Getting an A on an English Paper
Rutgers University – Newark
Last revised 25 October 2004
Note that this guide is still being developed. It's a start, but I know more needs to be done. I hope to spruce it up over time. For now, I ask for your patience.
This is a guide I put together primarily with my own students in mind, but I hope others find it useful.
My audience is primarily undergraduates in college English classes, though of course some advice will be appropriate for high schoolers and graduate students. The idea is to collect all my advice on writing good English papers in one place. There's no guarantee following this advice will earn you an A — there are few guarantees to be had anywhere — but I hope all of it will be useful in improving your papers.
First the bad news: there are no shortcuts. Writing good papers takes work, and that means reading, researching, writing, revising. But this guide should at least give you some insight into what professors are looking for. It's divided into five major sections:
The sine qua non of a good English paper is its thesis, the main argument it makes. If yours is weak, you won't get an A — that simple.
Though different professors require different degrees of research, you should certainly learn your way around a library. Any paper will be improved by judicious use of reference books, other books, articles, and (brace yourself) Internet resources.
Professors in every department want well-researched papers with good theses. Professors in English departments also want to see that you can read closely, paying excruciatingly close attention to the details of language.
Achieving the right tone in an English paper can take some work. This section addresses the style you should work toward, and includes links to articles in my Guide to Grammar and Style.
The niggling details of writing and citation, including more links to my Grammar and Style guide.