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Final Essay

Final Essay Guidelines (3,500 words for finalists; 3,000 words for non-finalists)

Due January 2024

For this essay, you are asked to develop your own topic and to discuss that topic with me, via office hours or email so I can provide feedback and suggestions. Your essay normally should cover one or more primary texts and/or critical theory on the syllabus. There is no requirement for the essay to be comparative, but it can be, should you wish. Students who wish to write on texts or materials not covered on the syllabus or to put such materials in dialogue with the set texts should seek approval from Dr Forman before undertaking the essay.


Your essay must have a strong central argument/thesis statement, which should appear towards the start. I will be expecting you to do close reading during the essay, commenting on issues such as narrative voice, style, etc. and the way in which these elements contribute to the title you have chosen or developed.


The essay should use parenthetical citations for quotations and have a bibliography, which preferably conforms to the MLA style. Information on the MLA style can be found at, and from the Library (where there is a quick guide you can download—see


The Online Writing Lab at Purdue, offers good guidance on how to formulate a thesis statement and develop an argument. I also recommend The Craft of Research, edited by Wayne Booth et al., especially the section on asking “so what” questions.




  • Make sure you have an argument that you can state in one sentence. This argument encapsulates what your essay is about, what its conclusions are, what its significance is. The sentence describing the argument need not appear in your final essay, but you should keep it in mind at all times while writing to make sure you stay focused.


  • FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. Do not try to provide too much background information or to accomplish too much in your essay. Make your topic as narrow as you think you can sustain, given the 4,000-word limit.


  • SUPPORT YOUR IDEAS. Support means explaining, expounding, developing with specific reference to the texts you are discussing. You will want to practice close reading in your essay. That is, you will want to refer to specific passages in the text/moments in the film, etc. and detail how they fit in with your argument.


  • LINK TOGETHER THE TEXTS, if you are working on an essay involving comparison. There are various ways to compare and contrast the works you are discussing in an essay, but you should make sure that the essay is structured so that texts play off one another. Do not produce two or three mini-essays that do not make a coherent whole.


  • COVERAGE. Your essay should engage with critical concepts, where appropriate.


  • QUOTATIONS. A good rule of thumb about quotations is as follows: your discussion of a quotation should take up as much, if not more, space than the quotation itself. Quotations do not make your argument for you. They need to be contextualized, examined, analyzed.


  • CONCLUSIONS. A good conclusion is not a simple summary of your essay. You may want to pose a question, suggest an offshoot of your argument, propose how your reading of the texts opens up further areas of study, etc.


  • USING CRITICISM. Always keep in mind that you are the author of your essay. Criticism and theory should be tools that you use to say what you want to say about the works under discussion.


  • The key to good writing is revision. You may want to ask a peer to read a draft of your work to help you with this. You may also want to plan ahead and make an appointment with the Academic Writing Centre.


  • It often is helpful to make a plan or outline of your essay after you have produced a draft. Such a plan will help you discover whether the structure of your essay is coherent and sharp. It will assist you with any reorganization you need to do, as well as with any cutting you may want to undertake.


  • Edit and proofread your work carefully. Grammar and punctuation are very important. The “way you say it” is essential to what you say. Make sure you know how to use possessives and commas in particular, as these are common problem areas for students. Use semicolons sparingly—their function is only to link independent clauses or complex items in a series.


  • Do not assume that a computer spellcheck program will find all your typos and misspellings.


  • Avoid “run-on’” sentences (where several clauses that should be separate sentences are linked together with commas).


  • Avoid the passive voice (e.g. “is given,” “was thought”), wherever possible. Passive voice obscures agency and produces lack of clarity.


  • Many people find it helpful to read their work aloud to themselves. This technique allows the writer to hear how the language flows, to determine how smooth the transitions are, etc. It can also help decide how to punctuate a sentence: a long pause means a full stop, a short one a comma.



Warwick also has a quick guide to the MLA style at Quick guide to referencing: MLA 8th - University of Warwick ( › students › referencing › referencing-styles)


  • Parenthetical citations should be used for referencing, with a works cited section at the end of the essay. Reserve endnotes/footnotes for editorial comments.