Sharon Gordon Staff Photo
Guide to Good Writing
Due Date: 8/20/2014
Subject: English III Honors

Gordon’s Guide to Great Writing



A thesis is a good thing. Your paper should make a point, not merely provide information or state the obvious. “Victor Frankenstein is a Promethean hero” is not much of a thesis; it’s pretty much a given, particularly considering that the subtitle of Frankenstein is “The Modern Prometheus.” “Mary Shelley uses the figure of the Promethean hero in order to examine the consequences of Romantic individualism” is a thesis because it makes a claim that can be either supported or refuted. “Authors create unconventional heroes and heroines because they make more interesting characters” is not much of a thesis; unconventional heroes and heroines are, almost invariably, more interesting than conventional characters. “The heroines of Victorian novels encounter both internal and external obstacles in their attempts to define themselves; they can never entirely transcend the attitudes of their society” is a thesis. “Donne uses cacophonous sounds and violent metaphors in ‘Batter My Heart’ to convey the intensity of his internal religious struggle” is a thesis because it analyzes the significance and function of the poem’s devices.


A good thesis test is to append (in a draft stage only) the phrase, “I am going to argue that . . . “ before your thesis statement. Such a phrase will often make a non-thesis sound absurd. The other test to ask yourself throughout your paper or essay is “What’s the significance of this?” or the short version, “So what?” The thesis must have some point, and each point you make in relation to the thesis must have some point. Your paper should consist of a logically developing, unified argument, not a list of random observations. Each part should not only have a direct bearing on the thesis, but it should make explicitly clear to the reader just what the relationship to the thesis is. It’s not the reader’s job to figure out how a particular point relates to your thesis; it’s your job to explain it.



Transitions are helpful to the reader. When I see a paper in which almost every paragraph begins with the word “another” or “also,” I want to stop reading immediately. A list of main points or pieces of evidence does not make a paper. Each section should build on the last so that the connections between the ideas are clear. This is where transitions enter the picture.


Avoid plot summary. In an English paper or essay, you can generally assume that your readers (your teacher and classmates) are familiar with the work(s) being studied. If you find yourself saying, first this happens, and then that happens, your are summarizing the plot, not analyzing. You should, of course, refer in detail to particular passages, quotes, and episodes that have a direct bearing on the thesis; but you do not need to tell the reader what happened to Jane Eyre at each stage of her life. The only exception to this would be if you have a good reason to think your reader will be totally unfamiliar with the work. For instance, a paper on Star Trek’s Data as a contemporary version of Frankenstein’s creature should briefly introduce who Data is and should briefly summarize the portions of the episodes that support your thesis.


A paper without quotations is incomplete. No matter how brilliant your analysis, it is insufficient without quotations. Quotations serve as evidence to support the claims you are making and as illustrations of your main points. They also make your paper more interesting and show the reader that you have done your work. A list of quotations is not enough, however. You need to spend some time analyzing them in detail and explaining their significance both to the topic sentence of the paragraph and to the thesis of the paper as a whole. Avoid ending a paragraph with a long block quotation. Any long quote that is long enough to be included in your paper deserves at least a few lines of analysis. In particular, a block quote at the end of a paragraph leaves the reader with only an incomplete understanding of the purpose of the quotation and affords no transition to following paragraph. Always follow a long quotation with your own discussion of its significance to your argument before going on to another topic.



Depth is preferable to breadth. Given the choice between writing a superficial and general discussion of five novels and an in-depth discussion of two, I would recommend the latter. The best parts of a paper are the ones with detailed, thoroughly developed analyses. If you choose too large a topic, you are just asking me to think of all the items you should have discussed but did not. A narrow topic, however, can be thoroughly developed with many concrete details and interesting, thoughtful analyses.


Remember the art of persuasion. You are trying to persuade your reader of your point of view, or at least, convince your reader that your point of view is a valid one. Part of the way you do this is by defining a strong thesis, supporting it with detailed analyses of quotations and passages, writing fluently and articulately, and presenting a paper that looks professional. You might also consider the opposing position to your own and take it into account. In the process, you may find yourself developing a thesis that accounts for the work’s complexity in a more effective fashion. You also want to avoid vast generalizations that just beg to be refuted. Statements that begin with “all” or “every” (as in “All Victorian marriages were. . . .” or “Every Romantic poet. . . .”) will get you in trouble. . . guaranteed.


Avoid looking silly. Consistently misspelling an author’s name, a title, or a major character’s name throughout a paper makes you look silly. Not knowing the gender of an author, such as W. H. Auden or George Eliot, makes you look silly. Making serious errors in describing a scene in a novel or play or part of a poem makes you look silly. Misreading a line of poetry because you did not understand the literal meanings of the words makes you look silly. . . or simply careless, which makes just as bad an impression on the reader. When in doubt, look it up or ask. I won’t think you’re silly if you ask me if W. H. Auden is a man or a woman, but if you consistently refer to him as “she” in a final paper, I won’t think very highly of you. (By the way, George Eliot was a female.)



A finished paper has essential ingredients. These are the components your paper needs to be complete. First, the paper needs a title that is informative enough to give the reader some idea where the paper is going. It is fine to include the titles of literary works in your title, but you may not use only the title of the work. Next, think of the introduction as the road map for the reader. Set up your topic with introductory material:

·         mention the author’s name and the title of the work in the first sentence

·         briefly discuss the main points of the paper

·         state the thesis.

When you introduce the works, you need not go into the rhapsodies about the “superb tragedy of Hamlet by the incomparable Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare.” A simple Shakespeare’s Hamlet will do. The author’s first name should be included in the first mention of the author. After that, the last name only may be used. The body of the paper must have topic sentences. Just as your paper has a thesis, each paragraph of the body should have a topic sentence that clearly states just what it is you are trying to get across. Lastly, the paper needs a conclusion. A paper that just stops leaves the reader hanging. If you have discussed more than one work, you should mention all titles in the conclusion. This serves to tie the paper together, to reveal the significance of your discussion, and possibly to raise some new avenues for future exploration.   Bear in mind that your title and introduction are the first parts your reader sees, and your conclusion makes the final impression. They should be as good as you can possibly get them.


All quotes must be properly documented. Use your MLA guides to determine the format. If only one work is cited, it may be placed on the last page of the essay. More than one should be entered on a Works Cited page. Remember that anytime you use someone else’s words or ideas, you must give credit to that person, whether you quote or paraphrase. Not to do so is plagiarism, a serious academic offense.


If quoting a short story, document the page number (123). If quoting a poem, document the number of the line or lines (22-34). (Actually write out the word “line” or “lines” the first time you document a poem so that the reader is aware that you are doing so. After that, use only the Arabic numbers.) When documenting a play, include act, scene, and line numbers (3.6. 11-19). Generally, when you write your essays, the author’s name will have already been identified and therefore not necessary for the parenthetic documentation. However, use general guidelines for all other material.



Using Quotations

Lead ins

Always lead into a short or long quotation with one of your own sentences. Generally, the punctuation mark before a quotation should be a comma or colon within your own sentence. Quoted material cannot stand by itself as a grammatical unit; these are called “ghost quotations,” and your paper will be penalized five points.


Do not use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quotation. The reader already understands that you are taking material out of context. The ellipses are only necessary if you omit works in the middle part of the quote. (Although he feels his “soul . . . grappling with a palpable enemy,” Victor’s mind is soon filled with “one thought, one conception, one purpose.”) If you omit the end of a sentence with a long quotation, you need to add a fourth dot as the period.


Use square brackets to indicate words or parts of words (such as verb endings) that you are inserting into quotations have been changed to help them fit your own sentences. This technique should be used sparingly. (His imagination sees “The Frost perform[ing] its secret ministry” with nature.)


·         Quotations of one or two lines of poetry or fewer than four lines of prose should be incorporated into your own text, set off by quotation marks. As much as possible, they should be clearly and fluently incorporated into your own sentences.

·         Short quotations of poetry should be set off by quotation marks, with individual lines separated by a slash with a space on either side. Retain the capitalization of the original. (Coleridge has determined that his infant shall “learn far other lore, / And in far other scenes!”)

·         Short prose quotations should be set off by quotation marks and incorporated into your own text.


·         If you include a quotation within a quotation, be sure to use single quotation marks.

·         Verse quotations of longer than two lines must be in block form. The entire quotation is indented ten spaces from the left and is not set off by quotation marks, as the indentation serves the same purpose. Reproduce the verse exactly as it is in the original with the same punctuation, capitalization, and line endings.

·         Long prose quotations (4 lines or more) must be set off in block format. Again, indent 10 spaces and omit the quotation marks.

·         When you document a block quotation, the end punctuation of the quoted material is placed before the parenthetic documentation.



·         the use of first or second person. This weakens your argument.

·         expletives: Expletives have no grammatical function in a sentence. Do not use “there” or “here” in the place of a subject. Write “Many books covering the personal life of William Shakespeare are available” rather than “There are many books available covering the personal life of William Shakespeare.” Do not use “it” unless it has a specific referent or antecedent. Avoid “It is commonly assumed that Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets.” Instead, try, “Critics commonly assume . . . . “

·         Arabic numbers: Spell out numbers under 100 unless they are included in a date or address.

·         Contractions and abbreviations: Contractions are generally too informal for the kinds of papers you are writing. Acronyms may be used after the word is spelled completely the first time it is used.

·         Eliminate the verbs in passive voice.






·      Your choice!

Syllabus/ writing rubric
Due Date: 8/20/2014
Subject: English IV Honors




COURSE DESCRIPTION: English IV Honors is a chronological study of British literature offered to students who have met the criteria for the honors program and have completed three years of language arts requirements. The curriculum is based on the South Carolina Standards for English Language Arts.


1.      The students will recognize the importance of an education to each individual.

2.     The students will respect the opinions, properties, and personal spaces of others.

3.     The students will listen to the comments and opinions of others without passing judgment.

4.     The students will recognize the individual differences and uniqueness of others as essential to our world.

5.     The students will make an effort to offer compassion and consideration for the feelings and situations of others.

6.     The students will work independently on assignments and projects.

7.     The students will work cooperatively with others in small or large group activities to obtain a common goal.

8.     The students will function as a leader as well as a follower within a group activity.

9.     The students will follow classroom rules and guidelines to ensure the most productive instructional time possible.

10.   The students will recognize the importance of attendance to, punctuality to, and preparation for class.

11.    The students will stay focused on a task without disrupting others or tolerating disruptions from others.

12.   The students will recognize that accepting responsibility for one’s own actions and comments is a vital part of the maturing process.

13.   The students will develop good character.


A. Texts

B.   Pencils and blue or black ink pens

C. Three ring binder notebook

D. Class folders

     1. kept in filing cabinet

2.   contain all tests, essays, quizzes, etc.



A. Tests/ Projects 35%

B. Quizzes / Homework 30%

C. Essays 35%

     1. content (general rubric used for most essays)

            a. organization

            b. development of ideas

            c. supporting information

     2. mechanics (checklist for points used)

            a. punctuation

            b. spelling


d. Research paper: The final copy will count as four major grades.

D.    District exam counts 20% of the term grade.


Subjective grades are based on the following scale:

A+         =          100

A         =            95

A-         =             93

B+         =             92

B          =             88

B-         =             85

C+         =             84

C          =             80

C-         =             78

D          =             75

D-         =             70

F          =             60

Students will receive incomplete grades at the end of the quarter if they have not completed the classwork or if they have not mastered the objectives.



ü  Attend class daily and be punctual

ü  Have your ID properly displayed as directed by the teacher

ü  Raise your hand and be recognized by the teacher BEFORE speaking

ü  Remain on-task and engaged in the lesson for the entire period

ü  Have learning materials each day as required by the teacher

ü  Respect the teacher and other persons at ALL TIMES

ü  Respect school property at ALL TIMES (no writing on desks, etc.)

ü  Keep hands, feet, and body parts to yourself

ü  Profane, vulgar, or inappropriate language or gestures are prohibited

ü  Cell phones must be out of sight and turned off at all times

ü  Food and drink items are not to be consumed in the classroom without special permission from the school administrator

ü  Follow the directions of the teacher


Ø  Verbal Warning

Ø  Teacher after-school detention and parent notification

Ø  Referral to an administrator


Hidden Rules

Class rules are generally easy to understand, but they are often too simple. Teachers often assume students are aware of and follow the hidden rules as well. Hidden rules are implied in the general rules of behavior. So that we have no miscommunications about what I expect of you in my classroom, please learn the follow expectations for each rule.


1.      Follow all school policies.

Learn the school policies quickly, especially since you will be held responsible for knowing them. Remember that ignorance is never an excuse for anything.

Pay particular attention to the tardy policy and the policy regarding the dress code at GHS. These will be strictly enforced by all faculty, staff, and administration.

2.     Enter and be seated immediately.

Please do not stand in the hall or the doorway of the classroom at the beginning of class or near the end of the block period. Enter the classroom immediately, gather the materials you will need, and be seated. If you need to sharpen pencils, do so before the bell rings; however, if your lead breaks or becomes dull during class, raise your hand to receive permission to leave your desk. Trash can be placed at the side of your desk until the end of class.



Be prepared to learn at the sound of the bell.

This is an extension of the previous rule. You will know what materials you need—usually a pencil or pen and some paper.

4.     No food, gum, or drink.

Please do not bring food or drinks into the classroom. Clear water bottles are accepted, but they are to be placed on the floor next to your desk. If this becomes problematic, we may have to discontinue this privilege. Candy is not to be sold or bought in the classroom, so please be careful if you are involved in a fundraiser. Chewing gum is very distracting, so please deposit it in the trashcan at the door as you enter.

5.     Be polite and respectful.

This is probably the most important rule of classroom behavior. This is a classroom of students, not a social gathering of friends. Please adhere to the following expectations:

a.     Shouting is never necessary.

b.     Pay attention at all times.

c.     Raise your hand before you speak. This will ensure that everyone hears what you have to say. Also be sure to use an appropriate voice and tone in class.

d.     Please ignore all interruptions to class time (visitors, disrespectful students in the hall, etc.)

e.     When announcements are made, please listen carefully. Announcements may not concern you, but they may concern your neighbor or me. They are generally very important.

f.     Keep areas clean. Do not write on the desks or leave papers or trash on the floor.

g.     Do not throw anything at any time.

h.     Avoid interrupting others.

i.      Stay seated unless given permission otherwise.

j.      Be nice to everyone at all times. Behaviors such as name calling and “trashing” others will not be tolerated.

k.     Accept responsibility for your own actions.

l.      Respect the opinions of others; that way they will respect yours.


Restricted areas

My desk, the equipment table, and the area behind them are off limits to students unless permission is given. I will provide an area in the back of the room with supplies and materials for you. The computer at the back of the room is for student use but only with permission. (Sorry-- I don’t have games; remember our purpose here!)



Emergency leave-of-class

You have several minutes between each class. That is generally more than enough time to get from one class to another. Going to the locker between every class is not necessary or practical, so use your time well. Bathroom passes are not generally issued except in rare cases. (If you have a medical problem, please bring a note from home.) Along the same thought, our school nurse  does not like to see students for minor complaints. A sore finger or throat, a scratch, or a broken fingernail is certainly not an emergency. High fevers, profuse bleeding, and unconsciousness are situations that may call for the medical expertise of a nurse: we do not need to waste her valuable time with petty mishaps. This is a high school, and we have actually caught on to students who create reasons for leaving class.










1.      As a general rule, remain in your seat from the first bell to the final bell.

2.     All work submitted for grading should be placed in the designated basket.

3.     Grades are personal contracts between teacher and student and should not be discussed with any other student. By the same token, do not ask other students their grades.

4.     As a general rule, bathroom passes are not issued.   Passes to the nurse’s office are issued in cases of profuse bleeding or vomiting as indicated in the Hidden Rules.

5.     All emergency drills will follow school procedures.

8. Make up work is the student’s responsibility. Follow the policy.

9. Late work is also the student’s responsibility.

10. Essays are to follow guidelines for the format.

     a. Use loose-leaf paper only for the rough draft; do not cut the edges of spiral notebook paper.

     b. Write on one side of the paper only.

     c. Prewriting and rough drafts should be stapled to the back of the final copy.

d.    Date and initial all pages.

e.    Use the MLA headings for all papers.

     f. Essays due on an assigned date are due before class begins.

11. Research papers are to follow the MLA guidelines.


Late Work

All assignments are to be submitted on time. If an assignment is late, it must be submitted the next day (not the next block) and will receive a ten point penalty for each late day. Papers will not be accepted after that without a written doctor’s excuse.


From the Student Handbook:

Students will be allowed three school days to make up missed work after excused absences. Students are responsible for contacting teachers for make-up work. No work may be made up until excuses have been submitted to the attendance secretary. Absences of several consecutive days may constitute an extended period of time for students to make-up work. The designated administrator will make decisions concerning such situations.




Some of your major assignments will need to be documented. When the final copy is submitted, you will also need to submit copies of the sources you used. Failure to do so will result in a failing assignment. Copies of the sources should be stapled to the back of the papers. The first instance of plagiarism in any form will result in a failing grade. The second incident will result in an administrative referral.

















The “A” paper has a spark of true originality and creativity in delivery. It consistently pursues a strong central purpose across a complex range of ideas, skillfully engages the reader, and shows exceptional insight into the subject. The paper uses textual support accurately, effectively, and variedly. It has few if any mechanical errors; and it has clear organization, smooth transitions, exceptional details, consistent diction and tone, and sophisticated sentence structure. A distinctive style is achieved through skillful and expressive use of vocabulary, phrasing, and sentence formation. Its thesis and evidence are specific and intriguing, not dull and predictable. The main ideas are developed comprehensively and are supported with a variety of logical and detailed examples. The writer provides a framework (viewpoint and focus) for his topic and has a strong sense of audience.


The “B” paper is one in which the writer organizes the material into coherent, well-unified paragraphs which have clear topic sentences. The paper consistently pursues a central purpose, holds the interest of the reader, and shows insight into the subject. It shows a strong unifying factor and is effectively organized. The writer does not violate the tone by shifting levels of diction, nor does the writer make serious or numerous mechanical errors. The evidence is fairly detailed, and the sentences are somewhat varied in terms of structure and length. An emerging style is shown through the effective use of vocabulary, phrasing and a variety of sentence patterns and structures. Textual support is used accurately. The thesis, while perhaps not as insightful or original as in an “A” paper, is nevertheless neither dull nor obvious. The framework is evident although not as sharply focused as in an “A” paper, and the sense of audience is weaker.


The “C” paper may have problems in content. It seems to connect the writer’s knowledge of the subject. The thesis may need to be narrowed. It usually lacks framework and any sense of audience and usually needs more evidence and detail. The paper may need better transitions both within and between paragraphs, and some paragraphs may need better topic sentences and focus. This kind of paper is sometimes wordy and may have inadequate subordination as well as illogical coordination. Its sentences are often monotonous in terms of structure and length. The paper may shift tone and levels of language, and the writer may only be aware of the audience.


The “D” paper often has numerous mechanical errors, including some problems in sentence boundaries (splices, fragments, run-ons), that make the ideas unclear. Usually, it lacks a clear or undeveloped thesis and organization, and/or its language is much too general and dull. The purpose may be inconsistent in communicating to the reader or connecting to the writer’s knowledge of the subject. It offers little or no real evidence to support its points.   Its sentences are wordy and unvaried in length and structure. This kind of paper often shifts levels of language and tone. A “D” paper can, however, be relatively free of mechanical errors but have so many serious problems with content and organization that it seems unfocused and garbled. Ideas are immature and/or undeveloped. Development and conclusions may be illogical. The writer shows no recognition of audience.


The “F” paper has no clear thesis or a thesis that is too broad. Frequently, the thesis is a topic sentence. The paper has no clear organization or logical development. It contains few specific details, many mechanical errors, and problems with sentence variety and structure. The sentence flow is usually choppy, or the writer coordinates ideas that do not belong together. Paragraphs lack coherence and unity. Ideas and vocabulary are simplistic, brief, and undeveloped.







Checklist for Mechanics

(Points are deducted for errors)

ERROR                                                                    DEDUCTION

Fragment                                                                                   AUTOMATIC F

Run-on sentence  or comma splice                                                   5 points

Awkward construction                                                                  2-5 points

Expletives                                                                                 3 points

Verb tense                                                                                 2 points

Verb shift                                                                                  3 points

Verb form (principal parts)                                                           3 points

Subject-verb agreement                                                               5 points

Pronoun case                                                                               2-5 points

Pronoun shift                                                                              3 points

Pronoun agreement                                                                       5 points

Misplaced or dangling modifiers                                                     3 points

Incorrect adjective or adverb form                                               3 points

Usage (misused words)                                                                 5 points

Spelling                                                                                     5 points

Comma errors                                                                             3 points

Semicolon errors                                                                         3 points

Colon errors                                                                               3 points

Dashes, parentheses                                                                    2 points

Apostrophes and quotation marks                                                   3 points

Titles                                                                                        5 points