Writing a Source Analysis Paper: The Ten-Step Process
There are many things that go into writing a good source analysis paper. One might compare it to building a house. Think about it: if you do not take the time to plan for construction, the house will fall. Writing a good thought paper is similar. Here is a ten-step process to help you write a better source analysis paper. These guidelines will help you in writing any short essay.
1) Before reading the documents, write down the assigned question that you are going to address in your paper. Read this question several times to yourself. The purpose of this exercise is to get you thinking about what your answer will be, before you begin reading.
2) Read the documents. Meanwhile, jot down any evidence from the documents that you might want to use in the paper.
3) Write a thesis statement that answers the assigned question.
4) Write down several sub-themes that you would like to address in the paper. Initially, write as many as you think of. Then pick the two most interesting subthemes that you would like to discuss.
5) Write an outline, like one listed below. After completing this outline, you'll find that the paper is virtually written. All you have to do now is write the first draft.
Suggested Source Analysis Paper Format:
A. Introductory paragraph
1. Write a lead sentence that gains the reader's attention. Example: When speaking of families, it is important not to neglect the issue of sexual behavior.
2. Introduce your thesis or primary argument. Example: The American Revolutionary War was less of a social revolution than it was a fight for economic autonomy.
3. Introduce sub-arguments or sub-themes that you are going to use to support your thesis.
B. Body of the paper
1. Discuss the sub-themes that you identified in the introductory paragraph, in separate paragraphs.
2. Write down page numbers of the book (document reader or textbook) that you're going to use to support these sub-themes.
1. Restate your thesis and sub-themes.
2. Write any closing comments.
6) Write the first draft of the paper.
7) After you've completed writing the first draft, the hard part begins. Yes, it's time to proofread.
8) When proofreading, you want to correct several things, which I've listed below:
Spelling—Most word processors have a spell-checking feature, but do not rely heavily on them. Use a dictionary, to correct any words that you are not sure about.
Usage—Be sure that you are using the word that you intend to use correctly.
Examples: there/their/they're, no/know, it's/its, lead/led, or any other homonym
Punctuation—Use periods, commas, semi-colons, colons, em-dashes (two hyphens), when necessary.
Verb tense—to improve the flow of your writing, choose a tense (i.e., past, present, future) and stick with it. Most historical writing speaks of figures from the past in the past tense ("John Hancock said...").
Paragraph construction—Think of each paragraph that you write as presenting a complete idea. Thus, you want to form a topic sentence that each subsequent sentence relates to. Then you want to make sure that the last sentence of each paragraph, flows into the first sentence of the following paragraph.
Words of hesitation—Try to eliminate words that connote a sense of hesitation (e.g., maybe, might, perhaps, possibly) unless you absolutely have to use them as qualifying language.
For more thorough editing, see the Style Sheet guidelines and the Paper Writing study aid.
9) After proofreading for these things, go back, and read your paper aloud. This process will allow you to hear any inconsistency that you did not pick up earlier when reading silently. Meanwhile, ask yourself the following questions:
a. Do my thesis, sub-themes, and conclusion make sense?
b. Do I support all of the statements that I've made with evidence from the readings?
10) This last step is probably the most important. Have someone else read your paper. Often a fresh eye will catch things that you did not. I will be happy to read drafts of your paper during my office hours.
Congratulations! You're ready to turn in your paper.
This paper authored by John Grant and modified by Sally Hadden and Robert Berkhofer.
So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
- Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
- Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.
To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
- Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
- Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
- Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.
Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:
- Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
- Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
- Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."
Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University