In-Class Writing Tips

Some Tips for Writing In-Class Essays:

A. Try to write fairly loosely. In other words, make sure you organize your essay and have an introduction (complete with thesis sentence) as well as a conclusion, but don't be so worried about organization that you forget to leave time to express and develop your ideas fully. Unlike with out-of-class essays, err on the side of more rather than less.

  • I tend to emphasize ideas over organization. That is to say, I'd rather you have interesting and original ideas than a perfectly organized essay that says little. Of course, I should qualify this by noting that the former (ideas) are dependent on good organization.
  • On a related note, I recommend that you let your mind flow and see where your ideas lead you. Often your best ideas are the ones that you have to explore to find; if you err on the side of caution, you may never discover these ideas!

B. Remember that your in-class essay should have a brief introduction (not as long at the intro. for an at-home essay--two or three sentences will suffice). Also, the final sentence of your introductory paragraph should be your thesis. This thesis doesn't have to be perfect but it should give a definite idea of the argument you're going to make in the body paragraphs of the paper. Be specific--don't make broad statements that don't really say anything.

  • If you can't think of a thesis when you start writing, you might leave a blank space at the beginning of your paper then fill in your thesis when you have a clearer idea about what you're claiming.
  • Also, each body paragraph should begin with an analytical (idea-based) topic sentence, not a statement of fact.
    • Remember that the first sentence of each body paragraph determines the shape of the whole paragraph. If you start with an argument, your paragraph will analyze, rather than summarize, the text.
    • Like the thesis, topic sentences for in-class essays don't have to be perfectly crafted and profound; they just need to make a point based on your thesis.
      • Your topic sentences can even be clauses of your thesis, word for word. 

C. As always, make sure your body paragraphs refer to specific scenes, passages, and lines. Body paragraphs should each have at least two references to the text. Direct references are generally better than paraphrases.

D. You will be able to use your text and I encourage you to mark it up so you can find appropriate quotations to cite quickly and easily.

E. At home, you might prepare by reviewing passages and notes you've marked. As you read through the marked passages, think about recurring ideas, character traits, images, and themes.

F.Try to come up with sample essay questions at home. Think up your own questions and answer them in a timed situation or use someone else's question from the Canvas site. Even if the actual essay question is rather different from the ones you wrote about at home, you will find yourself able to answer the question more thoughtfully and deeply as a result of having read the text actively and having written about it. This is what I sometimes call "pre-writing."

G. I recommend preparing a brief outline before you begin writing. Do not, however, spend so much time on the outline that you have to rush to write the actual essay (no more than 5 minutes on the outline, as a general estimate).

H. You might take note of key passages by placing a "sticky" in the text so you can find those passages more easily.

I. Avoid using the phrase "there is." For example, instead of writing "there is a conflict in this poem between the speaker and the poet that illustrates the irony of the poem's dramatic situation," write "the conflict between the speaker and the poet illustrates the irony of the poem's dramatic situation."

Note: the above are just suggestions based on what has worked for me and for some students I've worked with in the past. I encourage you to explore how and under what conditions you write best. As with all writing, the more you do it, the better you'll become.