Frann Michel English Department Willamette University
Some Guidelines for Writing

Please feel free to come see me to discuss your writing at any stage of the process, from brainstorming ideas to going over a draft or reviewing my comments on a paper. My office hours are MF 10:30-12pm, and by appointment. I sometimes have a sign-up sheet for the week's appointments on my office door (Eaton 205). You can reach me by email at fmichel<at> or call x6389.

The Willamette University Writing Center is located in Ford Hall, and is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 6-9pm and Thursday and Sunday 3-9pm (closed Fridays and Saturdays). Call x6959 for an appointment, connect to their WISE page, or drop by for a consultation.

style format peer editing revising grading

Here are links to more information about writing:

Writing Center --they have tip sheets, style guides, and snacks, as well as helpful consultants
On Writing about Literature --some basics
Getting an A on an English paper--this site has many useful pages
Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis --this one, too
More on developing a thesis
The Elements of Style--helpful for recognizing and avoiding common errors
Common Errors in English --lots and lots of them
Brief MLA Format and Style Guide--not as thorough as the print version
On Plagiarism and how to avoid it

Stylistic Guidelines

Always revise; never turn in a first draft.


Essay Organization:

State your thesis clearly at the end of the first paragraph.

Make sure each paragraph in the body of the essay has one main point, supported with evidence and analysis.

Build from less important to more important or more complex points.

 Stylistic Tips

1. Use inclusive language (no generic "he"--try "she or he," or pluralize everything; use "humanity" instead of "mankind").

2. Use active voice ("Sandy hit the ball" instead of "The ball was hit by Sandy").

3. Keep parallel subjects (don't switch from "one" to "he or she").

4. Use present tense for discussing literature or film (it says the same thing every time you read or view it).

5. Italicize titles of book-length works or feature-length films; put quotations around the titles of shorter works. Use neither for your own title.

6. Avoid repeatedly saying "I think" or "I believe"--it's your paper.

7. Refer to authors by their full names the first time, thereafter by last names.

8. Align the meaning of your sentence with grammatically important words--the main subject and verb should say more than "it is" or "there are."

9. If you are analyzing a text, don't evaluate it. A book review is a different genre.

10. Avoid cliches.


Paper mechanics

More detail about this on Jack Lynch's site at Rutgers

1. Use Times New Roman 12-point font.

2. Double-space throughout. Do not leave extra space between paragraphs. Leave one-inch margins on top, sides, and bottom.

3. Number each page after the first in the upper right corner. Put your surname on each page below the number. For hard copy, staple pages in the upper left corner.

4. On the upper left corner of the first page, put your name, the course number, and the date on which you are turning in the paper.

5. Give your paper an informative and interesting title, neither underlined nor put in quotation marks nor put in all capitals nor bolded. Do not include a separate title page.

6. Quotations should be precise, accurately punctuated, and fully documented; include a list of Works Cited. The MLA Handbook or Rules for Writers can provide further information on format and documentation.

7. Proofread. Make necessary corrections to hard copy neatly in ink.

8. Keep a copy. Hard copy is safer than disc.

Peer Editing

Peer editing done well is an exercise in reading and writing. Developing your skills as an editor of others' work can help you improve your own writing.

Peer Editing in class

1. Writer, give your classmate a copy of the draft.

2. Writer, read the draft aloud while the listener follows the written text.

3. Responder, pay close attention to your reactions

× jot down notes on your copy while the writer is reading

× use a shorthand code to indicate your reactions: squiggles for negatives, stars for positives

× share what you experienced as a reader

× comment on the text not the person who wrote it

× explain what interested you-give a specific sentence, paragraph, or page that you found especially strong

× ask questions about what puzzled you; be specific to the part of the paper you are addressing

× make suggestions for strengthening the paper; be specific, but don't insist

4. Writer, take notes and thank the responder when she or he has finished.

Peer Editing at home

Editor, write observations and summaries in the margins of the draft. Observations are neutral, indisputable, and often fairly obvious (e.g., "I notice you make the same point about the storm in paragraphs 3 & 7," or, "I notice that you begin three sentences in a row with 'It is' or 'There are'"). Decisions about what to do with these observations rest with the writer. Summaries are useful in making sure the main points of each paragraph and of the essay as a whole are clear. Write a concluding comment summarizing strengths and problems in the essay, and offering any suggestions you have for revision. In class, keep your copy of the draft to refer to as you tell the writer about your responses. When you have finished discussing the draft, then give the writer the copy of the draft with your comments on it.

Writer, bring a copy of the draft to class, so that you can follow along as the editors describe their responses. Ask questions and take notes.

See also these suggestions.



A revision should be just that: a re-vision, a re-seeing and re-thinking of the original. Do not limit your changes to points on which I have commented; such limitation will severely compromise the value of the revision. More revising tips here.

With your revision, turn in the original version with my comments, as well as a description of your revision process and of the changes you have made (about one typed page).

Some suggestions for revision:

Reread your paper, read my comments, and think about them. Refer where necessary to a handbook of style such as the MLA Handbook or Rules for Writers (several handbooks are available in the Writing Center). If you have any questions, come talk with me.

In revising, start with ideas, and then consider structure and style.

Review the text that is (or the texts that are) the subject(s) of your essay. Take fresh notes on relevant passages. What is important about the passage? What else do you notice about the text?

Put your essay aside and do some fresh writing on your topic. Write a brief summary of your thoughts on the topic. Write a response to the topic from the perspective of someone who disagrees with you. Write about the most puzzling or difficult aspects of the text.

Think about the ideas in the essay. Can you improve your thesis? Can you add further supporting points, or develop those you have included in the original? Can you delete or strengthen weaker points? Rewrite the essay to incorporate conceptual changes.

Consider the structure of the essay. Make an outline, writing one complete sentence summarizing each paragraph. Can you improve on the order of the points? Can you clarify the organization by combining or dividing paragraphs? Consider the rhetoric of the essay. Are the transitions between and within paragraphs clear and effective? Revise accordingly.

Refine the prose of the essay. Read your revised draft aloud. Does each sentence say exactly what you want it to say? Can you make the prose tighter, more active, more precise? Is there continuity, flow, from sentence to sentence?

Remember that writing and revising are recursive processes, and you may move back and forth among these activities. For instance, reorganizing the essay may prompt you to do more fresh writing. Refining the prose may lead you to new ideas.

Get as much feedback as you can. Take your revised essay to the Writing Center, read it to a friend, bring it to me for a consultation.


Papers will be graded as follows:

A An excellent essay typically includes an outstanding thesis, thoughtful consideration of concepts and perceptive analysis of text. It offers a detailed reading, and cogent and graceful argument. Excellent papers typically use vivid, sopisticated, and graceful prose.

B A good essay typically includes a strong thesis and coherent argument, good attention to the text, and generally fine and clear prose with only occasional lapses in grammar. The difference between an excellent paper and a good one lies less in what is wrong with the good paper than in what is right with the excellent one.

C A satisfactory essay typically includes a thesis that is too general or simplistic, and vague readings of the text. A satisfactory paper typically uses generally competent prose but is marred by consistent grammatical or organizational errors.

D A below standard essay typically has an ill-defined or ill-supported main idea, together with serious flaws in grammar, logic, or argumentation.

F A failing paper is typically one marred by plagiarism. It may also be a paper that reveals no knowledge of the text and that is written in unidiomatic English.