Guidelines for Writing Papers


When writing a paper you should, first of all, follow the specific instruction for the assignment. For the most part, papers will fall into four categories: (1) research, (2) reviews, (3) essays, and (4) reaction papers (summaries). Each type has slightly different requirements and these will be spelled out in the classroom with handouts and discussions. On this web page you will find my guidelines for book reviews and reactions papers. Take advantage of the resources at the Friedsam Memorial Library. The OWL: Purdue Writing Lab is an excellent resources.


Every paper, regardless of the type, should contain certain elements:

Your paper should have a thesis statement that states an argument, a body in which the argument is made, and a conclusion in which the thesis is stated again.

Your paper should be neat, well-organized, and largely free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes.

Each paper should include your name and the class at the beginning. I prefer that this information be given on the upper right hand corner of the first page but for some more formal papers (such as a senior thesis) it could be appropriate to have a cover page.

If a paper is not turned in electronically, it should be stapled or otherwise secure. By secure I mean use a paper clip of some type if you cannot find a stapler. I really do not like plastic binders. It is not appropriate to turn in a paper that is a bunch of loose pages. On a related note, page numbers should be included on the upper right hand corner beginning on page two.

Electronic Submission

When submitting electronically, follow instructions regarding the file type and format. Almost always I will ask for the paper in Microsoft Word format uploaded to Moodle. PDFs can be hard to grade and comments on electronically. Shared Google Docs don’t always have the correct permissions – note you are sharing them with my SBU Outlook account so I have to ask you for permission to edit your Google Doc. Plus, I don’t want to be dealing with a bunch of different formats, etc., when grading.

One basic requirement of any paper is to demonstrate that you have read and understand the material. This is particularly true of book and movie reviews.


Be sure to provide proper citations for all materials you have used. In my class, for reviews it is acceptable to use parenthetical citations for materials assigned for class use (for example, a book you have been assigned to review). However, if you use any other materials, you need to cite them using the Chicago Manual of Style format. Consult the guidelines for your paper for more specific citation guidance. If in doubt, ask.

It is not appropriate, unless otherwise instructed, to use (or other, similar venders) as a source for outside academic reviews. Wikipedia can be a good place to start, but it is an open source reference site and so it should not be your final source.

For reliable on-line resources consult the Friedsam Library’s web page.

It is plagiarism, and hence academic misconduct, to use materials, words, or ideas without proper citation.


Avoid using “I” when writing. Opening a sentence or a paragraph with “I think” or “I feel” is just not good writing.

You do not have to have a literary flair to do well. Panache, in fact, might hinder your ability to communicate. If you insist on literary flair, go with Hemingway and not Faulkner. Clarity is the objective. Do you really want me to be guessing what you are trying to say as I read your paper?

Do not confuse fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is “something invented by the imagination or feigned; specifically : an invented story.” (

On a closely related note, do not refer to non-fiction books as “novels.” A novel is “a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.” (

If you do not know what a word means, look it up. You can find dictionaries on line at or at Failing these two options, Microsoft Word has a thesaurus and dictionary function. Right click on the word and follow the links. I’m pretty certain Google is good at finding information. If you don’t want to Google, then Duck Duck Go.

Have a friend or classmate read the paper.

Bring me a draft of the paper. Be sure to leave time to incorporate my suggestions. I will not proofread or offer you a tentative grade when looking over a draft, but I will talk about the content and how to improve it.

Proofread. To catch mistakes try reading the paper out loud or reading it backwards.

Writing is thinking.

This is why you need to write multiple drafts of the paper. Each draft represents a refinement of your thoughts and a sharpening of your thesis/argument. It is a distinct possibility that you will figure out what your argument will be while in the process of writing. At that point you have your thesis and you need to re-write.

When writing an essay to answer questions be sure to answer the question in its entirety.


Below you will find the components of a paper broken down into four gradations (from poor to excellent). These generally correspond with grades. However, it is important to realize that a neat, grammatically correct paper that does not meet specific requirements or lacks a strong thesis statement is not a good paper. Conversely, a paper with a strong thesis and excellent argument will be marked down for poor execution. You will find the paper rubric linked below.

Paper Rubric

Payne Paper Rubric

By Internet Archive Book Images -, No restrictions,

By Mushki Brichta - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,