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Writing Centre Resource Guide


Introduction to Writing English Assignments

The essential aims of an English paper:

  • To concentrate on the primary text as the object of study
  • To provide a close, analytical reading that will reveal a central theme or issue in the text
  • To assert a clear thesis about the text
  • To support the thesis with evidence from the text
  • To quote from the text judiciously: to illuminate a point or to provide the reader with access to a key passage that the writer intends to examine closely. Most commonly, English papers employ paraphrase.
  • To employ credible and scholarly secondary sources (the work of other literary critics) judiciously to support the writer’s thesis and ideas
  • To employ Modern Languages Association (MLA) guidelines for research papers when handling presentation and documentation

Common problems:

  • The paper merely summarizes the text (offers plot summary) or expresses personal opinions or reactions to the text. The paper fails to approach the text analytically. 
  • The paper fails to provide sufficient evidence to support an argument about the text.
  • The introduction is too long or too general. The introduction does not present a clear thesis.
  • The thesis is inexact or uninteresting.
  • The paper contains too many quotations or fails to analyze or comment on long quotations.
  • The author displays over-reliance on secondary sources.
  • The title poorly reflects the purpose of the paper.
  • The paper is poorly laid out in regards to spacing and margins; the paper makes unnecessary use of headings; the paper lacks appropriate pagination.
  • The sources are inadequately documented.

When you learn to write in pursuit of an English degree - which means learning to assess and analyze textual material; consider the nuances and effects of phrasing; and express yourself coherently, persuasively, and elegantly - you develop broadly applicable and widely appreciated skills that can be translated to almost any endeavour. Consider entrepreneur Steve Strauss' 2013 column "Why I Hire English Majors:"

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Kinds of English Assignment

Close reading is central to literary analysis. What is a close reading? It’s something you do (conduct a close reading of a passage) and the product of that work (a close reading of Atwood’s “Death by Landscape”). Essentially, it is an argument or interpretation of a textual passage based on close attention to the particulars of the text, to its structure and formal patterns.

See our Guide to Close Reading for an introduction to the process; a discussion of the principal textual elements you might comment upon during a close reading; an annotated sample close reading of “The Dance” by William Carlos Williams; and links to further web resources on close reading.

What is a rhetorical analysis? How do you write one? To find answers to these questions, take a look at these useful guides and discussions:

You've been asked by your instructor to analyze a particular literary text.  Where do you begin?  What steps do you follow?  What questions should you consider?  The following guide will help you navigate your way through this common type of written assignment.

Students are often asked to conduct a critical analysis of a document from a particular perspective.  The following guides will provide you with some questions you should ask yourself as you look critically at a document from a femist, marxist, postcolonial, or ecocentric point of view.  These guides were created and submitted by Brad Congdon.

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MLA Citation Style

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Resources for Writing in English

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