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Suggestions for Starting a Paper

  1. Read the question carefully, especially if it is a long question. Often essay assignments contain two parts – a prompt and the question itself. The prompt usually contains a quote or an observation; the question usually asks you to respond to an issue or argument contained in that quote or observation.

  2. Write down, in your own words, what the question is asking. Often an assignment will have more than one question: this can work to your advantage. If the assignment asks more than one thing of you, it creates a kind of basic outline. For example: "What are some of the greatest dangers facing our country today? Do those dangers come from outside the U.S. or from within its borders? What is education's role in preparing citizens to face or overcome those dangers?"

  3. Once you understand the question, you will most likely need to take a firm position. Jot down your responses to each question raised, making sure that the focus of your paper directly addresses what the assignment asks of you.

  4. Arrange your thoughts into an outline. Using the example above, your Intro paragraph should state your position on the dangers facing the US, whether they come from outside or within, and education's primary role in dealing with those dangers. This paragraph will also indicate how you will develop your response.

  5. Your body paragraphs will develop your responses in detail. Given the example above, your body paragraphs may be

    1. Paragraph about how although there are outside dangers like terrorism, the greater dangers come from within.

    2. Paragraph about hate crimes and discrimination as the greatest danger

    3. Paragraph with examples of hate crimes and discrimination, and how they relate to our solidarity as a nation

    4. Paragraph about how teachers can promote diversity and tolerance through the reading material they give their students, the way they conduct class discussions, and the papers they assign

    5. Paragraph about how better informed students are more likely to recognize and fight against discrimination

  6. Don't worry about your conclusion until you have written a rough draft. Your conclusion should wrap up your discussion by showing how your argument can be applied in a broader sense, or making a clear connection between the last part of your development and your central thesis. You may also, either in your paper's body or in your conclusion, want to discuss counterarguments.

  7. Before starting to write your rough draft, add more "meat" to your outline. Having an outline gives a kind of structure to your argument and helps you to ensure that each point you make flows logically into the next. It will also make it easier to write your rough draft.

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