Some Advice on Preparing Essays


Use proper margins: usually one-inch margins on all sides.

Double space the lines of the essay. DO NOT quadruple space anything--i.e. do not skip extra lines between paragraphs. Quadruple space is acceptable between sections of your essay (but 10-page essays usually should not have more than one section).

Indent the first line of all paragraphs: usually half an inch.

DO NOT bother trying to adjust the margins and the line spacing in order to trick your marker about the length of your essay. Chances are that your marker has marked hundreds of essays and is quite aware of what a 10-page essay is, regardless of how many pages you hand in. One and a half inch margins are very easy to spot.


Learn the difference between a hyphen and a dash. A hyphen joins two words together or separates a word into syllables. A dash is a punctuation mark, very similar to a comma. A hyphen is a short line (-); a dash is a longer line, often two hyphens (--).


You should usually avoid any type of binder for you essay. Your marker will find it much easier to have a uniform stack of papers without any binders. Binders usually make it difficult for the marker to comment on the paper itself, and sometimes even make the paper difficult to read. A staple (or a paper clip) in the top left corner is sufficient (and usually what is wanted or required).


Please use the MLA style of citing and documenting sources. There are many guides to this style: see esspecially

When you end a sentence with a quote and a page reference, place the final puctuation AFTER the page reference:
Harding is a very nice man: "But the warden declared that Bold was no enemy of his, and encouraged her love" (137).
Note that there is no need to show that this quote actually ends with a semi-colon: the semi-colon is completely omitted and the period is placed after the parenthetical reference. Include question marks and exclamation marks in the actual quote where they appear and add final punctuation at the end of your own sentence.
Is there anything as silly at this: "[...] not if all Oxford were to convocate together, and agree as to the necessity of the sacrifice!" (137)?

When a quote occupies more than four lines of your own essay's text, you should block quote the lines. Start a new line. Indent the whole quote by an extra inch on the left (no indent on the right). The MLA says you should continue to double space the quote (but many agree that single spacing is sufficient for block quotes):

    If a quotation runs to more than four typed lines, set it off from your text by beginning a new line, indenting one inch [...] from the left margin, and typing it double-spaced, without adding quotation marks. A colon generally introduces a quotation displayed in this way, though sometimes the context may require a difference mark of punctuation or none at all. If you quote one a single paragraph or part of one, do not indent the first line more than the rest. A parenthetical reference to a prose quotation set off from the text follows the last line of the quotation. (MLA Handbook 73)

Note that with a parenthetical reference after a block quote, the final punctutation of the sentence goes before the reference, not after.

Names and spelling

The minimum you must show in your essay is that you have read the text and understand it to some degree. If you get the characters' names wrong or spell them wrong, your marker will start thinking that either you haven't read the text or that you do not care enough to get the names right.

Attention to details is very important. You must show that you have put a lot of care into your essay. Get all names right. Use correct spelling.

You will potentially annoy your instructor if you spell his/her name incorrectly. Note that my name is Plamondon, not Plamond!


"It is clear that ..."

Avoid using such terms as "it is clear that ...," "this clearly represents ...," and "one easily sees in the text ...." People use these terms (clear, evident, obvious, etc.) thinking they are strengthening their argument. These terms do not strengthen what you say; they merely cause your reader to react with, "no, it is not obvious ...."

A better strategy is to claim what you are talking about is complex or difficult to understand. If something is obvious, why bother talking about it? If something is not obvious, how good of you to be able to see it! You will come across as more brilliant if you claim what you are studying is difficult and you manage to make it easy.

Of course, avoid saying something is very complex and difficult to understand when it really isn't!


The best essays have a clearly defined thesis that the whole essay attempts to prove or support. The thesis is usually best stated in the introductory paragraph. This allows your reader to follow what you say: it guides your reader through the labyrinth of your essay.

Choose a thesis that is interesting. Say you decided to write on the following essay topic: "Write about the relationships between female and male characters in The Woman in White." A poor thesis statement is: "This essay will explore the relationships between female and male characters in The Woman in White." This thesis is not interesting, and certainly not original; the content of the essay may be good, but the essay, as an argumentative essay, fails. A slightly better thesis statement is: "The relationship between female and male characters in The Woman in White is complex." With this thesis, you at least have something to argue, even though what you're going to argue is not very interesting. A much better thesis statement is: "In The Woman in White, the female characters, with the exception of Marian Halcombe, are fully dominated by the male characters." This statement is interesting. An even more interesting statement is: "The strongest characters in The Woman in White are those who combine both masculine and feminine traits: this combination of traits allow these characters to dominate the other (purely masculine or purely feminine) characters." This thesis will make your reader anticipate an interesting essay.