MTM Writing Clinic
MLK 252 
Phone: 713-313-7981

Academic Writing



Below are instructions for properly formatting your essay based on recommendations by the Modern Language Association (MLA). Always follow specific formatting guidelines as instructed by your professor.

  • Use 8 ½ by 11 white paper with one-margins at the top, bottom, and sides of the paper.
  • Utilize a 10-12 point font. Avoid fancy typefaces such as script.
  • Your entire paper should be double-spaced with no single or extra spacing. The newest version of Microsoft Word defaults to 1.15 spacing and includes a space after paragraphs. To format click the Line Spacing button under paragraph and select 2.0 for double spacing. Select Remove Space After Paragraph.



  • At the top left of the first page type your name, the course number, and date.
  • Use a top-right header for your last name and the page number. To format the header, double-click the top of the page. Select page number, top of page, plain number three.


  • Type your last name before the number.
  • Center your title below the date. Do not bold, underline, use quotation marks or all caps for your title.
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs within your essay. Use [tab] to indent ½ inch from the margin.
  • Your essay should be aligned on the left margin. Do not justify.
  • Do not include a cover page unless instructed by your professor.

MLA Format

  • The Works Cited page should begin a new page immediately following your essay. To properly format, insert a Page Break immediately prior to the "W" in Works Cited. For more information on formatting citations and Works Cited pages and bibliographies, see TIGER OWL: Research Basics.

Page Break 



The level of formality in your writing is determined by the audience for whom you are writing and the purpose of your writing. Academic writing, including college essays and presentations, should be presented in a formal style.

This means you should not

  • Use personal pronouns such as I, You, We
  • Use contractions
  • Biased or stereotypical language
  • Slang or idiomatic expressions
  • Pompous language

Biased and stereotypical language

Language in your academic paper should be inclusive and avoid the use of stereotypes when describing people, places, and events.

To avoid gender bias, use s/he, she/he or he/she when the individual may be of either sex. For example:

A student enrolling for this course must meet the prerequisites. He/she must have completed ENG 131.

Stereotypical language makes assumptions about an individual based on preconceived notions applied to a group. For example:

Even though she was a blonde, Mary was smart.

Instead, the sentence should read:

Mary was smart.


Jargon is language that is specific to a discipline. Some jargon is acceptable in an academic paper, particularly if it is written for an audience in the discipline. For example, when discussing patient care, a healthcare practitioner may abbreviate common practices such as NPO or nothing by mouth. However, when the essay is for a broader audience, such jargon is not acceptable.

Slang and idiomatic expressions

Slang is language that is often used in daily life, but may not be considered Standard English. Common phrases such as “freaked out,” “keeping it real,” and “fall out” are not acceptable in academic writing. Like slang, idiomatic expressions are commonly used expressions. Often they are clichés such as “a day late and a dollar short.”

Slang and idiom test:

  • Does the phrase use two verbs?
  • Do the individual words express meaning?
  • Is the word vague, such as “stuff” or “things”?

Pompous language

A common mistake for students is to write in a style that is unnatural or overly technical. The purpose of an essay is to demonstrate ideas clearly and effectively.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Using unnecessary vocabulary. Use words that you can define!
  • Writing long sentences. Sentences of varying length provide interest to your essay. However, short and direct sentences convey information clearly.
  • Each sentence in your essay should provide valuable information to your reader. Do not pack your essay with unnecessary information to fill the page.

Reading your essay aloud can help you identify problems with language and content. If you are not comfortable with reading your essay, it is a good sign that the language is pompous.

Thesis Statement

What is a thesis statement?

The thesis statement is a one-sentence summary of the purpose of the paper. Almost all academic writing contains a thesis statement, and professors often assume that you will write one. Your thesis statement should express one main idea and tell the reader conclusions you have reached on the subject. If the topic of your paper is assigned, it should answer the question asked of you. Your thesis statement should also present a claim which may be disputed by others.

The thesis statement should appear in the introductory paragraph. See Parts of the Essay for writing an introduction.

Writing your thesis statement with an assigned topic

If your topic was assigned by your instructor, then your thesis statement must answer the question posed. For example, your instructor may say “write a paper explaining the impact of social media on classroom learning.” First, you would turn the statement into a question:

Question: What is the impact of social media on classroom learning?

Answer: Social media improves classroom learning by….

For a response to a work, a thesis statement would answer the following question.
Question: What is the main thesis of the work?
Answer: In Susan Crane's book Gender and Romance in 'Canterbury Tales'....

Writing your thesis statement when the topic is not assigned

Even when your topic is not assigned, your thesis statement should answer a question about your topic. Despite the importance of a thesis statement to the coherence and unity of your final essay, writing a thesis statement is not the first thing written after being assigned a topic and may be revised as you research your topic.

Before you develop your position on a topic, research! Once you have collected and organized your evidence, examine the relationships between the evidence, and the significance of your findings. Now you are ready to write and refine your thesis statement.

  • Brainstorm the topic
  • Narrow the topic
  • Take a position on the topic
  • Use specific language
  • Make an assertion based on clearly stated support


How to determine the strength of your thesis statement

Once you complete your essay, make sure your thesis statement is strong by answering the following questions.

  • Did I answer the question?
  • Have I taken a position that may be opposed?
  • Is one main idea presented?
  • Is my thesis supported by the body paragraphs?
In Progress



Parts of the Essay

Introductory Paragraph

The introductory paragraph, or introduction, provides background information to the reader and presents the thesis statement. Although the thesis statement is the single most important sentence in your introduction, it should be the last sentence in your introductory paragraph.

Instead, you want to start with an interesting fact, anecdote, question, or quotation. This will pique the reader’s interest, and draw them into your paper.

The remainder of your introduction should connect your original statement with your thesis statement. You must:

  • Introduce your topic
  • State position
  • Provide reasons

You may also wish to discuss:

  • Background relevant to understand the topic
  • Definition of specific term that is necessary to understand the topic
  • Providing statistics

Things not to do:

  • Announce your intentions.

“In this paper I will….”
“The purpose of this essay is…”

  • Apologize! Even if you are not an expert, do not announce it.

“In my opinion…”
“This may not be correct…”

Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure.

The first sentence should introduce a supporting statement for your thesis. You should then provide evidence to support your statement. Although not required, 3 pieces of supporting evidence is suggested. Evidence may be a fact, textual evidence, or a claim made by an expert in the discipline. Each piece of evidence will require at least one sentence to explain the significance of the evidence in supporting your statement.

End each body paragraph with a transitional sentence which links your paragraphs into a coherent whole.

Concluding Paragraph

The concluding paragraph should emphasize the significance of your paper. Depending on the purpose of your paper, you may include a call to action.

Conclusions can vary significantly in structure depending on the purpose of your paper. You should always begin your conclusion with a transitional sentence. Then provide 2-3 sentences explaining how your paper supported your thesis. Your paper may then suggest further areas of inquiry or research that could enhance the topic. Finish the paragraph with a call to action, importance of the topic, or interesting discoveries based on your research. Do not:

  • Restate your thesis statement
  • Begin with “In conclusion….”
Writing a Summary

To write a summary successfully requires a critical reading of the text. The primary objective of a summary is to identify the thesis statement and supporting evidence. 

Strategies for Writing a Summary

  • Read
  • Label
  • Organize
  • Write
  • Revise and Edit


The first step to writing a summary is reading the text! As you read, think about the author’s purpose:

  • Who is the author writing for?
  • What is the author writing about?
  • Why is the author writing?
  • Where is the subject of writing?
  • When is the subject of the writing?
  • How is the author writing?


Once you are familiar with the text, you will be prepared to divide and conquer. Label each paragraph with a number. Circle key terms, cited sources, and essential phrases. [Bracket] evidence presented by the author. Underline the author’s claim.

Keep in mind that most writings are arranged to include an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, and concluding paragraphs. This will help you identify the type of information that you might find as you read the text.


Now that you have identified key ideas in the text, you should transform these ideas into one-sentence statements which reduce the key ideas into manageable chunks. These statements should be in your own words and will serve as the structure of your final summary.

  • Topic Sentence: Using underlined items from the text, write the claim from the text.
  • Evidence: Using [bracketed] items from the text, list evidence the author provides for support.
  • Supporting Statement #1, 2, 3: Using circled items from the text, list points the author makes in the text.

Repeat this exercise as needed to cover all claims presented by the author. A short essay may only have one claim, while a book may have several.


A summary should be approximately one third of the length of the original work. The summary should begin with the author and title of the work. A good formula for beginning your essay:

In “Title of Work”, author (first and last name) shows that: main idea of the text. The author supports the main idea by using/illustrating/demonstrating [evidence] that [supporting point].

In your summary, one paragraph should equal one claim made by the author. The number of paragraphs in your essay will be determined by the number of claims presented by the author. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence introducing the claim, and the body of the paragraph will detail the evidence and points provided by the author. End each paragraph with a transitional phrase which connects the author’s claims.

In your conclusion, summarize the main idea presented by the author and meaning of the article.

Revise and Edit

When revising your summary, you will want to re-read the article as well as your own essay. During this process, you will ensure:

  • All ideas are presented in your own words.
  • The author’s main idea is clearly stated in your summary.
  • The evidence and main points presented by the author are covered in your summary.
  • Specific and detailed information from the text is not included in your summary.