How to Get an A on an English Paper

Three Parts:Researching and BrainstormingStructuring Your PaperWriting and Editing Your Paper

It can be demanding to write a great English paper, especially a paper that will land you an “A”. With the right planning, content, structuring, editing and reediting, you can create a solid English paper that will help, rather than hinder, your overall grade. However, you may have to write one or more essays on the fly in class as an exam, and even if you follow many or all of these steps, there is no guarantee you will get an "A" on your paper. If you put forth your best effort and make some strategic decisions, you may achieve high marks.

Part 1
Researching and Brainstorming

  1. 1
    Read the topic or essay question. Your essay or paper will likely be directed by a question or a prompt, like a quote, with a question. It’s important that you read the question carefully and understand what it is asking of you. If you have created your own topic for the paper based on an assigned piece of literature or author, ensure you understand what you are expected to be exploring in the paper.
    • For example, you may get a prompt in the form of quotation from a work of literature, such as: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” - Hamlet by William Shakespeare.[1]
    • You may be given an essay topic based on an assigned book or text, such as: “Discuss how Shakespeare’s Hamlet treats the idea of suicide in a moral, religious, and aesthetic sense. Pay particular attention to Hamlet’s two important soliloquies on suicide: “O, that this too solid flesh would melt” (I.ii.129–158) and “To be, or not to be” (III.i.56–88). Why does Hamlet believe that most human beings choose to live, despite the cruelty, pain, and injustice of the world?”[2]
  2. 2
    Research your topic. Before you get into structuring and writing your essay, take some time to do research on your topic. If your essay is about suicide and Hamlet, for example, you should start by reading the play again and highlighting any sections that discuss suicide, injustice, cruelty, or pain. You may also want to look at several academic articles that examine the play’s approach to suicide and mortality to use as sources or references.
    • If your topic is based on a historical framing of a text or book, such as the rise of 19th century factory life in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, you will need to use other resources besides the book as supporting material for your paper.
    • Always cite your sources properly in your paper, as failing to do so can lead to accusations of plagiarism and a failing grade. Never simply copy and paste information from a source into your paper, as this is considered plagiarism. You will need to quote the source and cite the source, or paraphrase the source so you are still using your own words to discuss the topic.
  3. 3
    Take notes during your research. Use a highlighter or a pencil to mark any relevant passages or quotes in the text. If you are using online sources, copy and paste relevant quotations into a blank Word document. Write down notes about how the source relates to your topic. You can then use these notes to create your thesis statement and to structure your essay.

Part 2
Structuring Your Paper

  1. 1
    Brainstorm your thesis statement. A thesis statement will explain the points or arguments you are going to make in your paper to your reader. It acts a road map for your paper and should answer the question, “What is this paper about?” It should take a stand and announce your position towards the topic.[3]
    • For example, an essay about suicide and Hamlet may respond to an essay question with the thesis statement: “In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet’s fear of moral and religious punishment prevents him from ending his suffering through suicide and reinforces the complex nature of action in the play.”
  2. 2
    Organize your research notes. Go through your research notes and identify any key quotes or sections that you can use a supporting material for your paper. Look for a strong quote to open your essay in your introduction, or to end your essay in your conclusion. Consider how your notes from other sources will inform your essay.
  3. 3
    Create a five paragraph outline. Many students use the five paragraph essay form to structure their paper. However, some teachers frown upon this structure and argue that you can use as many paragraphs as you need in your essay, as long as there is a clear introductory paragraph and a clear concluding paragraph. The five paragraph essay outline is:[4]
    • Introduction: Your beginning paragraph should contain an engaging first sentence and your thesis statement. Some writers find it easier to write create a temporary introduction and revise it once they are finished with the essay. This will ensure the introduction is cohesive with the rest of the essay.
    • Body paragraph 1-3: Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. You should also discuss one major point of your thesis, with at least one supporting example in each paragraph.
    • Conclusion: This paragraph should summarize your main argument and restate your thesis. You may also want to include last thoughts around the essay question and answer any questions or concerns you presented earlier in the paper.
  4. 4
    Use a less formal structure to outline the paper. There are other ways to structure an English paper beyond the five paragraph essay, especially if you are writing a paper or essay at the college level. Consider structuring your essay around three basic parts:[5]
    • The introduction: This beginning paragraph should draw your reader in and act as a signpost for the rest of your essay. State your thesis and explain the purpose of the essay or paper.
    • The multi-paragraph body: These paragraphs are like building blocks, as they move your reader toward the goal or purpose of the essay. Each paragraph should expand on your main point or points and contain supporting examples for each point. However, some paragraphs may be longer than others to develop your points fully, and you are not restricted to only three paragraphs for the body of your essay. Always include transitions between each paragraph so the paper flows smoothly and the reader does not get confused or overwhelmed by your supporting points.
    • The conclusion: This section is the final destination of the reader's journey through your paper. Your conclusion can be more than one paragraph, but it should reinforce the purpose of your essay or the main idea of your essay and connect to the points made in your introduction. Avoid repeating your thesis statement or the earlier points made the essay. Instead, use the points you developed in your body paragraphs to strengthen your position in your conclusion. At the end of your paper, you should feel you have made a strong case to change the reader's mind about a topic or issue.

Part 3
Writing and Editing Your Paper

  1. 1
    Start your introduction with a hook. There are several possible hooks you can use in your essay to draw your reader in.[6]
    • An interesting or surprising example: This could be a personal experience or a key moment in the life of the historical figure you are discussing in your essay. For example, to use an personal experience related to themes of suicide and mortality in Hamlet, you may discuss a moment where you felt despair and misery, only to realize the kindness of others and find solace in the strength of a friend or a peer.
    • A provocative quotation: This could be from a source you used for your essay or one that feels relevant to your topic. For example, you may use a well known quote from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet, such as: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”[7]
    • A vivid anecdote: An anecdote is a very short story that carries moral or symbolic weight. Think of an anecdote that might be a poetic or powerful way to start your essay.
    • A thought provoking question: create a question that will get your reader thinking and engaged in your topic. For example: “Why does a melancholy character like Hamlet still embrace life over death, or suicide?”
  2. 2
    Compose the body paragraphs. Focus on fleshing out each paragraph with at least one example of your main point. Sign-post each paragraph by beginning with a strong argumentative point that links to a supporting example of your main point. If you use an essay on suicide and Hamlet as an example:[8]
    • Body paragraph 1: Discuss the first soliloquy “O, that this too solid flesh would melt” (I.ii.129–158) in relation to suicide and mortality. Note how the soliloquy introduces the theme of mortality and suffering, as well as Hamlet’s inability to commit suicide because it is against his religious upbringing.
    • Body paragraph 2: Discuss the second soliloquy “To be, or not to be” (III.i.56–88). Look at how the soliloquy explores suicide and death, and how Hamlet ends the soliloquy with a philosophical conclusion about the complex nature of suffering.
    • Body paragraph 3: Choose a third soliloquy or quote in the later half of the play that you feel discusses suicide and death, such as Hamlet’s last words to Horatio where he tells Horatio not to commit suicide and to share Hamlet’s story. Discuss how Hamlet’s final words allow for a sense of optimism among tragedy and how it reinforces the play’s approach to suicide and death.
  3. 3
    Avoid cliches and wordy or awkward phrases. Cliches are expressions that have a non specific meaning or have lost significant meaning over time. These are overused phrases that are so familiar, they do not create a specific or unique meaning. For example, “the grass is always greener”, “there’s no “i” in team”, “work hard, play hard.” To make your essay stronger, resist the urge to throw in cliches to get your point across. Be specific and use your own words to discuss your paper topic. Your teacher will want to read your original thoughts and ideas, not familiar phrases or sayings.[9]
    • Rather than start your paper with a cliche like, “Since the dawn of time…” or “In modern society…” or “Throughout history…”, create an original opening or use a quotation from a source.
    • Awkward or wordy phrases are usually phrases that run more than two lines on the page. Instead of cramming in all your ideas in one sentence, break up the sentence into shorter sentences. This will help you eliminate any wordy sentences or phrases that seem awkward and hard to understand.
  4. 4
    Vary your sentence structure and sentence patterns. Another way to raise the level of engagement of your reader is to vary your sentence structure. The simplest sentence structure is composed of one independent clause, or a combination of a subject and a verb. For example: “Hamlet has issues.” But you can extend the simple sentence to include two or more clauses and create more complex sentences. Rather than use only simple sentences or complex sentences, use a variety of sentence patterns in your essay. This will show you have a more sophisticated understanding of sentence structure and take your essay to the next level, without confusing your reader.[10]
    • A compound sentence is composed of two or more independent clauses, subject verb and subject verb, separated by a connector like “for”, “nor”, “and”, “but”, “yet”, “or”, “so”. You can also used a connector with a semicolon or a comma, such as “however” “nevertheless”, “therefore”, “nonetheless”. For example: “Hamlet is torn between life and death.” “One of the play’s main themes is death; however, it is not all doom and gloom.”
    • A complex sentence is composed of one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. You can arrange these sentences as: subject verb (SV) because subject verb (SV), because SV, SV, or S because SV, V. You can use several different connectors, based on whether you are trying to describe cause and effect, a comparison and contrast, a place and manner, a possibility and conditions, a relation between two subjects and a duration of time.
    • For example: “Hamlet demonstrates his love for Ophelia in his soliloquy because he has difficulty telling Ophelia how he feels.” This is cause and effect. “One of the most pivotal scenes in the play occurs when Hamlet realizes his mother’s cup has been poisoned, though he is powerless to help her.” This is comparison and contrast. “After Hamlet watches his mother die, he takes his revenge on his murderous uncle.” This is a complex sentence that describes time.
    • A compound complex sentence is composed of two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. You can arrange these sentences by: SV, and SV because SV or Because SV, SV, but SV. Often compound complex sentences can get wordy and convoluted, so use them sparingly in your essay.
    • An example of a compound complex sentence is: “Once Hamlet ends his “To be or not to be” soliloquy, he realizes his fear of moral and religious damnation is greater than his desire to end his suffering, though he still feels there may be too much evil in the world that outweighs the good, so he decides to continue living with skepticism and anxiety.”
  5. 5
    Use a thesaurus to improve your word choice. Vary your word choice so you do not use the same terms or words more than once within the same sentence. If you tend to put “also” in every sentence, vary this by using “therefore” or “as well”. Grab a thesaurus and look for replacement words for terms you use often. Demonstrating your vocabulary will show you put time and effort into fine tuning your paper and your teacher will appreciate an essay without too many redundant or familiar words.[11]
    • You can start to create a vocabulary bank with a list of terms to replace words you use often. Look for adjectives that are unique and interesting, and use action verbs to replace any weak verbs in your writing. However, be careful not to throw in long, obscure words for the fun of it. If a simpler, shorter word works better, use it. The goal is to make your writing enjoyable to read, not confusing or pretentious.
  6. 6
    Summarize your thoughts in your conclusion. Make your conclusion clear and to the point. Avoid introducing new ideas or arguments in your conclusion. Instead, restate your thesis and your main points.
    • For example, you may restate your thesis: “In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet’s fear of moral and religious punishment leads him to embrace mortality and reinforces the play’s perspective on living, despite the suffering and injustice in the world.”
    • It's important that once you finish your conclusion, you read over your essay to confirm you have connected your claim (or your thesis) to your evidence (laid out in your body paragraphs) and to your explanation (laid out in your conclusion). Check that each element is present in your paper and that each element connects smoothly and clearly to each other. Your claim or thesis will act as the grounding center of the paper and should connect your evidence and your explanation together.
  7. 7
    Edit your essay. Print out your paper and read it several times for any spelling or grammatical errors. You can also read your paper out loud to ensure it flows well and is not confusing or jumbled.
    • Look at each paragraph carefully to ensure there is a topic sentence and at least one supporting quote or reference. Confirm that you use the same tense throughout the paper and the tone of the paper is professional and clear.
    • Check your citations to make sure you cite all sources and references in your paper.
  8. 8
    Create a title for the essay. It can be easier to create a title for your essay once you have finished it. You could use a quotation from the essay, a phrase or term you refer back to often in the essay, or a summary of your main point.
    • For example, an essay on suicide and Hamlet could have the title: “To be or not to be: Choosing Life in Shakespeare’s Hamlet” or “The Beauty of the World: Against Suicide in Shakespeare’s Hamlet”.

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Categories: English