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The English Critical Essay
by Linda Hutcheon and Nancy Kang


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1. Steps in Writing an Essay

1.1 Investigate the selected TOPIC, taking careful, accurate notes on "note cards" -- on paper or on computer. You may choose to use annotated photocopies of pages from books or journal articles, or computer files with downloaded material. The advantage of these methods is that errors of copying are avoided and you have a copy of the original material for last-minute checking.

1.2 If you use secondary sources, remember that you must have grasped (and be able to express) the overall argument of the work before extracting any one point from it. You are expected to understand and evaluate, not merely copy. See 4, Documentation.

1.3 Find a THESIS. In order to narrow and define your particular subject, assemble your material and review it until you are familiar enough with it to form a judgement or take a position on the TOPIC selected. You should be able to formulate this THESIS in a single sentence or two. Ask yourself: what exactly is the point I want the reader to understand?

1.4 Organize your information in light of this argument or THESIS.

1.5 Prepare a detailed outline or PLAN before writing the FIRST DRAFT. As you do so, check that there are: 1.6 Write a FIRST DRAFT based on the STRUCTURE outlined in section 2. Then consult the CHECKLIST (3) before rewriting.

1.7 Your FINAL VERSION should be written or preferably typed, double-spaced, with wide margins (1.5 inches) all around. Proofread before submitting, using CHECKLIST. Try to finish the essay a few days before it is due. This will allow you time to read it a final time (with some critical distance) and make any revisions.


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