How to Write a Formal Paper Step-by-Step

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    • 1). Ask your instructor or look at the assignment sheet to determine what style of paper you are to write. The instructor may want you to write the paper in Modern Language Association style, American Psychological Association style, Chicago style or any of a number of different styles. Each brings with it different format and citation requirements. Refer to a style guide to make certain you haven't made any errors in formatting.

    • 2). Read any relevant books or articles. For example, if you are writing a formal paper for an English class, you should read the works of fiction such as plays, poems, short stories or novels on which the paper is based.

    • 3). Use your school's library or an online database of peer-reviewed articles to do your research. Sources used must usually be academic and peer-reviewed, meaning that the article has been edited and approved by multiple people with academic credentials in that area.

    • 4). Use your research as well as your own knowledge of the question around which the formal paper centers to come up with an argument. Your assignment might be detailed or general. Your teacher wants you to provide an opinion or answer with regard to the question. This is called a thesis. A thesis is an idea and an argument. It is important that your thesis be an argument, as you are arguing in support of it in your formal paper.

    • 5). Ask yourself, "So what?" after you have devised a thesis. This question helps you determine whether your thesis is relevant and interesting. Why is your thesis important to your topic? If you cannot answer your "So what?" question, you probably need a stronger thesis. If you can answer it, refine your thesis by adding this new information to it.

    • 6). Use your research to formulate arguments in support of your thesis. In shorter papers, such as those five pages or fewer, try to have a minimum of three arguments around which you can write your body paragraphs. Once you have determined your arguments, find examples and evidence that supports them, either through your research or through the topic. For example, if you are arguing for the importance of a literary device in a novel, find instances of that device within the text of the novel.

    • 7). Write an outline of your paper. This outline can be in point form. Write an introduction that includes your thesis statement. Write down each argument as well as your supporting points for your body paragraphs. Write down what it is you think your arguments prove to start a conclusion.

    • 8). Write your formal paper based on your outline. Using an outline streamlines the first draft writing process, as you have the skeleton of your paper already prepared. What you are doing now is adding the flesh to the skeleton.

    • 9). Write your introduction beginning with a hook, or a device to get the person reading the paper interested in it. This can be an interesting fact about your topic. Be specific rather than general. This means to provide a hook that is a relevant to your topic. Avoid openers that begin with phrases like "Since the dawn or history..."

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      Place your thesis and the supporting arguments at the end of the introduction. Think of the first part of the introduction as an interesting way to tell your reader about your topic, and the end of the introduction as your opinion on that topic. State what points you will use to support this argument after stating your thesis.

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      Use topic and concluding sentences at the beginning and ending of each body paragraph. Topic sentences provide the overarching direction that each of your arguments is taking while concluding sentences provide a concrete ending for each argument.

    • 12

      Use the "Claim, Illustrate and Analyze" format within your body paragraphs to present supporting evidence for each argument. A claim is a statement. For example, "The sky is sunny and blue." You illustrate this statement with evidence. For example, "In his book, Dr. So-and-so examines the wavelength of light and discovers that, to human eyes, the sky is sunny and blue." Don't forget to include a citation whenever you use someone else's ideas. You then analyze this illustration. For example, "Dr. So-and-so's point about light wavelengths demonstrates that the color of the sky is a product of the human eye and mind."

    • 13

      Write a conclusion. Your conclusion should contain brief summaries of each of your arguments and why they prove your thesis. After this summary, you should remark on what proving your thesis means with regard to academic understandings of your topic.

    • 14

      Write a bibliography or works cited page. This page contains bibliographic information of all the sources to which you referred in your formal paper. Use your style guide to properly format the entries.

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