Getting an A on an English Paper

Jack Lynch,
Rutgers University – Newark


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:

Thesis 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.
Research 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.
Close Reading 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.
Style 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.
Mechanics The niggling details of writing and citation, including more links to my Grammar and Style guide.

Some sections comprise more than one page; I therefore provide a complete index of topics.

Contacting Me:

If you're in one of my classes, you should already know how to contact me, and I encourage you to do so at any time.

If you're not, let me start by declaring I don't have the time to provide paper-writing support beyond what's in this guide (see my advice on writing strangers under “Internet Research”). Please talk to your own teacher, professor, or librarian. I really hate to brush people off, but my time is more than taken up by my research and my own students.

I do, however, welcome comments on this guide — notices of typos and other booboos, suggestions for improvements, and such. I can't always promise any reply, let alone a prompt one, but I'll do my best.

from Jack Lynch's guide,
Getting an A on an English Paper

Home Thesis Research Close Reading Style Mechanics