Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Yale Teaching Center

Teaching Students to Write Good Papers

This module is designed to help you teach students to write good papers. You will find useful examples of activities that will guide students through the writing process. Additional handouts and mini-lessons to use with students address peripheral issues such as using appropriate citation formats, avoiding the passive voice, and writing clear sentences. This resource will be helpful for anyone working with students on research papers, book reviews, and other analytical essays. For those of you who work with other TAs teaching students to write papers, we also include an agenda for teaching these skills to others and a workshop evaluation form.

There are several steps TFs and faculty can take to prepare students to write good papers. If you are responsible for making writing assignments, remember that most students need to practice the basic elements of writing -- purpose, argument, evidence, style -- and that these skills are best practiced in shorter, focused assignments. Opt for shorter essays and papers throughout the semester in lieu of long, end-of-semester research papers. Build opportunities for revision and refinement into your assignments and lesson plans.

For each assignment, there are steps you can take to help students produce better writing. First use strategies for making sure students understand the assignment. Use individual meetings, short, in-class writing exercises or small-group activities to make sure students can articulate what their paper will accomplish (describe, compare/contrast, explain, argue) and to what standard. Second, guide students in selecting and analyzing primary and secondary source material. Use in-class activities to teach students: the difference between different types of sources and their uses; strategies for evaluating a source and its value in a given argument; and examples of how to incorporate source material into an argument or other text with proper citation. Finally, teach them to construct strong thesis statements and support their arguments with evidence. Use model documents to introduce students to strong, arguable statements. Give students practice developing statements from scratch and refining statements that lack importance or clarity. Ask students to analyze the relationship between thesis statements and supporting evidence in short essays. Teach them to use the active voice.

Students who have never gone through a thorough revision process are used to handing in and receiving poor grades on first drafts. These students will lack confidence in their ability to produce good writing. Do all you can to let your students experience good writing through revision. Require drafts of papers, or parts of papers so students can learn to apply the standards of good writing to make their papers better. Have students read and comment on each other's papers to give them practice reading for clarity, style, persuasiveness, etc. By focusing on the process of writing, not just the product, you will help students write better papers and gain confidence along the way.

Useful Resources

The Yale College Writing Center website is a comprehensive resource featuring general writing tips, citation guidelines, model papers, and ways to get more help at Yale.

The UNC Writing Center has handouts for students addressing various writing issues, as well as guidelines for students writing in specific fields.

The Purdue online writing lab is well-organized. It is English Department based, but broadly useful.

The University of Chicago Writing Program has a compendium of grammar resources online. This is a useful link for folks from various disciplines.

Module developed in 2008 by Alison Greene (History)