Writing About Literature: How to Make an A

Here are some simple, straightforward tips for writing about literature for all you college students. Fool-proof pointers straight from the horse’s mouth.

Ever had to write a literature paper, but didn’t know where to begin? If you’ve ever had a literature class, you can probably answer yes to this question. Sometimes you just need a little… push. Just to help you get started.

A beloved English professor of mine took pity on our class and gave us some helpful hints for writing about literature to become the best essay writer and succeed in doing any task. I’ve taken his pointers and modified them to be a little more functional for any classroom. Read them, study them, take them to lunch, and buy them a drink–because if you use them correctly, these techniques will become your best friends while writing a paper.

Major Issues

These pointers are the things you need to pay attention to. They’re the basic issues that must be included in any paper.

  1. Know your audience. Keep in mind who you’re writing for. If you’ve been studying the Canterbury Tales all semester, chances are your professor already knows who the Wyf of Bath is–don’t waste your breath (or ink, for that matter) explaining that she is a character.
  2. Have a plan for your paper. Outline if it helps you get your thoughts together. What do you want to say about the poem/novel/story you read?
  3. Thesis statement, thesis statement, thesis statement. Somewhere in your introduction include a sentence that tells the reader A) the point of the paper and B) what you’ll be discussing to prove this point.
  4. What’s the scope of your paper? If it’s three pages, then you probably don’t need to discuss every symbol used in Ethan Frome; pick a theme, and don’t go more in-depth than your scope will allow.
  5. Meaningless generalizations are… well, meaningless. Avoid them. Your professor doesn’t care that for thousands of years people have been writing poetry, or that you think Shakespeare is great. Just go ahead and get to the ‘meat and potatoes’–they want to know what you learned.
  6. It’s okay to acknowledge complexity in a work of literature. You don’t have to have all the answers–just make sure you touch on the subject and give it your best shot.
  7. Need some support for a claim you’re making? Use quotes from the author. Quote the text within your paper–let the characters say it for you.
  8. Be clear. Don’t ramble; get straight to the point.
  9. Get your facts right. If you think Eliza Bennet marries Charles Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, you didn’t read. If you write it, make sure you’re not just blowing smoke.

Minor Issues

These might seem like “duh” issues to remind you of, but they’re important. They’re also the mistakes that will nickel-and-dime you into a lower grade.

  1. Quote poetry as verse. It’s a pet peeve of English professors.
  2. Use present tense when commenting about something. It’s a work of literature; it’s timeless.
  3. Spelling. If you’re unsure of how to spell something, just google how you think it’s spelled. If you got it right, congratulations. If you got it wrong, Google will ask you, “Did you mean: tomorrow” if you wrote tommorrow. Ta-da!
  4. Watch out for grammatical errors. Don’t know what a comma splice is? Google it, folks.
  5. Pay attention to formatting and style.
  6. Check your transitions. Make sure that you can read the last sentence of the first paragraph and the first sentence of the second paragraph with a fluid transition, even though they’re two separate thoughts.
  7. Have a good title.
  8. Ask questions! Make your professor work for your tuition! Their job is to help you out.

Simple? Yes. Helpful? I hope so! So, use them wisely!

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