Essay Tips

Ms. Walsh’s Essay Tips

  1. Plagiarism is the worst; don’t do it

Don’t waste my time or yours. If you are that committed to not doing your own work, just don’t bother to turn in an essay.

  1. Theses and topic sentences are promises; keep them

Maybe a little dramatic, but a thesis is a promise to your reader that your paper will prove a certain point. If your paper ends up proving a different point, then you’ve lied to your reader. Similarly, a topic sentence is a promise that an individual body paragraph will be about a certain idea or point. If it ends up being about something else, then you’ve again lied to your reader. Readers will ultimately find this confusing. So, make sure your thesis and topic sentences reflect what you are actually trying to say and make sure that everything in your paper supports your thesis/topic sentences.

  1. Funnel your intro

Start your introduction off with a more general sentence that is still related to your topic and then gradually build to your most specific point, your thesis.


I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values (Hemingway 152).

In this passage from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Jake’s recognition of the societal need for the containment of women becomes apparent. Here, Jake realizes that women are engaged in a system in which they must constantly pay for what they receive. From this notion of constant payment, Jake then makes a sharp contrast with the system that he himself is a part of where payments are a simple exchange of values. This contrast highlights the way in which women are part of a system where payments are founded on ideas of retribution and punishment. The woman must not only give to receive, but she must also be punished in her payments. It is then from Jake’s recognition of this universal need for women to not only pay, but be punished, that the novel begins to explore issues concerning the containment of Brett, the novel’s leading lady.

Despite the fact that the Hebrew and Greek Bibles are bound together into one text, the two function in ways that are often difficult to reconcile. For instance, the two sets of scriptures involve radically different stories and characters that make them seem, at least initially, to have more points of divergence than convergence. However, the Greek Bible can ultimately be understood as responding to the struggles that the Hebrew Bible has with the meaning of God’s covenantal promise of land for his people. This covenantal promise of land frames the entirety of the Hebrew Bible as is evidenced by the fact that, after it is first given by God to Abraham, it is notably repeated to each of the successive patriarchs. Thus, when the Israelites are exiled from the land of the covenant, questions inevitably arise as to what the existing relationship is between the Israelites and their God, and, without answers to these questions, the narrative simply ends. The introduction of the Greek Bible into the narrative can then be understood as seeking to resolve these issues surrounding land by recasting the promise in terms of a metaphysical kingdom. The Greek Bible, in turn, enacts this recasting through the repetition of type scenes from the Hebrew Bible in the Greek Bible. Thus, the writings in the Greek Bible are responding to the covenant problem in the Hebrew Bible by taking what was rooted in the physical and moving it to the metaphysical, which ultimately culminates in the Hebrew Bible’s promise of physical land becoming a promise of a metaphysical kingdom.

According to Terry Eagleton, “It is in the significant silences of a text, in its gaps and absences that the presence of ideology can be most positively felt.” Here ideology can be understood to mean the “dominant way of seeing the world” or the “historically relative structure of perception which underpins the power of a particular social class” (Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism). Thus, Eagleton is declaring that the dominant beliefs of a society that are used to instill the ruling class with power can best be seen through absences. The profound meaning of Eagleton’s statement can be seen in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Count Baldassare Castiglione’s The Courtier, and Sir Philip Sidney’s “Sonnet 9” from Astrophil and Stella in all of which the absence of women serves to reveal the focus on the male dominated order and this order’s corresponding fear of the threat that women pose.

  1. Assume that your reader is…
    1. Familiar with your topic (no extensive plot summary necessary)
    2. Of average intelligence (they can understand what you are saying if you are writing clearly; aka you don’t need to write like you are talking to a preschooler)
    3. Inherently lazy (they do not want to guess what you are trying to say or what your point is)
  1. Quoting

When quoting, the in-text citation appears right after the closed quotation marks and the period follows the citation itself.

For example:

Indeed, the myth of the West that we have come to know is that which “we have come to know from American movies” (Kuester 281).

If the quoted portion doesn’t end the sentence, put the in-text citation right after the quote and continue on with your sentence:

Essentially, in Volkswagen Blues imaginative colonization is achieved “through physical reappropriation of the continent” (Weisman 491) in that Jack and La Grande Sauterelle first follow the routes of the French explorers along the Mississippi River before setting out along the Oregon Trail.

The information in the in-text citation only needs to be information that is not made clear in the text itself. For example, in MLA format the in-text citation normally contains that author’s last name and the page number for the quote. However, if the page number or the author’s name is mentioned within the text itself, you do not need to repeat that information in the parentheses:

The term historiographic metafiction was coined by Linda Hutcheon in A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction in which Hutcheon defines historiographic metafiction as pertaining to “those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages” (5).

For quotes within quotes, use the double quotation marks to indicate the beginning and end of the quoted text as a whole and apostrophes to indicate the quote within the quote:

This irony is something that Harry’s friend, Rachel Gold, draws our attention to: “‘And you’re a Canadian, Harry. So why is a Canadian so concerned about teaching Americans how to be American?’” (Vanderhaeghe 181).

Here the entire quote is spoken text from within the novel itself. So, the double quotation marks and the apostrophes are all lumped together. Also, you’ll notice that the quote itself ends with a question mark that appears inside the quotation marks and that the period that marks the end of your sentence still comes after the citation itself.

Quotes longer than four lines need to be blocked off:

While in the previous examples, the use of imaginative colonization was more about a reclaiming of the genre of the Western rather than the Western frontier itself, Volkswagen Blues uses the aforementioned intertextuality along with a physical movement across the United States as a means of doing both. Essentially, the

spatial journey diagonally across the United States is…doubled by a textual journey covering a number of Canadian and American literary intertexts. Jack Waterman’s journey parallel’s the pioneer’s quest for the American dream, and the novel echoes this search as it is represented in the American intertexts that compose it (Miraglia 49, emphasis in original).

Notice that in this example I drop the quotation marks because I’ve block quoted.

As you’ll also notice in these examples, the quotes are always introduced by the text itself. So, you should try to find ways to integrate your quotes rather than “bomb-dropping” them into your text.

You should also try to make quote sandwiches. For example:

However, this quality of Shorty being mythologized is perhaps best seen in the fact that Chance wants him specifically for his great American movie. As Dick Harrison explains, “Western American fiction, because its metanarrative inscribes a national myth of origins, is, in a fairly explicit way, about being American” (71, emphasis in original). Thus, the fact that Chance wants Shorty for his film confirms his mythical status because Chance’s film is fundamentally about the myth of America and American identity.

Here there is a sentence that introduces the quote, a sentence that contains the quote, and, finally, a sentence that explains the significance of the quote. You have to explain the meaning of your quotes especially relative to your argument. Your reader doesn’t want to have to guess. As part of this, you should use quotes that add to your argument or help your prove a point in some way. Don’t just throw random quotes in for fun or to reiterate plot points that you’ve already paraphrased.

  1. Your/you’re; two/to/too; its/it’s; than/then; there/their/they’re; who/whom; less/fewer

“Your” is possessive, e.g., your dog.

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are,” e.g., you’re nice.

Two = 2

“To” can be used in a lot of contexts, e.g., to do something or as a preposition (I went to the store)

“Too” is primarily used to mean something like also (I went too) or to indicate degree (too much of a good thing; too loose – fun tip, in both of these examples the letter “o” doubles which should help you remember this use of “too”)

“Than” is usually used for comparison (this is greater than that)

“Then” is used in a variety of constructs, but often for time relationships (I did this and then I did that)

“There” is probably the most useful of the bunch. You use it for location (put the gifts over there) and statements of fact (there is a marker on the table) amongst other things

“Their” is possession as in something belongs to them (e.g., their dog)

“They’re” = they are

“Who” is for when it is the subject (e.g., who is going to the dance?)

“Whom” is for when you are referring to an object (e.g., for whom the bell tolls)

The way to test this last one is to try to reshuffle the sentence to replace who/whom with he/they or him/them. Let’s try it!

Him is going to the dance – sounds wrong

He is going to the dance – sounds right so you must need to use “who”

The bell tolls for he – sounds wrong

The bell tolls for him – sounds right so you need to use “whom” because the m’s go together

“Fewer” is for countable nouns and “less” is for uncountable nouns (things you can’t count or quantify). For example, “I couldn’t care less” because caring isn’t something you can put a number on whereas you would say “There are fewer than four hundred students at Lowell Catholic.” Fun fact: signs at stores that say “10 Items or Less” are WRONG. You can count items. So, it should be “10 Items or Fewer.”

  1. Effect vs. affect

Effect is typically a noun meaning the result of something (think cause and effect) and affect is typically a verb meaning to impact something in some way (e.g., my knee injury affected my playing ability). There are two exceptions to this rule, but this will work for you 99% of the time. So, it isn’t anything to be too concerned about. If you want to know though, effect can be a verb meaning to directly cause to come about and affect can be a noun describing someone’s assumed personality.

  1. It’s not would of, should of, could of

When you do this, you mean would’ve, should’ve, could’ve, but what you should really do is type out the full words would have, should have, and could have because…

  1. No contractions in a formal essay

Contractions are lazy and informal. Type out the full words. Speaking of lazy…

  1. When in doubt, you should always type it out

“And” is not a long word. We don’t need to use this instead: &. Also, “you” is not a long word. We don’t need to substitute it with “u.” Finally, numbers under a hundred should just be typed out. We can type “three” instead of just hitting “3.”

  1. No I/me/my statements

These weaken your argument. There is a big difference between saying “I think that Holden is the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye” and “Holden is the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye.” “In my opinion” has a similar problem.

  1. Diction

When writing an essay, you should elevate your diction. Imagine your audience is someone that you don’t know that is interested in learning more about your topic. Using slang is going to make them not take you seriously. Think of it this way, whose argument would you find more persuasive, someone who writes like this “Despite the fact that the Hebrew and Greek Bibles are bound together into one text, the two function in ways that are often difficult to reconcile” or someone who writes like this “Hey, you know that the Bibles are different & stuff & sometimes that makes it tough to like get them. It’s gonna be real tough, is what I’m saying”?

  1. Formatting

Use the table; love the table:

Underline/Italic Quotation Marks No Marks
Novels, books, anthologies Short stories, essays, and chapter titles. Religious texts
Magazines, newspapers, and journals Individual articles
Films, TV shows, radio programs Individual episodes of shows or programs
Web sites Individual web pages
Epic poems Regular poems
Pamphlets or sermons
Albums, named symphonies, ballets Individual songs Numbered musical compositions
Painting, sculptures
Names of specific ships, spacecraft, or aircraft Type of ship, spacecraft, or aircraft
Supreme Court Cases Legal documents, treaties, acts, and declarations
  1. If you’re bored, I’m bored

Don’t write boring papers. They make you sad; they make me sad; they make the essay gods sad. No one likes sad essay gods.

Works Cited

“Effect an Effect.”

Fogarty, Mignon. “Affect vs Effect.” Grammar Girl. Quick and Dirty Tips, 29 June 2008. Web.

Fogarty, Mignon. “Who versus Whom.” Grammar Girl. Quick and Dirty Tips, 9 March 2007. Web.

Halbert, Dr. Harold William. “Dealing with Titles in MLA Format.” Montgomery County Community College. Web. 30 March 2013.

If you’d like to keep this and cherish it forever, you can download the Word file here: essay tips

Happy Birthday, Will!


Today is Shakespeare’s 449th birthday! In commemoration, I would like to tell you why I love Shakespeare. Shakespeare reminds me of the fundamental realities of what it means to be human in the most beautiful language. He challenges me to dig deep and find meaning in every word. He shows me that life is never one directional. Tragedies can make us laugh until it hurts and then cry with absolute empathy while comedies can slide from hilarity to discomfort and pity all on their own. I’ve never read a Shakespearean play and not been moved. In fact, Shakespeare is a big reason why I studied English so extensively in the first place. So, thanks, Will, and happy birthday!

Valediction Forbidding Mourning

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise, 5
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ; 10
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove 15
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss. 20

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so 25
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam, 30
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just, 35
And makes me end where I begun.

Passionate Shepherd to his Love

COME live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks 5
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies, 10
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold, 15
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love. 20

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing 25
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.