1. Avoid Global Openings Do not begin your papers with statements like: “Throughout history, people have struggled with the question of whether democracy can succeed.” Instead, lead the reader immediately into your specific argument. Ideally, address the prompt directly: “Southern whites sought to eliminate black voters’ rights almost immediately after the Civil War.”
2. Provide a Thesis Statement Your opening paragraph must have a thesis statement presenting the main idea of your paper. This statement will frame an argument requiring further development and evidence in the subsequent paragraphs of your paper. HIS 17B Writing Guide—2 Your reader will take your thesis statement seriously. Suppose your thesis statement is: “The early civil rights movement was unified and effective, but the later civil rights movement was splintered and thus did not have significant successes.” Your reader will then expect the paper to demonstrate that the early civil rights movement was “unified” and explain how it was “effective.” Then the paper will also need to show how and why the later civil rights movement splintered and achieved comparatively little. If your paper covers either less or more than your thesis statement, your reader will suffer from confusion. Do not confuse your reader or make them suffer.
3. Use Topic Sentences and Write Coherent Paragraphs Begin each paragraph in your paper with a sentence indicating the scope of the paragraph and its role in developing your argument. For example, you may begin a paragraph, “President Diem’s rule was doomed by his inflexible pride and the unbridled ambitions of his family.” The paragraph beginning with this sentence should then give an example of President Diem’s pride, explain the effect of his family’s ambitions on his presidency and might conclude by noting his murder by former aides disgruntled by his decisions and ruling style. In contrast, a less clear paragraph on the same topic might begin with “President Diem was doomed.” A truly confusing paragraph would simply start talking about President Diem without any indication of the paragraph’s purpose in the broader context of the paper. Remember that each paragraph develops your overall argument. As you write, think constantly about whether the information you put in each paragraph has relevance to your argument. If it does not, you may want to rewrite your thesis, or consider whether you have gone off topic and should scrap the paragraph. Again: please consult Strunk and White, II.13 (make the paragraph the unit of composition). 4. Write in the Past Tense Use the past tense. You are writing about events that happened in the past. Do not write, “Harry Blackmun thinks women should have the right to abortion.” He is dead
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