The following is a checklist of specific aspects of a formal academic paper, including the thesis statement and topic sentences.
( ) HOOK: Construct a hook at the beginning of the opening paragraph that draws the reader into the paper. Typical hooks include: a quote, definition, question, startling statistic, or anecdote.
( ) INTRODUCTION: The introduction provides brief background information on the topic.
A thesis statement informs the reader as to the subject and focal point of the paper. The thesis statement must identify a key theme or idea in the reading(s), and most importantly, must then explain why that subject is important for analysis.
( ) TOPIC SENTENCES: A topic sentence should focus on one aspect of the argument found in the thesis statement. Again, it must identify a key theme or idea found in the reading(s).
The conclusion should restate the thesis statement and summarize the main points of the paper.
( ) QUOTES: Watch quote lengths. In particular, avoid using large blocks of quotes. Instead, use only one or two lines of the text or using only key words found in the essay. Also, watch quote placement and use. Avoid stand alone quotes, or placing a quote at the beginning or end of a paragraph. Lastly, include a quote in each paragraph in the body of the paper along with an in-text citation for each direct quote.
( ) SHOW, DON’T TELL: It is much more effective to show the reader what you mean than to merely tell them what you mean. For example, rather than say that author is wrong, explain why you feel the author’s assumptions are incorrect.
( ) SUBJECT SHIFTS: Each paragraph should have only ONE subject. In a lengthy paragraph, there is often more than one topic. To rectify this error, draft an outline before you begin the paper.
( ) SENTENCE STRUCTURE: Watch your sentence structures to avoid awkward phrasing or run-on sentences. One way to easily identify sentence structure problems is to read the paper aloud. Includes comma usage issues.
( ) INFORMAL LANGUAGE: Academic papers should be more formal in tone. Therefore, avoid informal language such as clichés or common expressions.
( ) VAGUE WORDS: Avoid using words such as “thing,” “it,” or “something.” Use the online thesaurus to find the word that best describes what you mean.
( ) REPEATED WORDS: Rather than repeat the same word over and over again, use the online thesaurus for an alternate word. Variety of language enriches your paper.
( ) CONTRACTIONS: Avoid using contractions in a formal, academic paper.
( ) FIRST PERSON: Avoid the first narrative in formal, academic writing. Using “I” weakens your argument. Also, remember that the paper is your interpretation of the text; therefore, “I” is already a central aspect of the paper.
( ) SECOND PERSON: Avoid using the second person. Using “you” confers characteristics that the reader may not possess, allowing the reader to easily contradict or refute your claims.
( ) ‘BUT”/”AND”: Avoid using conjunctions such as “but” or “and at the beginning of sentences.