english side menu links to the index page links to english: "the basics" links to page on the process of writing an English research paper links to F.A.Q.s on  plagiarism links to a plagiarism worksheet links to page on starting an English essay link to page on first drafts link to page on crafting arguments link to q and a on introductions link to page on paragraphs and transitions link  to close reading and analyzing quotations link to  working  with critical sources link to writing and ethics link to faculty feedback link to MLA  style link to important terms link to examples with commentary link to resources Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Outka, PhD.
by Kerry Boland and Brittany Clemens, Writing Consultants
Writer's Web

Success in college English classes requires students to learn to analyze texts closely and then communicate their ideas effectively in writing. Long gone are the high school days of plot summary and the five paragraph essay! Many students find the transition difficult, especially if they are not sure of the professor's expectations for their work. In the following interview, Dr. Elizabeth Outka, Associate Professor of English at the University of Richmond, discusses common mistakes writers make, English faculty "pet peeves" and offers tips for those new to the discipline, as well as for advanced students pursuing research. Key points from the responses can be found below each video.

What are the most common mistakes beginning writers make when writing for English?

"What we're looking for is some sort of contrast or a progression that is traced across the paper."

  • Be sure to analyze the form of language in addition to the content
  • Don't forget to make an argument. Avoid over-summarizing and focus on analysis.
  • It is important to stay in the text and to avoid imposing external ideas on it.

What "pet peeves" do English faculty have when it comes to student writing?

"A topic that is specific to the work you are talking about is really important."

  • Avoid starting the paper with broad generalizations.
  • Introduce the author and title of the work as well as your topic right away.
  • Make arguments that are specific to the work. Avoid statements that are true of all writers.

Can you offer tips for students just beginning to engage in literary analysis?

"You know you're a real English major when you start to mark up your whole book."

  • Do the reading! It may seem obvious, but it is very important.
  • Reread. Take lots of notes, both inside and outside the text.
  • It is important to spend time thinking about the text. What patterns do you see and why does it matter?

Can you offer tips for translating the close readings students practice in class into writing?

"Do the close readings first and then think about the paper."

  • Close reading is the first step in writing a literature paper.
  • Try not to develop your ideas and then impose them onto the text. Draw conclusions from the close readings instead.
  • Look for connections across passages and then think about why those connections matter.

Can you offer tips for writing research papers for English?
How can writers be sure that their own readings of texts are not drowned out by outside sources?

"If you start with all the critics, sometimes you can feel like there is no room for your particular voice."

  • Start by close reading and taking notes on your primary text.
  • Develop your ideas about the text and determine what your argument will be.
  • Explore the critical conversation around the text and decide how you will extend this conversation.

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