Develop a Thesis
You may have developed a good central point of analysis in your pre-writing activities that will provide a thesis, or you may have to develop a new one appropriate for your revised focus. If you start with a journal entry that was based primarily on facts about plot or on personal reactions, it will be essential to develop an interpretive thesis—a precise statement about the topic. If you change your mind later about the opinion or point of interpretation stated in your thesis (since we often discover new insights as we write), reword it and revise the rest of the essay accordingly.
Sample Thesis Statements about the short story “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty:
On character: In “A Worn Path,” Phoenix Jackson is a frail old woman with physical and mental weaknesses, but she appears as a strong heroic character by the end of the story. She uses common sense, wit, and courage to overcome the obstacles she encounters.
On plot: In “A Worn Path,” Phoenix Jackson’s walk through the fields and woods becomes a heroic quest as she overcomes a series of obstacles bravely, determined to reach her goal and obtain medicine for her sick grandson.
On theme: Like many folktales, “A Worn Path” shows that a poor, physically weak country woman can become a hero if she uses courage and wit to achieve her goals.
On symbolism: Phoenix Jackson encounters a series of physical, psychological and social obstacles that represent the hero’s struggles against death, fear, and prejudice in her quest to achieve her goal.
Comparing folktale and modern short story: “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty follows the structure of the folktale “Little Red Riding Hood,” with some of the details reversed. Phoenix Jackson is an old woman traveling to the woods to help her grandson; unlike Little Red Riding Hood, Phoenix triumphs over the human and animal obstacles she encounters.
Use an Outline
Notes made while rereading will produce more material than you can use in a short paper. (If they don't, you are not reading carefully or you have not chosen an appropriate topic for that work.)
To restructure an informal journal entry or rough outline into a more coherent and unified paper, construct an outline in which you select details from your original notes, and arrange them in groups according to subtopics or major points that will make up the body of the paper. Decide on a logical and effective pattern of organization to use in the paper to move the reader from the statement of your thesis to a demonstration of its validity.
Write the First Draft of the New Paper
In the first draft, do not be concerned about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. It is more important at this stage to get your thoughts written out. If you have trouble with beginnings, skip the introduction and begin writing at a point where you feel confident about what you want to say on a particular subtopic. In the end, the essay should have the following parts.
Title: The title should indicate your topic in a clear and precise way, not just repeat the title of the literature. Avoid titles that are too long, too general, or vague (e.g., "What Is It with Huck Finn?" or "Huck Finn" are too vague). Don’t use just the title of the literature as the title of your paper.
Introduction: The introduction should contain a precise statement of the subject (do not rely on the reader's familiarity with the title) and should move from a general discussion of the subject to an indication of your limited focus and the specific thesis. Stress the significance of the topic in relation to the work as a whole.
You may begin with general background on the subject, but don't be too general or vague or obvious (as in, "Irony is an important technique used by writers of literature," or "James Joyce was a great modern writer."). Avoid empty sentences such as, "In this essay I intend to discuss the differences and similarities in two poems." The reader knows this is your essay and these are your ideas; repeated references to your own process of thinking and writing are awkward and unnecessary, so instead state your precise ideas directly and support them well.
Make the scope of the essay clear in the beginning. It is a good idea to give a listing of subtopics to be discussed in the body of the paper (e.g., what are those similarities and differences?) or at least give some indication of the direction the discussion will take.
Body: Every detail in the body of the essay should develop and support the thesis. Treat every paragraph as a unified, coherent mini-essay with a topic sentence and details that support that subtopic.
Interpret, don't summarize the work of literature.
Avoid digressions and irrelevant references to personal experiences or beliefs.
Avoid cliches and unsupportable generalizations.
Use quotations sparingly to support your discussion.
Conclusion: Don't end the paper abruptly, on a specific subtopic, but don't add a lengthy summary to a short paper, either. A concluding paragraph should tie together the specific points found in the body of the paper, and give it a sense of completeness and significance. Return to a general level of discussion and to the main idea of your thesis (perhaps by giving it a new twist or different wording), but do not make unsupportable generalizations that go far beyond the scope of your paper (e.g., "Welty struggled against racial prejudice.")
Revise and Polish the First Draft
After you have written the first draft, go back to it and correct faulty grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Improve the style by making sentences clearer and smoother. Look carefully for inconsistent shifts in verb tense (a common error in essays describing literary characters and plots). You may cut or expand or rearrange passages of the essay to make it more effective. See below for instructions on format.
Remember that professional writers may revise their work dozens or even hundreds of times; you should do so as many times as deadlines and your abilities allow. (Of course, this means you must start early so that you can set the essay aside between revisions.) After the essay is typed (whether by you or someone else) make a final check for mechanical errors. Typos will count as errors and a careless typing or proofreading job can ruin a paper with good content.