Writing Guide
I strongly believe that the most valuable tool for success as a university student is the ability to write strong academic papers. I am willing to work one-on-one with any students who are interested in improving their writing, and willing to make a sustained effort to do so. If this is something that interests you, please see below for more information.

Writing Help
No other skill will be as conducive to your success as a university student in the social sciences as the ability to write a strong academic paper. Unfortunately, an increasingly large number of students arrive at university without ever having received adequate instruction in the fundamentals of academic writing.

I encourage all students to come speak with me during the first month of class to assess your writing skills and discuss ways to improve your academic writing. However, those students who have never received formal instruction in essay writing, or who struggle with mechanics of writing, English grammar, essay structuring, and argumentative strength are especially encouraged to discuss your writing with me (in addition to contacting the Writing Department at York for formal assistance from trained professionals).

I am willing to offer my help to any student who requests assistance with their writing, whether you struggle with essays, or whether you are a generally strong writer who simply wants to improve further. The help I am willing to offer might include assistance with essay structuring, advice about research, as well as feedback and proofreading on paper drafts, subject to the following stipulations:

1. You must demonstrate initiative. You must meet with me in person during the first month of class to discuss your desire to work with me to improve your writing. If you first approach me in November when you’re having difficulty with your essay, this is too late.
2. I am only willing to work with students who are diligent and committed to improving their writing. You must regularly meet with me throughout the school year, not simply prior to your assignment due dates. During these meetings, you must demonstrate to that you are making a concerted effort to improve.
3. You must work with me. I will not systematically go through your papers and make all your corrections for you, we will need to sit down and discuss how to improve your assignments together.
4. You make requests for extensive assistance (ie. proofreading essay drafts) well in advance of assignment deadlines- you will need to approach me about your interest in this at least two weeks before the assignment due date, and you will need to see me with your paper-in-progress at least ten days before the deadline.

If you would like to follow up with me about writing assistance, please speak to me in class or email me at pdclark@yorku.ca to arrange an appointment.

For the general consideration of all students, I have compiled a list below that emphasizes some guidelines and strategies to observe to improve your academic writing.

Stylistic Requirements
When preparing your essays, please be attentive to the quality of your writing, and abide by standard academic style requirements.
– 1” margins
– 12pt font- please choose a font that is tasteful / standard / professional- ie. no Comic Sans or Papyrus, please!
– Always include page numbers
– All assignments should be double-spaced

Quotation and Citation: Rules and Practices
– Be careful to avoid plagiarism. When in doubt, cite!
– Use block quotations when a quotation, when typed, is greater than two full lines long. Block quotations should be indented an additional 0.5” on the left and right margin (Google “block quotations” to find more information).
– You should use direct quotations sparingly. For the most part, whenever you can rephrase something in your own words, you should do so (with a citation).
– You also need to contextualize any direct quotations you use. Don’t just plop a random excerpt from a text into your paper and expect it to speak for itself. Before and after you insert the quotation, you should explicitly state, in your own words, what the quotation tells us and why you consider it important enough to include in your paper.
– You may use MLA, APA, Chicago, or any citation style you please, as long as you use them correctly and employ the same citation style consistently throughout your paper.
– Always, always include a “works cited” list! Note that this list may be at the bottom of your last page- it doesn’t need to be on a separate page.

Grammatical Issues and General Writing Advice
– You are allowed to write in the first person.
– Avoid gendered language (ie. it is preferable to say “humankind” rather than “mankind”)
– Quote is a verb, quotation is a noun (ie. “The above quote from Mary Wollstonecraft states…” is incorrect. The correct phrasing is, “The above quotation from Mary Wollstonecraft states…”
– Be mindful of correct apostrophe usage (for example, “CD’s” and “90’s” are incorrect, while “CDs” and “90s” are correct)
– Avoid clichés and “grand language.” Some of the most egregious and frequent offenses in term papers are, “According to the dictionary, ____ is defined as ______” and “Throughout human history….” “… was the greatest philosopher who has ever lived.”
– Avoid generalizations. Generalizations substantially diminish the strength of your arguments. Don’t make sweeping statements like, “It is human nature to be selfish” (Is it? Can you prove this?) or “Plato’s proposal for the education of guardian women would not work, because women are maternal” (Really? Are all women maternal?). Even if you strongly believe something to be true, for an academic essay you need to provide the reader with sufficient argumentative evidence to be persuaded by your belief.
Here are three easy ways to avoid generalizations:

  1. Give a citation (“According to Machiavelli on page 53 of the Prince, it is human nature to be selfish.”)
  2. Support with a historical or textual example (“Karl Marx argues that all prior human history has been a history of class struggle. There is evidence of the enduring history of class struggle in historical events such as the instantiation of Athenian democracy, the French Revolution…”
  3. Rephrase to address the issue as a tendency rather than an absolute. (“Plato’s proposal for the education of guardian women seems likely to fail, because women have tended to be, and have often been socialized to be, maternal…”)

– Avoid Excessive Summarization. Avoid the temptation to explain an author’s argument by listing all of the points they make about a particular topic. I’m not looking for a book report. In an academic paper, we want you to simply choose a couple key themes from the text, to distill these themes down to their essence in your own words, and then to expand- again in your own words- on their implications.
– Avoid indirect language. Make sure that if you use words like “this,” “them,” “they,” and “it,” that it is explicitly clear to the reader just who or what the this/them/they/it refers to. For example: BAD “This is why liberal democracy is a good system” (Problem: What is “this” referring to? You might think it is obvious to the reader what you are referring to, but it may not be.) GOOD “Due to its reliance on the aforementioned concepts of formal legal equality and universal suffrage, liberal democracy is a good system.”

Note on Reducing Paper Waste
If possible, please consider handing in your assignments on double-sided paper (or single-sided on paper that you are re-using, just draw an “x” through the side that you don’t want me to read). Please also avoid putting your assignments in plastic folders, cardboard duo-tangs, or similar. A simple staple in the corner is sufficient.

Additionally, to save paper, you need not include a separate cover page. You may simply list your relevant identifying information and your paper’s title in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. Similarly, your “works cited” may be simply listed at the bottom of the final page of your paper

Additional Resources and Notes
York Writing Centre
General Advice on Academic Essay Writing
How To Write a Philosophy Paper