Below is a general list of Do's and Don'ts about composing your
essays on works of literature:
Avoid irrelevant personal references: I think; I have
always loved; to me; in my view; etc.
If you read the author's personal life into his works,
be sure to support your idea with concrete biographical evidence.
Avoid ritual praise of the author, or great books, or
Avoid general pronouncements about the value of an
author or a work; the most significant writer of fiction; one of
the finest ever written.
Avoid announcing that you do not have enough space to
cover the whole topic adequately or suggesting that the reader
investigate for himself. Also avoid announcing that you are in the
midst of writing an essay.
Relate what you have discovered in a work to the
entire work, but make your introductions and conclusions
You may present material in the same order in which
the author presents it, but your paper must not be a mere
paraphrase or summary. You must justify such organization by
showing development of thought, tone, character, plot, etc.
Do not be afraid to quote and analyze in detail.
You may discuss the characters in the works; how they
contrast with one another (in the same story), how the writer
presents them (by author’s analysis, objective dialogue and
action, point of view, etc.), what ideas they stand for, their
relationships with one another.
Construct an interesting title that reflects the
thesis and subject of your essay. Follow the guidelines in the
Manuscript Conventions handout.
How to refer to authors by name: James Joyce, or
Joyce, but NOT Mr. Joyce, James, or Jim. Flannery O’Conner, but
NOT Miss O’Conner, or Flannery.
Do not let this sheet of instructions inhibit you from
developing any idea.
Type your paper, and double space throughout. Use
one-inch margins on all four sides.
Do not make page references in your prose. For
example, "on page 10 the hero walks into the woods: or "On page 75
it says...." Instead, state ideas and quotations directly, using
MLA in-text parenthetical citations to credit your sources.
Do not use
a folder or a cover sheet. On the first page, include your name, the
course number, the instructor, and the date in the upper left
corner. Fasten the pages with one staple or paper clip.