Essay Checklist

Opening Paragraph

Does the opening paragraph name the text and its author? If not, insert those details.

Does the opening paragraph contain a summary of the novel? If so, delete it.
Does the opening paragraph contain generalizations about any of the following:

  • human nature
  • the history of literature/thought
  • the nature of the novel
  • what “many people believe”?

If so, delete them (or if you must, rephrase them so that they’re no longer generalizations).



Does the opening paragraph contain any evidence or make any arguments? If so, move them to a body paragraph.

Does the thesis assert a specific, direct claim about the text? If not, can make it more direct.

Does the thesis assert claims about the audience or the author? If so, rephrase them so that they’re about the text. Failing that, substantiate those claims using sources from outside the text.

Is there a clear explanation of the sections of the essay, an outline or “road map”? If not, make one.


Words and Phrases:

  • don’t use: explore, discuss, address, investigate, look at, talk about, question, etc.
  • do use: demonstrate, show, establish, attest, confirm, corroborate, support, substantiate, etc.



Does each section start with a mini-thesis claim, an explanation of what that section argues?

Does each paragraph start with a topic sentence, an explanation of what that paragraph discusses?

Does each and every assertion about the text quote/cite evidence from the text or a secondary source? If not, insert that evidence.

Does each section end with a transitional sentence that explains why the paper is moving from one big idea to the next? If not, insert them.


Closing Paragraph

Is there a summary of your argument? If not, insert one.

Is there a rephrased version of your thesis but made with hindsight? If not, insert one.

Is there new evidence or a new argument not introduced in the body of the essay? If so, either delete it or, if it’s important, put it in the body of the essay.


General Concerns

Do the sentences repeat basic information such as the full title of the text or the full name of the author? If so, delete them.

Does the essay make claims about what the author means or how the readers react(ed)? If so, either rephrase them so that they reference the text directly or find evidence outside the text.