PhD in History, University of California, Santa Cruz
History 40A: Early Modern East Asia (Fall 2008)

Online Writing Guides and Help

Basic Writing Guides for the United States - For general writing, I recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and for academic papers the MLA Handbook. Most questions can be answered in these two guides.

The Passive Voice - Avoid using the passive voice as much as possible. This document explains how to identify the passive voice and how to avoid using it.

Passive and Active Voice - This website gives examples of the difference between passive and active voice. Use active voice when writing papers.

Citations, ethics, and plaigairism - This guide from the UCSC library website includes a short online exercise to show the difference between quoting and plaigairism.

Some advice for writing papers

  • Take notes ahead of time. When you do the readings, underline or highlight important passages for quotes you might want to use for the paper. Take some readings notes immediately after finishing the reading so you don't have to go through each of them when you're writing.
  • Pick a topic from the writing prompts based on your readings. What readings interest you? Pick a topic that you can ANSWER using the readings! If there are not enough readings that correspond to the topic that interests you the most, save it for the future and write about a topic you can actually answer using the current readings.
  • Organize your paper. Prepare an outline for your paper. A basic structure would include an introduction with a thesis statement (your argument, which is related to the topic you picked), 2-3 supporting paragraphs that analyze at least three readings from two countries, and a conclusion that restates your thesis statement (argument).
  • Develop your thesis statement/argument by reading your notes, picking the readings you will use for supporting that argument, and analyzing the readings. This is easy to do if you have things highlighted or underlined prior to preparing the paper. Analyze the readings as they relate to your argument. Remember, analysis includes asking questions like: What key words or terms does the author use in the document? What ideas form the building blocks of the author's argument? How does the author's argument relate to the topic you have chosen for your paper? (hint: read the "writing prompts" questions and try to answer those with the readings in hand!)
  • When making a claim about a reading in order to support your argument, provide a citation from that reading. Citations are vital as examples to support what you are claiming. However, avoid unnecessary blockquotes (citing a whole paragraph of information) and be careful of plaigirism. [see above website link for more details on plaigirism]
  • Have a friend, classmate, or writing tutor read a draft. Even if you are procrastinating to the last minute, try and get one or two people to read the paper--maybe you can work out a deal with your roommate or classmate in exchange for reading their paper or buying him or her a coffee. Besides reading for grammar and typos, ask them: what is the topic and argument of the paper? does it seem like the argument is well-supported?
  • Make sure your paper meets the basic requirements. This is things like making sure you use 12 point font, double-spaced, Times New Roman, etc. Check the guidelines on the syllabus for writing assignments.