Getting an A on an English Paper

Jack Lynch,
Rutgers University – Newark

The Thesis

A good thesis is:

The thesis statement should appear very close to the beginning of the paper. Some professors want it in a specific place — often the last sentence of the first paragraph. That's as good a position as any, but I prefer not to be rigidly formulaic in such matters. In any case, though, the thesis statement should be very near the beginning (in the first paragraph or two).

Note, though, that just because the thesis should be at the beginning of the reader's experience, it rarely comes at the beginning of the writer's experience. My pals Jeannine DeLombard and Dan White offer this “important hint” for constructing a thesis:

You do not need a refined thesis in order to start writing. If you begin with a provisional thesis and then do good and careful close readings, you will often find a version of your final thesis in the last paragraph of a first draft. Integrate that version into your first paragraph and revise from there. Do not worry too much about your thesis, therefore, until after you've written out your close readings! A good final thesis should emerge from, not precede, your analyses. (”Papers: Expectations, Guidelines, Advice, and Grading”)

Of course you have to know exactly what you're saying by the time you finish, but don't let that stop you from beginning to write. The fear of the blank screen — think of the old movie cliché of the would-be writer with the trashcan overflowing with crumpled paper — paralyzes too many people. Theses don't spring into being in their final form.

An insight into how professors assign grades: I usually have a good idea of what a paper's going to get by the time I finished the first page. If you give me a solid thesis right up front, you've probably earned at least a B-plus. Use the beginning of your paper wisely!

See examples of both good and bad theses.


There are plenty of good resources that cover similar turf. Here are a bunch by friends and colleagues: I can vouch for all of them. Read 'em several times each.

from Jack Lynch's guide,
Getting an A on an English Paper

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