Guidelines for Writing an Essay about Literature
Mr. Rice

1. Titles are good. Unimaginative or undescriptive titles are bad. No title is better than a bad title. Do not underline, bold, quote, extra-size, or color your title (but titles of published works included within your title should be appropriately punctuated).

2. Underline or italicize major titles (novels, plays, long poems, magazines, movies, albums). Use quotation marks with minor titles (short stories, essays, short poems, songs).

3. In your first paragraph name the author in full (Christopher Marlowe) and give the title of the work you are dealing with. Thereafter, refer to the author by surname (Marlowe). Don't use Mr. or Ms. Titles can be abbreviated after they have been written in full once. Keep the abbreviation consistent. Example: The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus -> Dr. Faustus.

4. State a clear thesis, preferably somewhere in the first paragraph.

5. It is best to use the present tense when you refer to a literary work or to the actions that occur in it. For referring to past time in the story use present perfect in your essay. Example: "The Pardoner admits that he has sold false relics to gullible people."

6. Do not summarize the work you are analyzing (unless you are writing a book report). Sometimes a brief, one-sentence summary of a scene or section can serve to support a particular point of your essay.

7. Avoid long quotations. Paraphrase. Quote only key words, phrases, and passages. Work your quotations grammatically into your sentence. Example: To be physically absorbed, to be "a creature wanting soul," "some brutish beast," even, at the last, to be no more than "little water drops" -- this is the final hope of the pride of Wittenberg (13.97, 101, 110). [ Gill, Introduction, xxv]

8. When quoting poetry or verse plays, you may quote up to three lines with a front slash (/) separating each line: "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed / in one self place; for where we are is hell, / And where hall is, must we ever be" (5:121-3). For more than three lines, use block format, setting the quotation one inch off the left margin. When quoting prose, you may have up to four lines within quotation marks. For more than four lines, use block format. Do not use quotation marks with block format. See the MLA guidelines at Purdue for further clarification.

9. Use MLA format for documenting your sources. You can omit a works-cited page if your only source is exactly the same edition of the text that we use in class. For prose use page numbers; for poetry use line numbers, and for plays use act, scene, and line numbers when provided. Parenthetical citations come after the quotation mark but before the final period. See example in 8 above, or the MLA documentation guidelines at Purdue.

10. Avoid using the second-person pronoun (you) because it is usually ambiguous between general reference and individual reference. For example: "You can see that Faustus is a smart person." -> "Faustus is clearly a smart person."

11. Avoid overusing the verb to be (is, are, was, were) as the main verb. Example: "Though clearly intelligent, Faustus does not use his magic to achieve lasting positive change."