by Taylor Morris
The Sewanee Purple is proud to present “Writing Center Reflections,” a series of articles by student writing tutors about some of the most common and humorous problems and situations encountered at the Sewanee Writing Center. We share these experiences with the community in the hope of spreading awareness of the major “don’t-s” of academic writing, and of the Writing Center itself, in order to maximize the help tutors are able to give to students. A particularly prevalent problem in many young writers’ introductory English assignments, and a problem that many think isn’t a terribly major one, is going in to the Writing Center to get help on an unfinished paper, usually a paper lacking an introduction or conclusion. At the risk of sounding harsh, I will be blunt. Trying to get a writing tutor to give you an informed opinion on an unfinished draft is like trying to win the Kentucky Derby on a horse with no legs.
It is not possible for someone reading a paper to analyze a discussion or argument if the analysis does not have a beginning, middle, and end. Like a modern film trailer, an introduction should clearly describe everything that will be in the main feature. There should be no surprises in the rest of the paper. With the body of the paper, one must clearly reference sources (usually the primary source, that is, the work of literature the paper is about) supporting the claim one makes in the introduction. We can’t go around saying Hamlet is a space alien if there are not quotes in the play to suggest that, in fact, Hamlet is indeed from space. The conclusion, similar to the introduction, should be a clear overview of everything just stated in the paper, including a sentence or two on the overall message to be taken from your analysis. To stick with a metaphor from earlier, it’s the synopsis of a film interpretation you give to your friend who fell asleep halfway through the movie. Each of these three major pieces of a paper is critical, and a writing tutor really can’t say much to the quality of a paper if all three of these aren’t present in some regard. This is because in order for a paper to be great, the entire thing must be great. I can complement your introduction and body paragraphs describing Macbeth’s backwards gender role, but this can all go instantly down the drain if you proceed to conclude that he’s a Romulan from Planet Vulcan. Not only is that an insult to the majesty of Shakespeare, it’s not even accurate Star Trek lore.