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Starting Out
From: Writing Tips by Professor Elizabeth Outka
(printable version here)
Writer's Web

Pick a topic that interests you.
This sounds basic, but it's amazing how many students begin with an "easy" topic or one that they find boring but think the professor might like. You'll write a better paper, and you'll learn much more, if you pick a topic that excites you. What aspect of the work did you find intriguing? What did you find most interesting? What did you find puzzling (in an exciting way)?

Once you have a topic, start asking yourself as many questions as you can. Then go through the novel again, and find examples and quotations that fit your topic.

Start to form a thesis.
Remember, a topic is simply an area of study; a thesis is an argument. You want to prove something to your reader - not simply relate what happens in the work you are considering. Be sure your thesis is something that can be argued and is not obvious (e.g. few readers would argue that Conrad's novel concerns imperialism). Be sure, too, that your thesis is not too large for a short paper - concentrate on what you can prove in the space you have. The next document describes a specific characteristics of successful arguments.

When writing a draft, don't get too anxious about your opening.
Many students spend hours staring at the empty screen before writing a sentence. You don't know what you want to say yet (at least not fully), so it's best not to spend lots of time "perfecting" an opening that you'll have to change later anyway. Feel free to write a "bad" opening just to get yourself started. As you write, your thesis is likely to change - and that's good. Writing helps you think, and your ideas should evolve as you write. When you're done with your paper, go back and rework your thesis.


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