Often used as one of the first steps in writing a paper, the annotated bibliography is an ideal way to analyze the sources you plan to use. Looking for a place to start? Learn the basics with our guide below.
Step One: Choose your style
Professors will often specify which citation style to use. If yours doesn’t, use the style you have done in the past for the class or department you’re in. As a last resort, default to MLA for humanities classes, CBE/CSE for specific life and medical sciences, and APA for just about everything else.
Step Two: Cite your sources
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate style for your annotated bibliography, consult the corresponding style guide to write your citations. Purdue Owl has helpful guides on how to write MLA, APA, and other major styles. Remember to follow the style guide beyond the basic citation format, remembering to order your citations alphabetically and indent appropriately.
Step Three: Write your annotations
There are three basic components of annotations: summary, evaluation, and reflection. Annotated bibliographies can focus on one of the components or combine them. Professors often specify the expected type and length of annotations for assignments; otherwise, you can default to incorporating a paragraph or a few sentences on each of the three main components in the following sequence.
Summary. Begin your annotation by summarizing the source. Keep your summary concise, focusing on the main ideas and the important points most relevant to the paper you will be writing.
Evaluation. Next, take a critical look at the source and evaluate its merits. Does the information seem reliable? What are the strengths of the source? What are the weaknesses of the source? Provide a short critique.
Reflection. Finally, reflect on how you plan to use the source in your final paper. Which parts of the paper will this source inform? What parts of the paper will this source inspire, influence, or otherwise affect? Did this source challenge your overall understanding of the topic?
Repeat this annotation process for each source, then you’re done. Take a look below for an example of a short APA style annotated citation.
Gillborn, D. (2015). Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and the Primacy of Racism: Race, Class, Gender, and Disability in Education. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 277–287. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800414557827
Evidenced by an English study on Black Middle Class families, Gilborn explores the vital role of intersectionality in Critical Race Theory. He begins by defining the complex concepts of whiteness, intersectionality, and Critical Race Theory. Then, he dives into the striking study on special education referrals for Black youth, finding that regardless of their economic capital, Black families have a significantly harder time getting their children the disability labels and accommodations they need in the classroom. Meanwhile, he finds that negative labels for their children come much more easily from the schools. While these findings are illuminating, they are held back by the small sample size of the case study itself. Nevertheless, this study could be used to support the importance of recognizing and responding to intersectional issues when discussing a vision for the practical application of Multicultural Education in classrooms.
Note-taking is a valuable skill. Using notes as an extension of your memory, you can better prepare for classroom engagement, get ready for exams, and save time during the research process. Even if you do not end up referring back to your notebook, taking notes constitutes a form of active learning that can improve comprehension and recall.
Developing a personal system of note-taking can go a long way toward efficiency. Remember to give yourself time to explore what note-taking methods suit your style of learning, as it is often not a one-size-fit all affair. Finding what feels intuitive will not only help you turn note-taking into a habit, but also create a kind of structure that enables deeper engagement with the content. The most effective and generative method for each task can also vary depending on both the nature of the task as well as what you aim to accomplish.
Consider these questions
Do you like taking notes by hand or on a computer?
Do you keep your notes in the same place?
What learning technologies have you tried? Google Docs, OneNote, Zotero, etc.?
*which trains you to be a better listener as well.
To maximize note-taking as a learning tool, consider jotting down questions, sources, or concepts that might be worth exploring in the future. A common problem for students is that their own notes can turn cryptic after a while, especially when the notes are handwritten. One possible solution for this is to review your notes while your memory is still fresh. Reviewing not only allows you to organize and process new information, but also gives you an opportunity to track down (and flesh out) anything you may have noted down earlier in shorthand form. For example, if you take notes by hand, consider setting aside half an hour or so of your day to transfer your notes to a computer.
Sometimes, it can be hugely rewarding and clarifying to use notes as a way of breaking down a piece of writing into all of its component parts. However, following every single step of an argument or recording every point made by an article can turn into a time-consuming project. As you take notes, be sure to ask what you want from a source.
Are you reading for a class?*
Are you looking for new perspectives?
Are you looking for materials to support your own research?
Do you need to understand everything?
How much time do you have for this task?
*If you are, you might want to note down a question or two that you can bring to class for discussion. It also helps to note down page numbers of key passages for quick reference (e.g. in a fiction class).
For some alternative strategies, consider writing down only ideas that particularly intrigued you or have stayed with you after reading. You can also try pausing after each paragraph (or each chapter, etc.) to create a summary sentence, leaving space to fill in more details later if you want.
Annotating and highlighting can make it easier to go through the article again for note-taking purposes, especially if on your first read you find it hard to separate out the main argument or identify information most relevant to your research. For more thoughts, see highlighting and annotation.
Often students benefit from taking quotations directly out of the texts they are reading. However, with this strategy, it is important to avoid simply copying down key passages without spending time unpacking and paraphrasing them in your own words, whether or not you write those words down. Especially when the goal is to collect materials for an essay, it can be tempting to start building an argument directly from several pages worth of block quotes, which can sometimes lead to poorly integrated sources as a result.
Dunne is sadly mistaken about (at least some) philosophers and the gift of meditation. I find it almost impossible to work through a philosophical problem without writing or talking. When simply carrying on an internal monolog I rarely am driven to a new idea and what’s worse, I can’t see the holes in my arguments. Writing a philosophy paper is not only the result of all your thoughts and way to communicate them but also as a tool that can be used to produce new ideas and arguments. Don’t be afraid to just start writing and see what you can make out of later. This resource will help guide you along the path to writing a paper but it is not the only way to write a philosophy paper, merely one tried and true set of heuristics for producing good philosophical writing.
1. Choosing a Topic
If the topic of your paper is left open to you, it can be difficult to figure out what to write on. One systematic approach to producing a paper topic is reconstructing the argument(s) being covered in class in standard premise form. From there focusing in on one of those arguments or even just one of the premises, analyzing arguments for/against that argument or premise.
For an argument to fail either one of the premises must be false or the conclusion must not follow from the premises. If you want to argue against something you must argue one of those two things. By breaking down arguments in this way it is much easier to see what you agree and disagree with, what has good evidence and what is more tendentious. So once you have your argument or premise that you disagree with, your paper can be a systematic presentation of the reasons against that thesis. Or, alternatively, if through reading you believe something is right but people are arguing against it by denying some premise or that its conclusion follows from its premises, then you can present reasons why the argument is successful.
One important thing to keep in mind when choosing a topic is not to try and do too much. By overextending yourself you ensure that your arguments will be unsuccessful. There are several ways one can overextend themselves. The most common way one might overextend is by not focusing on one argument or one premise. It is perfectly fine to produce a paper that simply analyzes one thing if it does so thoroughly and successfully. The best philosophy papers often make a very small point but get it across strongly.
Philosophy papers are most often persuasive or argumentative papers, even when they are interpreting a work, rather than arguing for a particular philosophical position, you will be trying to persuade your reader of the interpretation you are presenting. There are certain things to focus on when writing a philosophy paper. Philosophical writing, above all else, demands clarity. It is preferable to have clear, simple prose over anything fancy, which might obscure your arguments. Use direct language and never assume your reader has the same background knowledge as you. A good rule of thumb is to imagine the audience for your paper is an intelligent peer who isn’t in your class or major.
Even if an argument was proposed a long time ago it is good practice to talk about it in the present tense, arguments don’t get old or die. For instance, instead of saying ““Plato argued that all universals exist independently of any particular” you should say “Plato argues that all universals exist independently of any particular.” You also are allowed and encouraged to use the first person tense in philosophical writing. Using the first person pronoun can make it clear what exactly your paper is trying to accomplish and which parts are your arguments rather than other peoples. Good phrases to use: “I will argue X.” “I will defend Y.” “ In this first section of this paper I will discuss Z.”
There are many ways to structure a philosophy paper but in almost all cases the paper should be structured around your argument. What follows in this section is an example of one argument centered structure you can use as a guide in writing your essay.
3.1 Introduction Paragraph(s)
It is easy to start a philosophy paper by introducing the long historical context that your idea or topic has. More often than not this is unnecessary. A good rule of thumb is to start by introducing the authors and their arguments, rather than trying to introduce the debate as a whole. If you need to discuss some historical points or context, do so as needed in the body of your essay. One should have a thesis statement and explanation of the structure of the paper within either the first paragraph or, if it is a longer paper, within the first page or two. By telegraphing your arguments and the structure they are going to follow helps the reader understand your essay the first time through. Your goal should be to accomplish these three things by the end of your introduction: 1) Introduce the audience to the general subject. 2) State a specific problem/question that the paper aims to address. 3) State a clear, explicit statement of the solution/answer to the problem/question (i.e. thesis statement).
Here is an example of a good succinct two paragraph introduction:
“Galen Strawson argues that mental action is mostly limited to cases of shepherding the mind; merely preparatory movements in hopes of trying to make other things happen: you can pull your focus back on task after getting distracted; you can clear your mental slate; you cannot, however, actively think, judge, believe, or choose. His arguments come to the conclusion that most of what happens in our head is purely mental ballistics; one can point the mind in a direction and pull the trigger, but after that, one isn’t in control at all. This paper will only discuss one of the mental events Strawson believes is passive: thought.
When I intend to think some thoughts and then subsequently have an instance of that thought content roll across my mental ticker tape, the thinking of that thought has risen to the level of action. Strawson gives what could reasonably be construed as an argument relying on a possible regress against the possibility of actively having some thought. Though I will discuss other ways to interpret his argument throughout the paper. My goal is to show that we can stop the regress from getting off the ground and rescue the intuition that one can actively think about some content. Though a lot of theories of mental action, concepts, and intention will have to deny that entertaining any particular thought content is an action, I will argue that not all do”
The body of your paper should be largely spent on making an argument, only covering the background that is necessary for your argument.One it can be helpful to outline your argument in premise form and then go through each premise and explain why that premise is true. You can do this outlining in a separate document and use it to guide your paper or, better yet, include this formal argument in your paper itself. Here For example, here is a formalized argument:
Premise 1: If there is a soul then each person is identical with their soul.
Premise 2: Each person is also identical with a body
Premise 3: But, each soul is not identical with a body.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, each person must not be identical with their soul
Conclusion 2: Therefore, there is not a soul.
Providing the reader with this breakdown of your argument can strengthen your position and make it easy to understand what information is relevant to your argument. Finally, you should consider objections to your argument. This can either be done as you go about defending each of your premises, taking any objections while defending it, or you can discuss all together at the end. Either way, answering the questions/objections that might be aimed at you by a reader is very important to the overall strength of your argument and essay. One good way to do this is by examining your own argument and asking “what could possibly make this false?” There will surely be a few things, some more reasonable than others. Discuss the most reasonable ones and explain why they do not hold true.
Besides presenting your arguments, it is also important to discuss the implications of your argument. That is, if what you argue is correct, what has changed? If you were arguing against certain philosophical positions you might discuss how exactly it would have to change their position to account for your arguments. If you were critiquing a view commonly held in the literature, then you might discuss what competing view that one could be replaced with. This step helps your reader not only to understand why your argument is important but also facilitates understanding of the reach your argument has.
On shorter papers there is no need to reiterate all of the points. They occurred recently enough in the reader’s mind that going over everything can feel tedious or stilted. Often it is much better to really present the conclusions that can be drawn from your paper. Conclusions about the position you were arguing for or against, or conclusions about what the philosophical literature should be like now with your considerations in mind. For a longer paper, you can do the same things as the short paper but start by reiterating the main moves of your argument. And you should finish off your paper with a strong statement about what the reader should take away from the paper. This not only helps the reader understand what you are trying to communicate but also leaves them with a solid final impression of your paper and argument as a whole.
4. Informational Resources
Philpapers.org – This is a massive database of almost every philosophy paper and book. You can use it to explore areas and topics and find papers that might be relevant to your research. Then, once you have found some things you can acquire them through UVA’s library website above.
https://plato.stanford.edu/ – The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a massive and detailed database of articles written by philosophers. No matter the philosophical subject, there is likely an SEP article on it. It’s not just written by philosophers but used by them as well. They can be quoted and cited just as you would an article or book. Starting a research project here, and then using the bibliographies at the end of each article to dive deeper is often the best way to start writing a philosophy paper.
https://iep.utm.edu/ – The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very similar to the Stanford Encyclopedia.
Many articles and books are available for free either through the library (https://search.lib.virginia.edu/), from the author, or through the publisher. If it is not available through the library, try searching for “Title, Author, PDF” or “Title, Author, Filetype:PDF.” Failing that, many authors are happy to email copies of their articles, though I would not rely on this.
You’ve brainstormed, outlined, and started a draft. You might have even visited the Writing Center or your professor’s office hours. But it’s the first, second, third, whatever day of looking at this Word document, and it’s not getting any longer. What’s going on? Why can’t I write? Why can’t the words just come out onto the page? You don’t have to be a professional author to get writer’s block. Everyone gets it – seriously, everyone does. But how do we get around it, over it, or at least pry ourselves out of it for a little bit?
Turn Your Computer Off
And do something else. If you start getting frustrated with yourself or your writing, just stop for a second! Take a deep breath, save your work, and do or think about something else. If you’re not terribly strapped for time, go on a walk, work out, talk to a friend, get started on a different assignment or project — do whatever that’s not writing that for a few hours, even a day. If your essay happens to be due that day or the next, then take a slightly smaller break — you could go to the bathroom or fill up your water bottle, or take a lap around the library, or call a loved one, or just exit out of the document so that it’s not filling up your entire screen.
Once you’ve cleared your mind for some amount of time, go back to the document and see if you can start a new thought or finish that sentence. If the answer is no, don’t stress! You might need to try something else first, or take another break.
Talk It Out
One of the reasons why we might have writer’s block is simply because we don’t know what to write. Or if you do know what you’re trying to say, then you might not be able to express it the way that you want — “How can I get across this to the reader in the way that I want to?” you might be asking yourself.
If this is the case, try just saying out loud – to a friend, yourself, your TA, a Writing Center consultant — what you want to say or what you want to do next. You might take ten sentences to say something that you want to write in one or two, but that’s okay! What’s your idea, your next point?
A great strategy here would be to record yourself or have someone else take notes – you don’t want to forget your “Eureka!” moment.
Write on Something Else, Write Differently
Similar to talking it out, writing on something else or in a different way can be a helpful way to get your thoughts out without the stress of writing formally. Sometimes, if you’ve been writing on the same document for a while – and that’s the document you plan on turning in eventually – you might feel stressed out – this is what I’m turning in; it has to be perfect! In this case, it can be helpful to write in a different environment. This could include:
Writing in the same document but with a different font or font size
Printing the document out and writing by hand on the pages thereafter
Writing in a new document
Writing by hand in a notebook or on a separate piece of paper
Writing in incomplete sentences, short phrases
Whatever works for you – as long as it’s not what you were already doing
If you’re not sure how to start (the whole assignment, a new paragraph, a new thought), go back to your outline. What did I want to write? Is it still possible to write that? If you don’t have an outline, do that – there are Writing Resources on this site to help you with precisely that.
If your outline doesn’t help you at this point, then look at what you’ve already written. How would I proceed from there? What’s the next logical thought? Make sure to trust your gut here — what was your first reaction? Why did I think that?
Make Yourself Write
This tip might be the hardest to execute, but it can bring about some great results. Force yourself to write for a period of time. It could be ten, twenty, thirty minutes — just make yourself write! You don’t have to write a certain number of words, and it doesn’t have to be “good” or the final product — you just want to have something on the page by the end of this period. If you’re worried that you’ll set the timer and still not write, have someone hold you accountable. Get a friend or someone at the Writing Center to sit with you.
Even if you don’t like what you wrote just now, you got something on the page, and that’s a huge accomplishment! If you don’t like it, ask yourself why? What might work better? How can I edit it to make it better? If you do, then great – keep going; you could even set another timer.
When you’re reading all the time for class, it can be easy to find your eyes moving over words without really comprehending anything on the page. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your class readings.
Note: These tips work best for academic and other non-fiction articles, not works of fiction.
While You’re Reading
Notice the Title and Headings: Sometimes authors can meander around the point a little bit. Looking at the paper’s title and headings can be helpful when trying to discern the focus of the text. This can also help when determining what to highlight.
Tip: If you’re taking bulleted/outline notes on the text, headings can help point out when to start a new bullet.
Highlight: Some sentences will stand out as thesis statements or main points. Make sure these quotes are easy to spot by highlighting or underlining. This will stop you from having to read the entire text again when looking back on it to study or to write a paper.
Tip: Authors will often start a thesis statement with “In this essay I will…” (or something to that effect) and/or put that statement near the end of their introduction. This isn’t always the case, but it’s helpful when you’re struggling to find the thesis.
Take Notes: Write down your reactions to the text as you read. This could happen in the margins or on a separate piece of paper. Do you disagree with a point? Write that down. Did you laugh? Write that down. Are you confused by what the author is trying to say? Write that down. Not only will this help when you’re looking back at the text later, but it also helps you stay present with the text while you’re reading it.
Tip: These notes don’t have to be super academic — have fun with it! If something like “wtf” is helpful to you, include it.
After You Read: Fun, Funky, Fresh
When you’re done reading, take a minute or two to answer the questions below. This helps you move beyond just understanding the paper’s arguments and helps you think critically about what you just read.
Fun: What did you like about the text? Why? This could be the author’s research methodology, their writing style, a specific paragraph, anything.
Funky: What didn’t you like about the text? Why?
Fresh: What is something new you learned from the text? What about this text have you not seen before?
Your statement of purpose is perhaps the most important part of your application materials because you can convey a message directly to the application committee. Your resume, writing sample, transcripts, and/or research statements tell the reviewer information about you without context. The statement of purpose gives you the ability to fill in the gaps that other parts of your application present and add more details to your story. A general outline can be used for both PhD, Masters, and internship applications, usually, but of course, there are specifics for PhD and Masters applications that don’t appear for an internship.
With an internship statement of purpose, there is more flexibility and variety that changes from one internship sponsor to another. We recommend that you reach out to a colleague or advisor who knows more about the specific expectations of a certain internship application. Luckily, some internships also provide a detailed overview of their expectations and important points they want you to highlight. If they ask a specific question(s) then make sure to model your statement structure off the points emphasized in the prompt.
While all parts of a PhD/Masters application are important, none will get the same level of scrutiny as the statement of purpose. Admissions committee members and potential supervisors will pore over the statement, analyze it, and use it as they make their case for or against your application. More than any other document in the application, the statement can make or break an application, but it is also the one you have the most control over. Here are some things to keep in mind:
You need to be confident in your accomplishments and experiences. Most writing doesn’t ask us to brag about ourselves, but statements of purpose require it. The reviewers want to see you present your accomplishments and experiences with greater context and acknowledgement of what you can provide the school/internship.
In that regard, make sure that you aren’t just selling yourself, but you are also marketing you to them. The school/internship does want to know how awesome you are, but they also want to see how they will benefit from you being at their institution. For each institution you apply, a particular statement of purpose should be tailored to them. Your important skills and experiences won’t change, but your personal marketing strategy will highlight the faculty, researchers, and programs of a specific institution and your desire to work with and alongside them. For this, make sure you mention specific names, fields, and details.
Take care to target your language to highlight your skills that you previously learned and how you want to apply that to the next stage of your education/career at their institution.
Most statements of purpose, unlike the personal statement, are communication at its most basic. Avoid story-telling and wandering sentences, instead focus on direct language that doesn’t hide your intentions. You want to do X at Y so that you can accomplish Z.
For PhD, Masters, and research internships, you need to demonstrate a clear research focus and the skills that support such research. If you don’t have all the skills, then emphasize that the institution you are applying to will give you the other skills needed.
After you have written the statement, have someone else look at it. Either the Writing Center or a friend can help you confirm if you have used strong transitions, clear language, and have no grammatical errors. Unfortunately, because this is such an important part of the application, mistakes have the ability to really hurt your standing.
Paragraph 1: This brief paragraph serves to set the stage and give the reader all the pertinent information before you dive deeper into your skills and research. Something along the lines of: “I am applying to the PhD/Masters program in X at Y in order to do Z. My aim is to obtain the skills necessary to undertake a dissertation that explores XYZ.”
Note: an internship statement of purpose will start differently, but will contain the same brief, direct structure about what you are applying to and why.
Paragraph 2: Position your master’s thesis/ undergrad thesis as a project that represents your goals in the future and in the institution. Use this paragraph to detail your process, sources, and other necessary information about your skills as a researcher that developed over the course of your Masters/undergrad experience.
Paragraph 3: Discuss your Master’s/undergrad program to demonstrate how classes and campus experiences gave you skills. This is when you can mention language training, teaching or leadership experience, any grants/fellowships/awards, previous internships, and conference presentations.
Paragraph 4: Proposal of PhD/Masters/internship research. You can present a stronger ability to accomplish your desired research if you tie it into previous research and experiences. Don’t be too general as they want to know if you have an important, new idea. Give some details but don’t stress if you don’t know everything because it should only fill one paragraph. Remember, you mentioned your research in the first paragraph and your other experiences should build towards your project, so keep your focus in this paragraph on the proposed project.
Paragraph 5: This is the paragraph that you want to tailor to each school. The majority of the statement can be kept the same for each application, but this paragraph should demonstrate the desire to join this institution and benefits of doing so. Talk about faculty members, project managers, or programs you want to learn from and join.
Paragraph 6: End with couple of sentences tying you to the institution and your excitement to join a prestigious group.
Writing a literary analysis paper can be a bit confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the type of close reading skills necessary to gather the evidence you need to write a strong paper. It can be tricky to take a deep look at literature. Here are a few steps you can take to write an analysis that is logical, strong, and supported by evidence.
Ask Questions While You Read
When you’re reading the text, take note of moments that you really enjoyed, confused you, or made you do a double take. These questions that you’re asking yourself now may lead you to a question that would be good to answer in an essay. Some questions to keep in mind as you read:
What confused you?
What moments did you enjoy?
Are there any moments of irony?
Are there any repetitions?
Are there any contradictions?
What is the tone, imagery, setting?
Who are the characters and what are their personalities?
Once you decide what question you want to answer, you’ll need to collect evidence. Don’t worry if you don’t quite know the answer to your question yet. Right now, just focus on collecting moments in the text that reflect your topic. Here are some elements that are used in every work of literature and some questions you can answer to back up your argument:
What significant events happen in the story?
What qualities do the characters have? How do these qualities define them and what happens to them? How do they interact with each other?
Is the narrator reliable? How does the narrator portray the characters? How does the narrator shape the reader’s perception of events and characters?
What is the central conflict in the story? How do the characters respond to it?
What themes are the author focusing on and how does the author use elements of story to portray these themes?
How does the author shape the text? How does the form convey the author’s intentions or a deeper meaning in the work?
Write a Thesis
After you‘ve gathered points of evidence, you can start to draw connections between them and the question you want to answer. Bonus points if you can connect them with each other, as well. In the thesis, you need to make an arguable claim that is supported by the evidence you’ve collected. Your thesis statement should include both facts and your stance on the topic.
First and foremost, it is critically important to note that you can make a Writing Center appointment at any stage of the writing process. This includes but is not limited to: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and revisiting. The Writing Center tutors are here to offer feedback and support at whatever point you feel would be most beneficial.
That being said, a little bit of preparation for the appointment will help you maximize your time spent working with a tutor. How is it recommended that you prepare? See below.
Schedule an appointment online
The UVA Writing Center does take walk-ins, but to ensure a tutor is available to help you when you come in, we recommend you schedule your appointment in advance online at virginia.mywconline.com. Just make an account and select an available window for your appointment! When scheduling an appointment, do your best to leave yourself time between the appointment and the assignment’s due date to continue working on your piece. You will benefit much more from your Writing Center appointment if you have time to actually implement your takeaways in your writing.
Have your prompt handy
It is very helpful for your Writing Center tutor to be able to read the prompt and potentially discuss it with you before digging into your paper. They will probably ask you for it at the beginning of the session. Writing with your prompt nearby helps you ensure that you are answering all parts of the prompt in your paper. If you have any other relevant notes, handouts, texts, etc that you will use for your paper, be sure to bring those as well.
Bring a notebook and pencil or a laptop to take notes
You’ll get the most out of your session if you’re able to write down and remember any recommendations your tutor makes that you like or ideas that pop into your head during the session. Additionally, you may end up brainstorming ideas on paper, outlining, drafting a thesis, et cetera, in your session. Your tutor will email you a summary of what you worked on in your session and some next steps, but it is helpful if you keep your own notes as well.
Know what you want to work on
At the beginning of your session, your tutor will probably ask you what you want to work on. This is your opportunity to identify particular goals or concerns you have regarding your writing so that your tutor can help you address them. You don’t need to have any solutions or specifics. Essentially, you just want to be able to answer the question: why did you make a Writing Center appointment?
This could be as simple as:
“I’ve been struggling with organization in my paper. Can we work on that?” Or,
“This is my first time writing a narrative paper, and I don’t have any experience writing in this style. Can we talk about how to go about that?”
A few recommendations:
If your piece of writing is long, identify either specific sections that you are concerned about or “global” concerns that are present throughout.
Your Writing Center tutor will not proofread your paper for grammar errors, but if you have overarching grammatical questions or concerns, they may be able to help with that.
If you’re feeling lost in your writing process, that’s okay! Just explain to your tutor what’s been working and what hasn’t, and they will be happy to help you navigate your way through the writing process.
If you are required to come to the Writing Center for a class, do still think about what you could work on in the session that would be most beneficial to you. Make the most out of your time you spend in your tutoring session, even if it’s required.
Participate actively in your session!
The Writing Center model is centered around discourse between you and your tutor. Since it is your paper, the session will focus on your ideas, and the Writing Center tutor is there to support you in your process, discuss your thoughts with you, and potentially offer recommendations when appropriate. Come in prepared to have a back-and-forth conversation about your paper with your tutor.
Once you’ve read and decoded your assignment, it’s time to begin brainstorming some ideas. While there is no step-by-step way to generate ideas, these are just a few examples of places to look for inspiration if you’re feeling stuck and ways to organize your initial thoughts. Oftentimes, one method of brainstorming can lead you into another, so you may end up combining some or all of these methods as you begin coming up with ideas.
While some types of writing do not explicitly require you to do additional research, it can be helpful when generating ideas to look at some past work related to your topic. Briefly researching your topic and ideas related to it can help you figure out where to start with your own writing.
For this initial research, class notes and readings are often great places to look first. Flip through what your professor has said about your topic and jot down any thoughts that come to mind. Do you see any overarching arguments forming based on what was discussed in class? Could you use points from lectures and readings as evidence to support your argument?
Next, even if additional research is not required, it can be helpful to look outside of your class when trying to learn more about a topic. Again, briefly searching through some additional work related to your paper topic can help you learn more about it and refine your own argument. However, some professors specifically ask you not to do any outside research, so, if this is the case, skip this step.
By the time you finish this background research, you should have some useful notes that shed light on your topic. Take a few minutes to look through the notes you’ve collected and try to notice any overarching themes. Do these notes point towards any major changes and/or continuities over time? Do you see any individuals, places, or ideas showing up repeatedly? Try to pick out these themes and connect them back to the questions asked in your prompt, if the assignment has one.
Freewriting can be a useful activity if you’re feeling particularly stuck and aren’t sure how to organize your initial thoughts. The whole point of this activity is to get your thoughts down on paper and not to worry about using proper grammar and spelling or writing elegantly.
To start, set a timer for a short period of time (5-10 minutes) and write down your ideas as they come to mind. Try to keep writing for the entire time, even if you feel like you’re running out things to say — you can even write down, “I can’t think of anything else,” as long as it keeps your pen moving across the page for the entire time. You can also choose to write in a “train of thought” style (again, not worrying about sentence structure or grammar) or in lists or bullet points if it’s easier for you to communicate your thoughts that way.
After your time is up, take a look at the ideas you came up with. Try to think about which ones were easiest to write about, which ones you find the most interesting, or which ones you feel like you could write even more about. These points will often end up making the strongest starting points for your larger argument. Using a highlighter or pen, highlight/underline these ideas to separate them from the rest of your freewriting.
Once you have narrowed down your initial ideas, it’s time to explore them further. At this point, you can start looking through class readings and notes, begin outside research, or jump into constructing an initial outline for your paper.
While mindmapping is not always the first thing people think of when trying to plan an essay, it is an amazing way to get your initial ideas down on paper in a way that creates a clear visual structure. Mindmapping essentially combines the processes behind freewriting and outlining because it requires you to quickly write your thoughts down, then take a second look at them and begin making connections between them. Plus, it can also be a more fun and engaging way to get started on a paper than sifting through readings or typing up notes on your laptop.
Start with a blank (preferably large) sheet of paper. Write your main topic in the center using as few words as possible.
Then, moving away from the center, write down any related ideas you can think of, and place them wherever on the paper feels right to you. If you run out of clearly related ideas, think of opposites, tangentially related topics, or any other words that come to mind whenever you think about our main topic. The point of this step is to get all of your ideas down on paper, so try to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind.
Once you’ve put all your thoughts on paper, begin circling ideas that relate to each other and connect these circled ideas with a line. For this step it can be helpful to use different colors and patterns (zig-zag lines, dotted lines, squiggly lines, etc.). Continue doing this until you have connected all the ideas that you feel strongly relate to each other. You may end up with a couple outliers that don’t have any connecting lines, but these can be helpful in narrowing down what you should focus on in your paper.
Then, take a step back and look at your completed map. By looking at the different clusters you have made, you can try to come to some conclusions about your topic. These clusters may point you towards ideas for body paragraphs, where to look for evidence to support your argument, or how to formulate an initial thesis statement. You can take some of these ideas from your mindmap and move them into an outline, or you can continue the mindmapping process to get some more thoughts on paper.