College Humanities Writing Tips I – Getting Started

Preparing for a new semester? Here’s the first installment of a few quick tips I’ve put together for college humanities students writing about literature and history.

General Advice

Be specific and remember: ANALYSIS, not summary. Persuade your reader. Make a strong, complex, focused argument and support it with evidence from the text upon which you build and expand that argument.

1. Getting Started and Staying Text-focused

One good way to get started without making a generalization (e.g., “Since the dawn of mankind…”) is by using a structure something like this somewhere in the first few sentences of your paper: “In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the river functions as a geographical and metaphorical location that… That is, …” Build your idea if necessary and then insert SPECIFIC EVIDENCE FROM THE TEXT; make another insightful claim related to and building upon the first claim(s); support this claim with specific evidence, etc. (In _______, this complex, interesting thing that is not obvious happens, and here’s how…) Don’t simply list examples and evidence. Rather, use them to support and expand your ideas. Connect and develop your ideas and evidence with transitions. Show the reader how the evidence works to support and build your ideas.


About sarahjpurdy

I am a writer, editor, English teacher, and Spanish student living in Valparaíso, Chile, where I teach English at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María. I also telecommute to the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where I have worked as a marketing publications writer and editor since 2004. Prior to joining UNR, I worked as a journalist, editing and writing features and news stories for the Reno Gazette-Journal. I earned a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UNR, where I was chosen for a graduate research assistantship in Victorian literature and graduated with a 4.0/4.0 cumulative GPA. I also taught at UNR for three semesters as a discussion leader for cross-disciplinary Core Humanities 201 and 202 courses, which examine Western literature, history, and culture from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece through the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution to World War II, the postcolonial era, and postmodernity. For eight months prior to moving to Chile in February 2011, I volunteered as ESL tutor for the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada. In fall 2010 I earned a 50-hour TEFL Certificate from the University of Arizona and a 30-hour Social Media Marketing Certificate from UNR, and completed a graduate TESOL course through UNLV.
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2 Responses to College Humanities Writing Tips I – Getting Started

  1. Diane Black says:

    Beautifully written. Your credentials are impressive. Writing more effectively is a goal that I am working on this year. I am hopeful to be accepted into the MSW program at UNR therefore, will be working on my writing skills before Fall semester. Polishing.


  2. sarahjpurdy says:

    Thanks, Diane! It’s great that you’re applying for the MSW program! I’ll be posting more writing tips soon. Let me know if you ever have any specific questions. You’re taking the right approach viewing writing as a skill that can be developed. It’s a lifelong process. I’m confident you’ll excel.

    Best wishes for success.


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