Academic Writing Review

Remember these items as you edit your essay. They can make a big difference. I hope this sort of things helps. It’s incomplete, but it’s a start.

Think of the purpose of your paper, and of how each paragraph helps you fulfill it. As I mentioned elsewhere, the essays in the book aren’t pure models for the academic writing we will be doing. What we write should look more solid, even if it is less flashy. You’ll need to cite details and quickly follow up on their meanings through strong interpretation of the cited material. Topic sentences and transitions are key elements as well.


  • Set up your thesis; it’s best to place it near/at the end of the introduction.
  • Two-part introductions or other types of unconventional introductions tend not to work. Why? The writer tends not to do the jobs of the introduction. These include previewing the rest of the essay, setting up the thesis (and showing other sides to the point you’re trying to prove).
  • Make sure your introduction promises what you’ll do. (Don’t say “In this essay I’ll. . .” or “First, I’ll discuss,” though. Just go ahead and start previewing the paper.)
  • Avoid using “I” as much as possible.
  • “Don’t use don’t.” Avoid contractions–as I haven’t in this posting!
  • “Oh, I almost forgot.” Be careful of the formal writing voice you need to use. Don’t sound chatty. I want you to write more formally than you are in your postings.

Thesis Checklist

With the thesis statement, keep the following questions in mind. They might work for most academic writing. Get good at asking follow-up questions of your own so that you can edit your work.

  • Is it a statement?
  • Is it a complex sentence? (Most good thesis statements provide an overview of what you’ll go into. Therefore, most good thesis statements need to be complex sentences.)
  • Does it take into account your 2-3 main reasons? (These are usually your body paragraph topics, right?)
  • Does it take different sides into account? You want to appear fair, and the thesis is a great place for you to frame the merits and weak points of contending sides.
  • Where will you locate this statement? Usually, though not always, we put the thesis either at the end of the introduction, or near the end. This allows us to set up the thesis carefully. Your introduction should take care to preview what you’ll get into in the body paragraphs, just as the conclusion reviews what you did.


    • Starting/ending paragraphs with quotes is often a warning sign. Why is that?
    • When editing, check for strong topic sentences. Are they there? (Go a step further: did your major topics make it into the introduction as preview material, and into the conclusion as review?)
    • Citing properly matters.  If readers are wondering where a source begins or ends, they are not attending to the content you chose to cite.  Their job of appreciating what you brought to the essay is made impossible by citing problems.
    • Do interpret between quotes. Avoid stacking two or three quotes. I’m more interested in what you have to write about the quotes than what’s in the quotes.
    • Fix the problems with Smart Quotes. (See that mini-lecture in Module 1.)
    • Are your paragraphs connected directly to the thesis? How? (Is the connection clear enough?)
    • End paragraphs well. (Consider transitions as well as restatement of topic sentence.)


Perhaps the biggest frustration is that many of you include great quotes. They’re promising, they’re useful, they’re. . . sitting there! Use the words in the quote. Get readers to see their meaning. If you aren’t doing some work at this level, then you aren’t interpreting. Good readers are waiting for you to prove your points through close reading of the text. (Sell us on what the words mean. That takes some time.)


  • Lack of a conclusion will seriously affect your readers’ reactions to the essay (and thus, your grade).
  • I value strong conclusions that restate your points and remind readers about how you proved your claim(s).
  • Do not add new information to the conclusion.
  • Restate your thesis at a strategic point. Otherwise, readers will not remember your work soon afterwards–or a week from now.
  • Be detailed: this is where you remind us of what you did.
  • Don’t write two or three sentences and “be done with it.”