Professor Matt Liebmann summaries his top 10 "DOs" and 5 "DONTs" that are general advice for any written assignment you might face at Harvard (and beyond).
Make sure your papers DO and DON'T do the following things
1. Revise your work
The best writing is "re-writing." You have to write multiple drafts.
2. Write Crappy First Drafts
Write whatever you need to in order to get your thoughts going.
3. Use short sentences
Sentences should ideally short: 1 or two lines long in 12 point font with standard margins. Use long sentences sparingly.
4. Use active verbs
Rather than saying "the 17th century Franciscan mission church was tall" "the towers of the 17th century Franciscan mission church reached to the sky."
5. Keep nouns and verbs close together
For instance, take the monster statement: "The Navajo who are known for pastoral lifeways transhuman settlement patterns and the use of Southern Athabaskan language are one of the largest federally recognized tribes the SW United States."
One might start to break these into more digestible parts, such as:
-- "The Navajo have grown to become one of the largest federally recognized tribes."
--"The Navajo are also known for their transhuman settlement patterns."
6. Eliminate any work that isn't necessary for your argument.
Each sentence should move your argument forward. You know you're done writing when you can't cut any more redundancies. This is also known as "killing your children" as you have spent time crafting these texts - but you must cull them.
7. Minimize use of semicolons
More often than not, you might be presenting more than two ideas which might be more clear in separate sentences.
8. Explain your citations
Don't let the citation stand in for the meaning. Cite, put it in your own words, then assess the quote as part of your argument.
9. Show don't tell rule
Rather than "she was angry" perhaps you show it by the actions that were a part of this moment. You want to lead the readers through the text and be less pedantic.
10. Share drafts with as many people as possible
Share your paper with your parents, roommates, or anyone who might be interested in the topic. You have to be willing to take their feedback. One of the best ways to engage with this is to have a writing group, or exchange papers with peers.
1. Don't tell the reader what you're not going to tell them
Tell us what you will get into through this piece of writing.
2. Don't tell the reader how difficult this topic is.
Your job is to tell us what you are going to talk about - without wincing. Boldly step forward and address your topic.
3. Don't use overly general metadiscourse - or talking about what you're going to talk about it.
This is used as a way to organize your own thoughts as a writer rather than something that tells your reader anything.
Rather than saying, "This essay will discuss the Crow kinship system," say something more specific. Try: "This essay will consider Crow kinship by considering X, Y, and Z."
4. Don't overuse "quotation marks"
Don't use quotation marks unless it is a quotation or about how a word is being "used." The meaning can become muddled with too many quotation marks. This also goes for italics. Fonts don't need to convey meaning just through their style. What are you actually trying to say.
5. Don't use words you don't understand
Do more reading if you're confused about a certain term - you shouldn't bluff your way through a term/concept.