Writing Your Paper


Some basics:

Your paper should be double-spaced (not 1.5 nor 2.5 spaced or any other variation).

You should use Times New Roman 12-point font.

You should have a one-inch margin surrounding your text (i.e., top, bottom, left and right).

Page numbers should appear on the top right of every page, except the first (where the page should appear on the bottom center).


Style Guidance:

            Your paper’s introduction should serve as a “road map.” It should tell your reader where your paper will take her/him. A principal part of that should be your paper’s themes. There should be a unifying theme to your paper– something that ties all your ideas together into a driving argument. There will then be subthemes. These will be smaller themes which build toward your paper’s major theme. All of these should be laid out briefly in your introduction. This serves to organize your thoughts and allow the reader to follow your claims more thoroughly as the main body of your paper progresses.

            The main body of your paper should consist of well-constructed paragraphs. Most good paragraphs in a formal paper have approximately 4-7 sentences. One of those sentences should be your topic sentence. Each paragraph needs a clear topic that unifies the sentences it contains. Ask yourself whether each sentence therein contributes to that topic. If it does not, it is likely time to begin a new paragraph with a new topic.

            Use quotes very sparingly. Your principal goal is to present your own thoughts, views, and ideas. It is true that you must do that in a fully informed fashion. That is why it will be necessary to briefly present facts and arguments from others. When doing so, however, you should always first try to present those facts and arguments in your own words succinctly. You should only quote– and, even there, only in a short phrase or two– when quoting is the only way to fully capture a particularly illuminating way of depicting something. For example, you may feel that paraphrasing a soldier’s memory of a battle as frightening is not nearly as effective as quoting his use of the word “hellscape” to paint the idea more fully; but, to quote the soldier for a full sentence or more would usually be needless– and, thus, distracting from your own analysis (which is the more important goal of your paper).

            Do not use informal, colloquial language to convey your thoughts. Such informal language is in most cases less precise; and, after all, your first goal is to convey your ideas clearly. Likewise, avoid abbreviations of any kind in a formal paper. An exception to that would be acronyms (e.g., the NAACP). Once you have used the full name of that acronym, followed by noting the acronym parenthetically, you are then free to use the acronym throughout the rest of your paper (for example, “the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)”).

            Avoid conditional language for your claims, such as “I think that...” “I feel that...” “I believe that...” It is understood that you are writing a position paper comprised of your opinions. Hence, simply state your position clearly. Rather than stating, “I feel that women suffered from discrimination,” simply assert, “Women suffered from discrimination.” You will be expected to support any of your claims with evidence anyway. That evidence will serve to bolster your analytical assertions. Using the former sentence with conditional language subtly undercuts your confidence in your statements. Be assertive enough to allow your evidence and your carefully considered ideas to stand on their own.

            You are discouraged from engaging in passive voice. Passive voice undesirably conceals the actor in historical events. Passive voice constructions like “The soldiers were killed in massive numbers,” does not indicate to historical readers enough critical information– that is, who did the killing. Instead, write “Germans killed the soldiers in massive numbers.” Occasionally, using active voice rather than passive may create a clumsier, more confusing sentence. In such cases, you may wish to use passive voice, while being mindful to convey fully any pertinent information that could get lost in that construction.