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Language and Writing Center: Basics, Templates, & Resources

An Essay is an Argument

A good rule of thumb in approaching any writing project is to ask yourself:

For whom am I writing and why?  or,

Who is my audience and what do they expect from my writing?  

In graduate school, your most common audience will be your course instructor.  You can think of most of your writing assignments as your instructor asking you to make an argument.  Your instructor wants to gauge how well you understand the course material by seeing how well you can make an argument related to that material.  A good argument is well-written, logical, and supported by evidence.

Formatting Basics

In graduate school, one of the aspects of a well-written paper is proper formatting and style.  Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, there are five very basic formatting rules you should always follow:

  1. Type your assignments out in black, 12-point Times New Roman font.  Your instructor may also approve other easy-to-read fonts, like 11-point Arial font.  If you are using footnotes, you can make them 10-point font.
  2. Use double spacing: double spacing makes papers easier to read and gives space for the grader to insert notes.
  3. For a general course paper, keep one-inch margins on all sides of the paper, one inch being the default margins in Microsoft Word and Apple Pages.  If you are preparing a thesis or dissertation, the margin rules will be more complex (see the templates above).
  4. Include page numbers.
  5. For all other formatting questions, follow Chicago (also known as Turabian) style (see the box to the right).

Citation & Reference Tools

Use the 9th edition of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Turabian) for footnote and bibliographic citations. However, you can choose another style manual after consulting with your advisor (eg. SBL). Keep in mind that you must use a selected style consistently. The Learning Commons provides access to the following style guides:

Quick Tip

Turabian is the abridged version of the Chicago Manual of Style developed for students.


Reference Management Tools

Parts of a Typical Paper

Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, they will consider a well-written paper to include the following parts:

  • A title: Ideally, your paper’s title is something original that tells the reader what the paper is about, like, “Analyzing Theological Developments in the Black Lives Matter Era” instead of just “Assignment #2.”
  • An introduction paragraph: An introduction is a paragraph (at least 3 sentences but up to a page) setting up your argument or arguments.  A good introduction explains a problem or issue that you will address in your thesis statement and essay body. Common ways of doing this include recapping a very brief history of the problem or recounting an anecdote that illustrates the problem.
  • A thesis statement: Your introduction MUST include a thesis statement, a statement summarizing the argument that you will go into in the body of your essay.  Typically, the thesis statement is the last sentence of the introduction; ending your introduction with your thesis makes it easier for your instructor to find, which they will appreciate when they are grading many papers.    For papers of twenty pages or less, you should be able to summarize your arguments into a one-sentence thesis statement.  Consider reviewing the arguments you make in the paper’s body when you are almost done and then re-writing your thesis statement so that your thesis represents your paper.
  • A body containing cited evidence: Your paper’s body is composed of the paragraphs between the introduction and conclusion where you make your argument.  Each of the paragraphs in the body should focus on an argument in support of your thesis or an aspect of the argument that you made in your thesis.  Good arguments are supported by evidence, so in arguing for your thesis, you MUST provide evidence in the form of facts, quotes, paraphrases, and/or data that you have found in sources. You MUST cite the facts, quotes, paraphrases, and data according to Chicago/Turabian style.  In most good papers, every paragraph in the body contains at least one piece of evidence, and therefore at least one citation.
  • A conclusion paragraph: Usually, a conclusion includes a summary of your argument(s).  You could also consider mentioning future areas that need to be studied for this topic.
  • A bibliography: A bibliography is an alphabetical list of all the sources that you cited in your paper and that you used to write your paper, following Chicago/Turabian rules.

Selected Books