zombies and roam the streets – and not just on Halloween. And then there are those people who are prepping for a zombie apocalypse. […] Our collective fascination with zombies started almost a century ago, which made us wonder – who invented the zombie, and why are we still so drawn to these flesh-eating monsters?"


  • Hook: "The fear is to become a zombie,” explains Patrick Sylvain. “The moment a family member is dead, they will drive a stake into the person's heart or into the person's head so that their children and so forth will not be turned into a zombie. And so the people are taking precautions out of their own understanding that perhaps a dead person is not fully dead. The zombie is real.”
  • Topic Introduction: "Zombies are a global phenomenon. They're in the news [...] and appear in the countless number of books, movies, video games, and TV shows that make up the zombie genre. A genre that's going strong – at least 10 zombie movies have come out in 2019 alone. Some people are so zombie-obsessed that they dress up like zombies and roam the streets – and not just on Halloween. And then there are those people who are prepping for a zombie apocalypse.
  • Thesis: Our collective fascination with zombies started almost a century ago, which made us wonder – who invented the zombie, and why are we still so drawn to these flesh-eating monsters?"

Additional Resources:

Writing Conclusions

Depending on your level of writing, the conclusion can operate in two separate ways: (1) as a reminder or summary of your topic and what you want your audience to gain from reading your paper or (2) as a further push of your argument into discussing the larger implications/significance of your topic. Remember, you don't want to add new information in your conclusion; this includes quotes. Quotations require analysis and explanation and therefore, typically, have no place in the conclusion.

One way to think about constructing your conclusion is to view it as the reverse of your introduction:

  • Begin by rephrasing your thesis statement to remind your reader of your topic/argument.
  • Summarize the points you made in your paper and show how they support your argument (i.e., tie all the pieces of your paper together).
  • Explain the significance of your topic; this is the "So What?" of your argument. Why is the topic important? 
    • This is the rallying cry of your paper. If you are trying to institute any type of change – the redefinition of a text's traditional interpretation, petitioning of one side of a debate over another, etc. –  this is the last chance for you to attempt to change the reader's mind.

Podcast's Conclusion (Again, I am combining everything to give a better impression on what a traditional conclusion would look like.):

“The invincibility of zombies seems to be that they can take on any desired meaning. They can shape-shift into almost anything we want them to.” Kelley Baker states, “So it can be about consumerism with this all-consuming monster. It can be about bio-terrorism and corporations who are negligent. It can be about epidemics and how they can ravage us in some sort of way.” Elizabeth McAlister expands on Baker’s point by explaining, “But the zombie also is, you know, the hordes of brown people at the border. The zombie is a cipher. The zombie, by definition, has no consciousness. The zombie is this empty category into which you can load meaning.” “[McAlister] says there's one consistent theme that keeps zombies relevant. It's always there, looming in the background or sometimes right up in your face and speaks to one of our most fundamental fears”: “Which is that we are all going to die and that everyone who's ever lived dies. So the zombie figure forces the living to face the condition of death, and - which is what religion is there to help humanity do, but the United States is becoming more and more secular. This is a kind of a secular way to contend with, think about, imagine, dress up like and confront the human condition of dying.” “Something that may be on our minds more than usual these days": “Certainly now more than ever, humans are facing the realities of climate change and of the degradation of the ecosystem, and the idea of apocalypse is on the minds of humanity” (McAlister).

“At the same time, because zombies are now everywhere, they've kind of casually integrated themselves into our everyday existence. People have zombie-themed weddings, go on zombie-themed cruises. The CDC has a gag zombie preparedness page on its Web site. And then, of course, there are the people who are just living their best zombie lives. […] Everyone that I interviewed for this story is clearly fascinated with zombies, but to be honest, they're also a little fatigued by the oversaturation and disheartened by a lack of substance - something Kelly [Baker] says zombies have gradually been losing post-Romero”: “George Romero has radical political commentary. It's very much about Americans. It's very much about the racial state in America. It's about the consumerist state. It's about thinking about what we're doing, the systems that we're inhabiting, how they're oppressive. When zombies are everywhere, maybe they've lost some of their radical power. Where they might have been subversive, now they're just mainstream. I mean, if Disney can have a movie about zombies in which a zombie and a cheerleader who is human fall in love...I really feel like we've reached a point where the radical commentary is gone." [...] "[Sylvain] worries that Haiti and the original meaning of the zombie is getting lost in all of this. The American zombie, that brain-eating ghoul, has been exported all over the world. But he wonders how many people know that this horror figure is rooted in his country's history": "Once we've had this globalized figure of the zombie, then the question becomes, who owns it? Does it really belong to Haiti? No. The zombie, again, is a wonderful trope, but we must not forget where it came from, its essence. To lose the genesis of the zombie within trans-Atlantic slavery, that would be a problem."


The conclusion here is broadening back out a little. The structuring of the metaphorical nature of the zombie in the first paragraph is reframed to discuss the contemporary hollowing out of the signifying property of zombie mythology present in the second paragraph.

  • Paragraph 1: The re-establishing of zombie as a signifier/metaphor of complex ideas (consumerism, corporate neglect, racism, etc.).
  • Paragraph 2: Oversaturation and lack of representative substance further removes the zombie from its origin in oppression and slavery thus losing its larger importance and historical significance.


Just like with all the other examples, this conclusion is far too conversational to use in a traditional essay; it also contains quotations throughout, which is to be avoided when writing an academic paper. The interview format also causes an over-reliance on the words of the experts. When you are writing your own conclusion, it should be all you. You don’t want someone else taking up space in the summation of your essay.

Additional Resources:

General Writing Resources

  • Harvard Writes is a joint venture of the Harvard College Writing Program, the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, and the departments and schools represented on our site.
  • Analyzing Texts and Structuring Papers from UWC, which is an additional curated list of resources that are not included here. They are primarily comprised of web links and videos from Grammar Girl and Ted-Ed respectively.
  • How to write a good essay: a video by Tim Wilson (zontulfilmsltd)


  1. Abdelfatah, Rund and Arablouei, Ramtin, hosts. "Zombies." Throughline, NPR, 31 Oct. 2019. NPR,
  2. "Outlining." Ashford Writing Center, Ashford University, Accessed 6 May, 2020. 
  3. Sandel, Michael. Writing in Ethical Reasoning 22: Justice. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2010.
  4. "Topic Sentences." Aims Writing Center, Aims Community College, Accessed 14 May 2020.
  5. "Transitions." The Writing Center, UNC at Chapel Hill, Accessed 13 May 2020.

The major undertaking of any type of argument is being able to present proof of your claim. On this page, we are going to take a look at the multiple ways you can incorporate the evidence necessary in analytical and argumentative essays. We will be focusing on integrating primary sources into your writing. (For the inclusion of academic sources, check out Decoding Academic Language, which contains a section on secondary sources and joining the academic conversation.)

How to Find the Right Quote for Evidence

Before delving into incorporating quotations into your paper, we need to take a slight step back. We will begin with finding and evaluating quotes. So, let's put zombies aside for a second and use a different classic Hollywood monster to work with: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Reference: Project Gutenberg's Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley)

The point of the exercise below is to help students discern what type of quotations are necessary to act as proof for an essay's argument. The thing to keep in mind when evaluating quotes is that you want something that fits within the argument of the paragraph it is situated in while also wanting the quote to help further prove the thesis of the paper.

Okay, let's sort through some quotes.

Situational Setup: You are writing a feminist critique of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (For those unfamiliar with this literary theory, Purdue University has a primer on Feminist Criticism)

Thesis: Victor Frankenstein’s usurpation of the female biological imperative of creating life disrupts the natural order leading to the destruction of the Frankenstein family due to one man’s hubris.

Topic Sentence: The destruction of the female counterpart to his creation exemplifies Frankenstein’s desire to cement male-dominated reproduction.

What type of quote would we need to prove the topic sentence as well as the thesis at large? We need a quote that demonstrates Victor’s fear of female reproduction.

Exercise: All three of the quotes pertain to the female creature. Out of the examples below, which one best demonstrates the criteria of the argument?

  1. “In this manner I distributed my occupations when I first arrived, but as I proceeded in my labour, it became every day more horrible and irksome to me. Sometimes I could not prevail on myself to enter my laboratory for several days, and at other times I toiled day and night in order to complete my work. It was, indeed, a filthy process in which I was engaged. During my first experiment, a kind of enthusiastic frenzy had blinded me to the horror of my employment; my mind was intently fixed on the consummation of my labour, and my eyes were shut to the horror of my proceedings. But now I went to it in cold blood, and my heart often sickened at the work of my hands.” (Chapter 19)
  2. “Even if they were to leave Europe and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the dæmon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by the sophisms of the being I had created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race.” (Chapter 20)
  3. “As I looked on him, his countenance expressed the utmost extent of malice and treachery. I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like to him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew.” (Chapter 20)



If you were writing a paper about the female creature, all three of the examples would be utilized in some form to prove the argument, but since this particular topic narrows in scope to include the aspect of human reproduction, only the second quote can work.

The quotes in the example are, as you can see, quite lengthy. You have two options when integrating quotes of this length: (1) break the quote down or (2) format it as a block quote. 

Block Quotes

The block quote is used for direct quotations that are longer than the standard allowance for integrated quotes. (For MLA, you need a block quote if the quote runs onto the fourth line for prose or a third line for poetry. For APA, you need a block quote if the quotation is over 40 words. Chicago extends its quote length to 5 lines of prose before a block quote is necessary.) A block quote is always used when quoting dialogue between characters, as in a play.

The block format is a freestanding quote that does not include quotation marks. Introduce the block quote with a colon (unless the context of your quote requires different punctuation) and start it on a new line. For MLA and APA papers, indent the entire quote 1/2 inch from the left margin and continue with double-spacing it. Include the in-text citation information at the end of your block quote outside of the ending period.

(Be Aware: Each citation style has their own specification for block quotations. We have included our citation resources at the bottom of the page, so you can find the proper format required.)

Starting with the topic sentence above:

The destruction of the female counterpart to his creation exemplifies Frankenstein’s desire to cement male-dominated reproduction. While the patriarchal structure positions male authority as the superior power, the one realm that men cannot individually succeed is in the biological continuation of lineage. Frankenstein’s usurpation of the birthing process eliminates the necessity in female involvement in the creation of progeny. By constructing a female equivalent to his creature, Frankenstein would be reintroducing the female component, which is the very thing that he has successfully removed. The inability to maintain complete control over his unnatural experiment draws derision and disgust from the unethical scientist:

Even if they were to leave Europe and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the dæmon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by the sophisms of the being I had created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race. (Shelley 170-1)

(Due to the limitations in the website’s formatting capabilities, the spacing is probably not the correct indention length. We just wanted to give you an idea of what it should look like offset.)

It is important to note that the analysis following a block quote should be at the very least as long as the quote itself. Realistically, it should be twice as long as the quote, because the standard rule for quotations is for every line of an included quote there should be two lines explaining the lines' importance and necessity. If you cannot come up with this level of detailed analysis, the quote needs to be broken down into a small quotation. 

Quotation Integration

Created by Saint Michael’s College’s Writing Center1:

  • It is important to make a smooth transition from your own words to those of another source. Never simply drop a quotation into a paragraph. A quotation can never stand in a sentence by itself without an introduction. For example: 

T.S. Eliot, in his "Talent and the Individual," uses gender-specific language. "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (Eliot 29).

In this example, the reader is not prepared for the quote and will become confused as a result.

  • To avoid dropping quotes in, use signal phrases. These are phrases which precede the quotation. They may include the author’s name and a verb (argues, compares, suggests, demonstrates, points out, etc.). An example is the following:

T.S. Eliot, in his "Talent and the Individual," uses gender-specific language. He argues, for instance, that "no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (Eliot 29).

  • One could also incorporate a colon into the sentence to integrate the quote properly.

T.S. Eliot, in his "Talent and the Individual," uses gender-specific language: "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (Eliot 29).

The above examples will be easier for the reader to understand as you are making it clear that the quotation is coming from that specific source.

  • It may not always be necessary to use an entire passage to prove your point. To use only a phrase you must weave the quote into your own sentence.

I find it striking that though "women novelists have probably dominated American literature since the middle of the nineteenth century," our literary tradition is still incredibly gender specific (Schweickart 201).

Analyzing Quotations

For this section, the example we are going to work with is a continuation from the previous section– Breaking Down the Essay – and flushing out how to integrate and analyze a quote by interrogating one of the soundbites from the podcast, NPR’s Throughline2, that we looked at before.

The podcast transitions from a historical look at the zombie to the Hollywood transformation of zombie as metaphor or cipher. Kaplan-Levenson narrows in on George Romero’s three film zombie series to illustrate the representative capabilities of the zombie. The part of her argument that we are going to focus in on is the discussion surrounding Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. (Here is a trailer for Dawn of the Dead for those who might be unfamiliar with the film or its premise.)

The scene we are using for the Quote/Evidence in the below example can be viewed here: Dawn of the Dead (1978) - "No More Room in Hell"

Argument: In Dawn of the Dead, George Romero depicts the enslaving capabilities of America’s obsession with hyper consumerism through the dehumanization of the American consumer.

Topic Sentence: Within the metaphor of the film, the mall represents the problematic nature of the capitalistic infrastructure that acts as both shelter and prison for the living survivors. 

Lead-In to Quote: The four people sequestered inside the shopping mall come to the realization that not only are the zombies in search of food – which the survivors amount to in this scenario – but that the zombies are also searching for places of familiarity and comfort even in their undead state:


Fran: “They're still here.”

Stephen: “They're after us. They know we're still in here.”

Peter: “They're after the place. They don't know why. They just remember - remember that they want to be in here.”

Fran: “What the hell are they?”

Peter: “They're us. That's all.” (Dawn of the Dead)

Analysis: Peter’s pronouncement that the zombies are “after the place” because some part of their lingering consciousness recognizes the mall and maintains some type of internal imperative to seek it out, some internal “want” that drives them to the building, clearly encapsulates Romero’s social critique of consumerism culture. Even in death, the zombies desire a return to – what Elizabeth McAlister calls – the “banality of consumption” (Abdelfatah). The mall is a place to congregate; it is the one-stop shop. The mall invites consumers to spend hours walking slowly from store to store, purchasing anything and everything that one could want. The vague language Peter, Fran, and Stephen employ when talking about the zombies evokes the same type of language that can be connected to the everyday consumer; after all, “[t]hey’re us.” The biological imperative for survival sends the zombies to the one place that in life contains all of their prior “want[s]”. The mall is an inescapable reminder of capitalistic enterprise even during a time of economic collapse and pandemonium.

Explanation: The thing you need to keep in mind when writing any paragraph is order of operations. Some disciplines and essay types allow variation, but by and large, you are always going to have a topic sentence, a sentence that leads into a piece of evidence, the piece of evidence, the analysis of the evidence, and the thesis tie-in. The analysis section is meant to focus on (1) why the included evidence is relevant and (2) how it supports your argument.

In the above example, the language of the quote was used to highlight the comparison of "they" that the film was attempting to make. People have been relegated to passive consumers in a capitalist structure. The living people are obsessed with “stuff”/ Veblen’s concept of Conspicuous Consumption while the dead are obsessed with satisfying an even more basic need: the need to “consume” flesh. Another interpretation for the comparison between the living and the dead is one that is not explored above but would be explored in the larger argument: Romero’s refusal to name the zombies as anything other than “they”. By not naming the zombies, Romero refuses to separate the entities from us: “They’re us.” The zombies therefore serve as a cautionary tale to not be mindless, to not simply consume, to not get wrapped up in material “wants” and desires.

We are going to take a slight break from quotations to introduce how to write a scene analysis; this is only going to be a very brief overview, but it feels like a necessary diversion since our example above is from a film. If you would like a more thorough explanation on a scene analysis, check out UWG's Film Resources' page. We have Youtube video examples that detail the run through for analyzing a film's scene.

Scene Analysis: An Overview

The reason we are taking the time to overview a scene analysis is because it has a different type of terminology than typically used in lit papers. The core components however are primarily the same; you are still investigating a text to extract a larger meaning, such as developing a thesis-driven argument and providing evidence from the text to prove said argument. What we are doing in this example that we didn't do above is incorporating the specific terminology necessary for a thorough deep dive into analyzing a scene for a film paper.

So with that in mind, another scene that could be used for the argument presented in the above section comes from earlier in Dawn of the Dead. The scene depicts the four survivors arriving at the mall and discovering the lumbering zombies loitering around the first floor:

For this exercise, we are going to be concentrating on mise-en-scène and camera shots. As defined in the Film Art: An Introduction by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, mise-en-scene is "all of the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the settings and props, lighting, costumes and makeup, and figure behavior." An example of what these shots look like can be seen in this video about the final scene of Inception by Reuben Singham: INCEPTION - Cinematography Analysis (shot types). Studio Binder also created a guide to camera shots and angles here: The Ultimate Guide to Camera Shots (50+ Types of Shots and Angles in Film).

We wanted to give you some camera shot examples from the film. To save on space, we have uploaded it as a pdf here: Dawn of the Dead camera shot stills. We are not going to give you a complete run through of explaining the importance of every shot (scene analysis papers can be any where between 4-10 pages), but each of these stills are referenced in our example's first paragraph. 

We will also be continuing with the argument established in the above example for the scene analysis. Since this is a different scene and would take place earlier in the paper (at least the preceding paragraph), we have crafted a different topic sentence.

Argument: George Romero exemplifies his social criticism in the establishing mall scene for the audience through the evocation of a haunting nightmare that is startlingly familiar. Romero spends an entire minute cutting back and forth between lifeless mannequins and lifeless faces (figs. 2/3 and 5/6), stumbling forms aimlessly roaming around locked store fronts (fig. 1), and passive figures waiting for the slow crawl of an escalator to reach the top of its destination (figs. 7-10). Outside of the one sitting in the fountain clutching at the loose change of lost wishes (fig. 4), the zombies loitering the walkways remind the film’s viewer of shoppers awaiting the full opening of the mall’s shops. Romero even includes the chiming of a clock that has all of the zombie in the shot momentarily pause as if they were waiting for the metallic clang of store fronts lifting their gates to let them in to wander around.

Analysis: In a single minute of run-time, Romero demonstrates the upsetting reality of consumer culture through the parallel of the zombies and the audience. The full impact of Romero’s message would have been felt by the viewer watching his film in a mall theater in 1978, but it is a message that has not been lost over the past four decades: we as consumers are slaves to capitalism and even death does not offer an escape. The first look at the inside of the mall is a wide shot of the first floor in low lighting (fig. 1). The zombies wandering aimlessly around are obscured in the shadows. If not for the stiff shuffling, the 1978 audience would have been hard-pressed to distinguish between the zombies on the screen from the people loitering outside the theater in which they were sitting.

Explanation: The mall’s establishing scene initiates the obfuscation of the zombie as other. The refrain of “[t]hey’re us” starts in the silent comparison Romero offers his audience in this single, minute-long glimpse of the zombie apocalypse. Even if the rest of the movie took place elsewhere, one could still argue that Romero presents a social critique of consumerism in this one scene as he exemplified through the different criticisms demonstrated elsewhere in the film’s first act: the ineffective press unable to maintain a balanced and unbiased presentation of information, the excessive force and brutality inherent in police raids as well as racism within the ranks of the SWAT unit, and the similarities between the armed services and the country “rednecks”/militia. Romero’s criticisms resonate with a modern audience, because the viewer can still draw these parallels. “They’re us,” and we are unfortunately them.

While we have given you an example of the importance of one scene, we want to let you know that not every scene in a film needs interpretation. You might be able to argue an entire paper with a single scene as your evidence. You just need to always keep in mind the requirements of your assignment: paper topic and length.

Describing the scene in detail while revealing a hidden meaning is the purpose of a scene analysis.  Not every film has depth like Romero’s, so be careful when you are picking your own example to work with.


Instead of direct quotations, some subjects (e.g. Nursing and Biology) require the inclusion of paraphrase when incorporating experts' information. 

UNC at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center defines paraphrase as "taking another person’s ideas and putting those ideas in your own words. Paraphrasing does NOT mean changing a word or two in someone else’s sentence, changing the sentence structure while maintaining the original words, or changing a few words to synonyms. If you are tempted to rearrange a sentence in any of these ways, you are writing too close to the original. That’s plagiarizing, not paraphrasing."3

Do you still need to cite information that has been paraphrased? Yes, even though the information is not a direct quote, you are still including someone else's ideas into your paper. An easy way to make sure you are paraphrasing and not plagiarizing is to close the text that you are reading, put it aside, and attempt to summarize the observed information. By doing this, you will be able to put another person's ideas in your own words. As an added precaution, check your work against the original with your professor before you submit your assignment for a grade.

For more information, check out UWC's Plagiarism page.

Additional Resources


For additional information about secondary resources, check out Search for Sources from our breakdown of the research process. Our research resources also contains links to some of the major online databases and journals provided mainly by Ingram Library.

Citation Resources

  • For information on MLA, APA, Chicago as well as a few other citation styles utilized across campus, please check out the UWC's Citation Resources.
  • If the citation style you need is not on the above page, please check out Subject-Specific Resources for your specific major. We should have the proper citation styles listed therein; if we don't, let us know.
  1. “Integration of Quotes.” Writing Tips, Saint Michael’s College. Accessed 20 May 2020.
  2. Abdelfatah, Rund and Arablouei, Ramtin, hosts. "Zombies." Throughline, NPR, 31 Oct. 2019. NPR,
  3. “Plagiarism.” The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Accessed 18 May 2020.

On this page, we are looking at the academic side to the writing process. We will outline a few different types of essays that students (especially First-Year Writing students) will encounter in the university setting. We are also providing an overview in understanding scholarly language and sources; we are including plenty of resources to help students navigate the academic minefield of essay writing.

Academic-Speak: Understanding Scholarly Language

While this technically falls under active reading (more information can be found on the Thinking Phase part above), understanding and digesting academic journals is delving into the realm of academic language and discourse. Academics like to over complicate their sentences in order to "elevate the conversation". (◔_◔) In reality, what they mainly do is write in nominalizations. A nominalization is when a word, typically a verb or adjective, is made into a noun. Academic language is chock-full of this, and yet, most writing aids will tell you to avoid them. Why? Because nominalizations obstruct the action in the sentence. In student writing, specificity is key.

You don’t have to sound pretentious in order to get your point across, but you do want to slightly elevate your language. How? You're going to hate this. You need to read more. The best way to learn new words and understand them in context is to be exposed to new words through reading. Class is going to help with this! Don't get discouraged. This is a slow process. No one expects a First-Year student to have an extensive vocabulary yet. Give yourself some room to grow. Don't close yourself off to learning.

Now that the sappy motivation is over, a word of caution: be wary of using a thesaurus. If you are looking for a certain word, but your brain is drawing a blank, then please enter the word that you know that is close into an online thesaurus. If you have a simpler word but you want to dress it up into fancier clothes, do not use an online thesaurus. You are more likely to find a three-syllable word that doesn’t fit into your sentence. The thesaurus is full of synonyms; synonyms are similar, not the same. Trust me, you will thank me later. Simple words are better than wrong ones.


Academic Sources: Comprehension

Understanding Scholarly Articles from Champlain College1:

What Makes a Source "Scholarly"?

Scholarly books and journals are formal sources written by researchers and scholars who know a ton about a particular topic and want to contribute to the greater knowledge and understanding of that topic. They are written for other scholars who study and do research. These sources are often "peer-reviewed," which means that other experts who know a lot about that same topic have looked over the article and given it the thumbs-up.

What all that means is that scholarly sources are meaty, dense, and chock-full of content. That said, they have been structured in a particular way to make them easier for you to find and to then digest as a reader. Understanding how they are put together can help save you time when you are looking for scholarly sources and synthesizing them for your research projects.

Spotting a Scholarly Source.

When you're on the hunt for scholarly sources, you always want to be aware and on the look-out. You can tell you've spotted one by looking at the—

  • Author affiliation: "Scholars" are often associated with research institutions, such as universities, colleges, and government agencies.
  • Publication information: Becoming "scholarly" doesn't happen overnight—it takes time. Although the Internet and online publications are changing things a bit, books and articles published in journals still have to go through a hefty review process and publication cycle before you can read them. Time is money, and as a general rule, publishers wouldn't spend all of that time publishing information they don't feel confident about.
  • References: Does the source you've uncovered have a list of references? Does it tell you where supporting ideas are coming from at the time they are referenced in the source using in-text citations? If it does, it's a sign you're onto something scholarly!
  • Structure: Scholarly sources, especially articles, usually follow a particular formula for how they're formatted. This makes it easier for the reader to find certain information faster that might be more useful for their research.

Scholarly Source Structure.

So, you have a scholarly source—great! Now, to take the time to read and understand it. Of the whole research process, this part probably takes the longest, but by knowing how a scholarly source is structured, you can quickly get to the information that will be most useful for you.

  • Abstract. The Abstract gives you a brief summary of the source. This is a great place to start if you find an article you think might be interesting based on the title. It can help you decide if that particular source is worth spending some quality time with. Keep in mind that this summary is from the point of view of the author and what the author thought was most important.  If a source seems useful, you'll want to get deeper to see what you think is most important when reading it from the perspective of your research question.
  • Introduction. The Introduction offers a broad overview of the background and purpose of the source. It gives valuable context and sets the stage for what you'll be reading next.
  • Background/Literature Review. Before doing original research, like conducting a study, authors do their own research reading articles just like you're doing right now. That research most often results in a Literature Review, which paints a picture of the information that is currently available on a topic.  By creating this overall picture, scholars can point out the gaps—holes where there is little to no current information—that they hope to fill with their original research.
  • Methods. Formal scholarly sources often talk about an original study. There are all different kinds of studies that are appropriate under different circumstances, from anything like an informal survey to an intense clinical trial. The details of that study are outlined in the Methods section. This section talks about the design of the study—what kind of study was used and why, and how the authors got their results from the study. How the study was conducted can tell you a lot about the validity of the source; if the authors used good practices, you can feel more confident about the accuracy of the information you're reading.
  • Results. The Results section separates the results of the study from the methodology. This allows you to get down to the nitty-gritty and look at just the outcomes of the research. 
  • Discussion. While the Results section shows you the research outcomes, the Discussion section is where the authors make observations about those outcomes that they found. It talks about any generalizations or trends the authors saw in the findings, and in what ways those findings either agree or disagree with their original research question or the background research that they did before conducting the study. This is a really great section to consult early on when you are trying to determine if a particular source is right for your project.
  • Conclusion. After discussing the results, the Conclusion is where the author makes a definitive decision regarding the relationship of the outcomes of the study and the original research question that the study was designed to answer. This is where everything is wrapped up succinctly for the reader.

Academic Sources: Incorporation

We have the standard inclusion of primary evidence here: Finding the Evidence (the above section). There really isn't that much of a difference between pulling evidence from the text itself and from academic sources. You are still going to need to signal before dropping a quote into your paragraph. You are still going to need to analyze the quote after it's included.

The main thing to keep in mind with academic research is that you, on your specific topic, are supposed to become the expert. You are attempting to join a larger conversation on a text. You need to know as much about the research out there as possible. What is the prevailing theory about your chosen text? What is different about your argument/approach? What's the same? Is there any type of contention within the academic field? Your paper is meant to be a fresh look on the text; this can sometimes be hard to establish. People have been discussing Shakespeare, for example, since he was still alive and thriving. Incorporating modern theories or concepts can help, but you always need to keep the historical/original intent in mind. 

You also want a balanced amount of academic sources included in your paper. Don't be overly reliant on any one source when writing. A good way to judge how many sources to include in your paper is one source for each page; if you have a five-page paper, you should have at least five academic sources. (Your professor will typically set the source limit, but sometimes they leave it up to the student's judgment.)


Character Motivation: Fan Interpretations vs. Academic Analysis

This is basically an argument between subjective and objective rationalization within the study of character motivations. While in fandom spaces, some people like to explore the deconstruction of a character’s motivation as if they have a free-formed agency independent of authorial manipulation; this type of study is fine within that particular space. This type of character interpretation however has no place in a student’s academic work. Despite the concept that “the author is dead”, when it comes to the intentionality inherent in parsing motivation, a character is not independent. Everything they do is immersed in authorial intent; everything a character does is for a purpose. The point of an essay would be discovering what a character represents within a larger social/political/historical context and not uncovering the internal logic of the character itself. Instead of answering what a character is doing, try illustrating why they were written doing it (whatever “it” is).

The Different Types of Academic Papers

The papers below are the typical types of papers that First-Year Writing students will encounter in their Composition classes. We are providing you with a definition of the essay and then a list of resources to help guide you through the writing process.

  1. Analytical Essay: According to, "Analytical implies the breaking down of something into parts, or the discussion of something in a way that it becomes a dissection of the whole. An analytical type of essay differs from other types of essays in that its primary goal is to explain something bit by bit to enhance understanding. Most of the times, an analytical essay is written about the analysis of a text, or a process, or an idea. In literature, however, it is a critical analysis of some literary text which is done to enhance its understanding."2 
  2. Rhetorical Analysis Essay: According to North Carolina State University, "A rhetorical analysis requires you to apply your critical reading skills in order to 'break down' a text. In essence, you break off the 'parts' from the 'whole' of the piece you’re analyzing. The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to articulate how the author writes, rather than what they actually wrote. To do this, you will analyze the strategies the author uses to achieve his or her goal or purpose of writing their piece. Keep in mind that writers of different disciplines often use varying writing strategies in order to achieve their goals. So, it is okay to analyze a scientific article a different way than you would a humanities writer. These authors have very different goals in mind, and thus will use different writing strategies."3 These papers will sometimes use rhetorical terminology, such as pathos (emotion), logos (logic), and ethos (ethics).
  3. Argumentative Essay: According to, "An argumentative essay is a type of essay that presents arguments about both sides of an issue. It could be that both sides are presented equally balanced, or it could be that one side is presented more forcefully than the other. It all depends on the writer, and what side he supports the most."4 (The general structure of an argumentative essay follows the setup from our Breaking Down the Essay, which can be found above.)
  4. Comparative Essay: According to the University of Waterloo, "Writing a comparison usually requires that you assess the similarities and differences between two or more theories, procedures, or processes. You explain to your reader what insights can be gained from the comparison, or judge whether one thing is better than another according to established criteria."5


Close Reading

The information below is from David F. Elmer's Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 14: Ancient Fictions: The Ancient Novel in Context6:

What is Close Reading?

Close reading is the technique of carefully analyzing a passage’s language, content, structure, and patterns in order to understand what it means, what it suggests, and how it connects to the whole work (that is, its context). A successful close reading will often take on all three tasks. It will delve into what a passage means in order to understand what it suggests, and will then link what the passage suggests to its context. One goal of close reading is to help readers to see facets of the text that they may not have noticed before. To this end, close reading entails “reading out of” a text rather than “reading into” it. The goal of close reading, therefore, is to notice, describe, and interpret details of the text that are already there, rather than to impose your own point of view on the text. As a general rule of thumb, every claim you make should be directly supported by evidence in the text. 

Why Close Reading?

Close reading is a fundamental skill for the analysis of any sort of text or discourse, whether it is literary, political, or commercial. It enables you to analyze how a text functions, and it helps you to understand a text’s explicit and implicit goals. The structure, vocabulary, language, imagery, and metaphors used in a text are all crucial to the way it achieves its purpose, and they are therefore all targets for close reading. The skills you learn and employ in this paper will form the building blocks for the writing you do throughout the semester, but they will also continue to be useful during your time at Harvard and beyond. Practicing close reading will train you to be an intelligent and critical reader of all kinds of writing, from political speeches to television advertisements, trashy novels, and works of high literature.

Strategies for Close Reading

There are several strategies for getting to a meaningful close reading, once you have chosen your passage. The goal of close reading is to learn what the passage says, what the passage implies, and how the passage connects to its context. This phase should occur while you are planning and outlining your paper, before you have started writing. You might re-read the passage several times, each time keeping a set of reading approaches in mind:

  • Reading for the Literal Meaning: rewrite the passage by paraphrasing it. You might not use this paraphrase verbatim in your essay, but in the final version of your essay you will want to be sure to orient your reader to the larger context from which your passage was taken. What does the text literally mean? What is it doing in the narrative? This first step in close reading will allow you to put aside what you think you know about the passage(s), and help you to read “out of the text” rather than “into the text.”
  • Reading for Formal Elements: identify some of the formal mechanisms of the writing, such as:
    • Narrative: How would you describe the narrative voice in your passage? Is the narrator first or third person, male or female, omniscient or restricted in knowledge? What are the limitations of the narrator, and how are these reflected in the text?
    • Structure: How is the passage structured? Does it move from point A to B? Does it move from point A to B and then back to A again (ring composition)? Does it linger on a single detail?
    • Patterns: are there images, keywords, or other devices that reappear in the passage? Are these elements used the same way? Finding a pattern can help establish general characteristics of the text.
  • Reading for Implications of the Passage: the next step in close reading is to start examining the implications of a passage. One way to delve into the implications of a passage is to connect its formal elements to your literal reading. Do these formal mechanisms underscore or undermine what the passage says on a literal level?
  • Reading for Context of the Passage: Does this passage share imagery with another passage in the novel? Does it contradict it? Does the passage engage with larger themes in the novel (e.g., vision and voyeurism, the natural world, the nature of desire)? Are there important similarities and differences between this passage and others like it throughout the novel?

As you can see, the process of close reading becomes more sophisticated and complicated as you read and re-read, but it also helps you to focus on a text’s puzzling moments, patterns, or expectations. Close reading, in other words, is not just a static, mechanical process, but an analytical tool you leverage to make an argument.


Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

The information below is provided by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy7:

When assessing the quality of an argument, we ask how well its premises support its conclusion. More specifically, we ask whether the argument is either deductively valid or inductively strong.

deductive argument is an argument that is intended by the arguer to be deductively valid, that is, to provide a guarantee of the truth of the conclusion provided that the argument’s premises are true. This point can be expressed also by saying that, in a deductive argument, the premises are intended to provide such strong support for the conclusion that, if the premises are true, then it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false. An argument in which the premises do succeed in guaranteeing the conclusion is called a (deductively) valid argument. If a valid argument has true premises, then the argument is said also to be sound. All arguments are either valid or invalid, and either sound or unsound; there is no middle ground, such as being somewhat valid.

Here is a valid deductive argument:

It’s sunny in Singapore. If it’s sunny in Singapore, then he won’t be carrying an umbrella. So, he won’t be carrying an umbrella.

The conclusion follows the word “So”. The two premises of this argument would, if true, guarantee the truth of the conclusion. However, we have been given no information that would enable us to decide whether the two premises are both true, so we cannot assess whether the argument is deductively sound. It is one or the other, but we do not know which. If it turns out that the argument has a false premise and so is unsound, this won’t change the fact that it is valid.

Here is a mildly strong inductive argument:

Every time I’ve walked by that dog, it hasn’t tried to bite me. So, the next time I walk by that dog it won’t try to bite me.

An inductive argument is an argument that is intended by the arguer to be strong enough that, if the premises were to be true, then it would be unlikely that the conclusion is false. So, an inductive argument’s success or strength is a matter of degree, unlike with deductive arguments. There is no standard term for a successful inductive argument, but this article uses the term “strong.” Inductive arguments that are not strong are said to be weak; there is no sharp line between strong and weak. The argument about the dog biting me would be stronger if we couldn’t think of any relevant conditions for why the next time will be different than previous times. The argument also will be stronger the more times there were when I did walk by the dog. The argument will be weaker the fewer times I have walked by the dog. It will be weaker if relevant conditions about the past time will be different next time, such as that in the past the dog has been behind a closed gate, but next time the gate will be open.

An inductive argument can be affected by acquiring new premises (evidence), but a deductive argument cannot be. For example, this is a reasonably strong inductive argument:

Today, John said he likes Romona.
So, John likes Romona today.

but its strength is changed radically when we add this premise:

John told Felipé today that he didn’t really like Romona.

The distinction between deductive and inductive argumentation was first noticed by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) in ancient Greece. The difference between deductive and inductive arguments does not lie in the words used within the arguments, but rather in the intentions of the arguer. It comes from the relationship the arguer takes there to be between the premises and the conclusion. If the arguer believes that the truth of the premises definitely establishes the truth of the conclusion, then the argument is deductive. If the arguer believes that the truth of the premises provides only good reasons to believe the conclusion is probably true, then the argument is inductive. If we who are assessing  the quality of the argument have no information about the intentions of the arguer, then we check for both. That is, we assess the argument to see whether it is deductively valid and whether it is inductively strong.



  1. "Understanding Scholarly Articles." Champlain College Library, Champlain College, Accessed 27 May 2020.
  2. "Analytical Essay." Literary Devices,, Accessed 26 May 2020. 
  3. "What in the world is a rhetorical analysis?" Writing & Speaking Tutorial Services, North Carolina State University, Accessed 26 May 2020. 
  4. "Argumentative Essay." Literary Devices, literarydevices,net, Accessed 26 May 2020.
  5. "Comparative essays." Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo, Accessed 26 May 2020.
  6. Elmer, David F. Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 14: Ancient Fictions: The Ancient Novel in Context. Harvard University, Accessed 27 May 2020.
  7. Fieser, James and Dowden, Bradley, editors. "Deductive and Inductive Arguments." The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, University of Tennessee, Accessed 28 May 2020. 
  • Revising the Final Draft from our Research resources that we outlined above.
  • Grammar Resources: This page includes curated resources for verbs, punctuation, word choice, and a few additional grammatical aids.
  • Proofreading and Editing Resources: This is a curated page of resources to help with editing your paper.

Writer’s Block

I know it might sound stupid, but even if you don’t know what to write, the act of writing itself will help generate ideas. Next time you get stuck, just start writing anything that comes to mind. Describe the room you are in; break down the plot of the text you are working with; you can even just write out that you don’t know what to write. Literally, write out "I don’t know what to write". Just write something. Eventually, your brain will kick back into gear. Be aware, this could take time – even up to an hour – so don’t get discouraged. Just keep writing.

Course-Specific Resources

  • Subject-Specific Resources: Student Success has compiled a page with content and writing resources tailored to the available majors at UWG. By clicking on the corresponding major, students will also be able to identify an approximation of how much writing could be required as well as the types of writing assignments in any class.
  • We also have a resource called Scholarly Quest where students can find all the information from all our resources in one easily navigated place.

Additional Resources

  • Writing Resources: The Writing Center has curated lists of resources for students to utilize.
  • Citation Style Resources: This page covers the main citation styles (MLA, APA, Chicago) as well as contains resources for a few others. If the citation style you need is not on this page directly, please check out Subject-Specific Resources for your specific major. We should have the proper citation styles listed therein; if we don't, let us know.
  • Formatting Resources: This pages helps you setup Microsoft Office as well as Google docs. It also includes MLA and APA downloadable documents for convenience.
  • Online Writing Tutoring: The Writing Center provides directions on how to access their remote tutoring assistance as well as Smarthinking and Grammarly.