Writing Guidelines

You’ll develop and write first drafts of your Honors Essays during the fall. Based on feedback from me and from each other, you will revise those essays in January or early February. You’ll get more feedback in February and revise again. Faculty members of the Honors Committee will read and evaluate your completed essays, using this Honors Essay Checklist. The questions on the checklist represent the writing goals for the seminar–with a focus on research and methods; argument and motive; evidence, analysis, and reflection; structure and development; and prose, style, and formatting. See below for details.

Throughout the year, we’ll use Eric Hayot’s book Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities to shape our discussions of writingWe’ll also use a number of handouts created by university faculty, including Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay,” Kerry Walk’s “Motivating Moves,” and Mark Gaipa’s “8 Strategies for Critically Engaging Sources.”

In your writing, you’ll want to intrigue, engage, excite, and persuade readers. The guidelines below are intended to help you think about the nuts and bolts involved in doing that.

Note: If you’d like to work with peer tutor on your writing, you can set up regular weekly appointments or less regular drop-in appointments at the Queens College Writing Center.


Your essay should

  • address a critical conversation by engaging credible and relevant sources.
  • make an argument that’s persuasive but contestable–that others might disagree with, even if they admire the way you make it.
  • include sources that represent a thorough and strategic research process and contribute to the reader’s understanding of the concepts, histories, genres, and theories central to the topic.
  • be motivated by a genuine intellectual question that addresses the assignment.
  • articulate the argument in clear, precise language.

Evidence / Analysis / Reflection

Your essay should

  • contain enough relevant evidence to make the argument convincing.
  • analyze the essay with originality and insight.
  • enlist evidence to support claims and develop new dimensions of your ideas.
  • demonstrate a clear relationship between your central argument and the evidence you analyze.
  • reflect on counter-arguments, the implications of your ideas, and theoretical, historical, or biographical contexts that emerge from your claims.

Structure / Development

Your essay should

  • be comprised of paragraphs that contribute new ideas or materials, signaled clearly through topic sentences, transitions, or “stitching” (see Harvey).
  • develop progressively and build in complexity.
  • contain sections organized and signaled in a logical way (for example, using subheadings or reflective language about structure).
  • orient readers with transitions between one topic or paragraph and the next and introductions to new materials, sources, terms, or ideas.

Prose / Style / Format

Your essay should

  • be written in clear, engaging language–using active verbs, creating cohesion from one sentence or paragraph to the next, and avoiding wordiness or confusing syntax.
  • assert a confident and controlled voice, one that’s consistent yet flexible, reader-friendly yet distinctive.
  • orient readers by defining key terms, identifying sources, and explaining new ideas.
  • cite sources using either MLA or Chicago style guidelines (see Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab for an overview of these guidelines).


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