Writing Checklist

Citing Your Sources

  • Are your quotes properly cited?

  • If a direct quote, does it need to be directly quoted? Is it so technical, incredible, influential, or beautiful that it can’t be paraphrased?

  • If the direct quote’s over four lines, has it been block-quoted?

  • Is each quote introduced?

  • Is each quote summarized and integrated into point made in that paragraph?

Use MLA (in-text parenthetical citations with a works cited) or Chicago (footnotes including bibliographic information).

If you need a quick guide, use Hacker and Fister’s Research and Documentation Online.

Three Types of Quotes (MLA citations)

  • Direct quote – Aristotle argued, “For no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods” (30).

  • Indirect quote / paraphrase – Aristotle argued that friends are essential for the good life (30).

  • Courtesy citation (when referring to something in a quick aside or summary) – Some philosophers argue that a life without friends is deficient, even if it has money or fame (see: Aristotle 30).

Get in the habit of giving the author and page number of any relevant material to what you’re writing. If you’re just paraphrasing in a paragraph, you can place the range of pages at the end of the paragraph instead of after each sentence.


  • What question guides or frames your paper?

  • What is your answer to that question (i.e. your thesis)?

  • What alternative answers are there?

  • Which sources from class are you using to make your argument?

  • What support do you offer for your answer over other alternatives (i.e. your argument)?

  • If space allows, what counterarguments might a critic make in response to your thesis or argument? How would you reply?


  • Is the thesis clear?

  • Have you avoided epic generalities, fluff, or Star Wars intros? “Ever since humans have been living and dying, they’ve thought about what it means to live well.”

  • Have you explained the stakes of the debate? Have you answered the questions, “So what?” and “Who cares?”

  • Can you use something to capture the audience’s attention? E.g. a striking fact, anecdote, hypothetical example, actual case, thought experiment, quote, or statistic.

  • In pieces over 2500 words: Is there a preview of the structure of your paper? E.g.: In Section 1, I argue x. In Section 2, I argue y.

Body / Argument

  • Does each paragraph have its own paragraph thesis?

    • If it has more than one thesis, split them into separate paragraphs.

    • If there is no thesis, make sure to include one. Eliminate enthymemes.

  • Does each paragraph thesis support the main thesis? Can a reader outline your piece by underlining your main thesis and underlining each paragraph thesis?

  • Are the theses of each paragraph front-loaded (they appear as the first sentence of each paragraph, or as close as possible to the front)?


  • Have you proved what you wanted? Have you argued for your thesis?

  • If not, you’ll likely face two options. First, you might be able to change your thesis to make it fit what you actually argued for. Or second, you might have discovered the thesis you actually want to argue for, and you can use it for a new draft.

  • Have you mentioned what your argument implies for other questions or topics?

  • Have you mentioned related topics that you would explore if you had space?


  • Is your language as clear and direct as possible?

  • Have you simplified the syntax of larger sentences?

  • Have you used the simplest, most adequate words when writing? E.g.: “use” instead of “utilize.”


  • Are key terms clearly defined?

  • Do your pieces of support/evidence connect directly to your conclusion/thesis?

  • Have you exercised the principle of charity? Could your opponent agree to your characterization of their argument?

    • Where multiple interpretations are possible, choose the strongest. Or, if there’s room, create strong versions of both interpretations, and critique each.

  • Have you avoided common fallacies (false dichotomies, ad hominem, hasty generalizations, straw man, biased sample, slippery slope, begging the question, or equivocation)?