On this page, I illustrate the the process of writing a paper, as if I were a student again. I start the process by reviewing my class notes and re-reading the play, poem, or novel. I think about the things that strike me about it. I write down my ideas, read them, and chose a topic. Next, I plan my essay. Then I write it. Finally, I revise my draft.

I. Thesis. I state my topic as a sentence.

Claudius is a very capable enemy; this fact increases our sense that Hamlet's death was inevitable.
Note: I do not overstate my thesis by saying that Claudius's abilities make Hamlet's death inevitable. More is involved in the audience's sense of inevitability than just Claudius; there is, for example, Hamlet's nature to consider, as well as his depression and disillusionment at his father's death and his mother's remarriage.

II. Basic Argument. An argument is reasoning designed to convince or persuade. An argument is the overall plan or train of reasoning for proving a thesis. If I tell my thesis about Claudius to a friend, she naturally asks, "Why do you believe that?" If I can't explain why, I should do more thinking or perhaps choose another topic. Fortunately, I can explain my belief (my explanation is the argument for my paper).

Because Claudius is so intelligent, perceptive, and quick-witted, Hamlet is unlikely to catch him unaware and kill him. Because Claudius is so resourceful, quick-acting, determined, and unscrupulous, Hamlet seems unlikely to avoid Claudius's plots to kill him. So when Hamlet dies in a plot Claudius laid, the audience's sense of Hamlet's death as inevitable is significantly reinforced.
III. Plan or Organization of My Paper. I work out my strategy for developing my argument and organizing my ideas; I do this by analyzing my thesis (analysis= breaking something down into its major parts). Analyzing a thesis means breaking it down into the generalizations that explain it. My thesis breaks down into three major generalizations or thought units. With an introduction and a conclusion, my paper will have a total of five divisions or thought units.
Thought Unit 1.
      Introduce my topic, probably in one paragraph.

Thought Unit 2. Discuss the first generalization: Claudius's exceptional qualities make him a dangerous enemy.
      A. Identify his qualities.
      B. Explain why these qualities make him dangerous.

Thought Unit 3.
      Discuss the second generalization: His qualities probably make him impossible to escape.

Thought Unit 4.
      Discuss the third generalization: Because Claudius is dangerous, the audience comes to expect that at least one of the two men will die; because the determined Claudius is probably inescapable, Hamlet will probably be killed. So when Hamlet does die, the audience has a strong sense of the inevitability that is part of the tragic experience. (The reference to inevitability and the tragic experience is based on my reading the Tragic Vision; an inevitable catastrophic ending is one of the characateristics of tragedy.)

Thought Unit 5.
      Conclude my topic, probably in one paragraph.

IV. Development of Generalizations. Each generalization identified in section III must be developed or supported. Readers want to know why you the writer make each generalization. To illustrate how a generalization may be developed, I have selected one generalization and list the specific details which develop it. I discuss one of the traits which make Claudius such a deadly enemy.
Generalization to be Proven.
Claudius is highly intelligent and consistently quick-witted.
Proof or Support of This Generalization
Supporting detail #1
His speech when he first addresses the court is skillful, shows tact, and is suitably formal; he handles the problem of Fortinbras quickly and effectively; using informal language, he is diplomatically gracious to Laertes and his father, who is powerful and respected. Thus he successfully adapts his behavior and speech to the occasion.

Supporting detail #2
After Claudius eavesdrops on Hamlet's conversation with Ophelia, he realizes that Hamlet is upset, not insane. He is the only person who is intelligent enough to perceive Hamlet's sanity. Moreover, he immediately comes up with a plan to relieve Hamlet's mental distress by sending him to England. After Claudius realizes Hamlet knows of the murder, he immediately changes his plan to send Hamlet to England for his health into a plan to murder him.

Supporting detail #3
When he hears of Polonius's death, he immediately realizes that Hamlet meant to kill him.

Supporting detail #4
He skillfully manipulates Laertes, first to calm him, then to enlist him in a scheme to murder Hamlet.

I am now ready to write my paper. To illustrate how I develop generalizions and connect generalizations to specific details, illustrations, etc., I have written the portion of my paper dealing with Claudius's intelligence and quick-wittedness. Click here to read it.

Online Writing Resources

If you have questions about writing, grammar, punctuation, footnotes, etc., you will probably find the answer on these Websites.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab
      Handouts on general Language (such as writing for an American audience and help with English conventions), grammar, spelling, and punctuation, research and documenting sources (including MLA and APA styles), professional writing (such as resumes and cover letters), and writing across the curriculum (incorporating writing into a variety of disciplines).

Online Resources Provided by Writing Centers
      Comprehensive list of resources for writers. Index of handouts provided by writing centers across the country. Directory of grammar hotlines. Online tutoring. Online writing resources, like Strunk and White's Elements of Style, dictionaries, and a Guide to Grammar and Writing.

Writer's Reference Desk.

Topics for Papers || Sample Critical Essays
Sample Personal Response Essays
Sample Societal/General Analysis Essays
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