Helpful Hints 1

As I was reading your first few pages of your theses, I noted a lot of common tendencies among them, so I made this list to help you focus your energy over the break and get a strong start on the spring semester.

As you keep building on the draft you began in the spring:


  • Use your introduction to: a) enter into a critical conversation that precedes you, and b) identify the paradox, tension, or interpretive question that you’ve come to address. You might think of your introduction as the place where you describe the “ballroom” you’re entering and explain what you hope to accomplish there. Who else is talking about your subject, and what point of contention do they raise that you will address? If you’re not sure what I mean here— and maybe even if you are!— go back and reread the Mark Gaipa essay, and see if you can name which of the “motivating moves” you’re using. Your introduction will probably contain reference to at least one literary critic or theorist.
  • Consider implying or asserting your motive in the very first sentence of your thesis. Reread Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” and remind yourself of the motive you want to explore. Note that you’ll use your motive to hold your reader’s attention through the whole duration of your thesis, so you want to foster curiosity with it from the start.
  • Establish your thesis and motive in literary terms. Your thesis will probably address conditions that exist in real life—structural violence, perhaps, or the workings of time—but it will address those things as they are represented in literature, so you should frame your thesis and motive as a claim about the best way to interpret a text.


  • Begin your essay with a statement or a paragraph that makes a generalization about the way things are in the real world. You don’t need to tell your reader how things are. Such generalizations waste space that you’ll need for literary analysis, and—even more importantly—they leave your reader wondering how you will intervene in a conversation of consequence to literary critics. (See “Do” #1, above.)
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