Ted Thornton
How to Write Major Essays


Major Essays are designed to:

1.   Assess your command of the assigned reading, films, and class materials. 

2.  Assess your ability to work with the materials in different contexts and in connection with different questions.  Each essay must be written in response to a clearly articulated thesis:  a point or an idea you intend your essay to support, demonstrate, or prove.

  • TIP: When writing about historical events, your essay should be sensitive to what changes were occurring throughout the period or the events you are discussing. Be careful to indicate WHAT happened, WHEN it happened, WHERE it happened, WHO was involved, and WHY or HOW it happened. You will have to work at striking the right balance between highlighting changes on the one hand and the need for descriptive, supporting details on the other hand. Be careful: it is easy to lose your way in the details.


1. Major Essays should normally be at least 250-500  words in length (about two pages at least, 1.5 line spacing, 12 point font). 

2. THESIS -- Each Major Essay must present and defend a supportable thesis.   Your thesis is any statement that represents what you aim to prove, show, or demonstrate with respect to your topic.  Click here to read more about what a thesis is and does. 

  • TIP: Even if you think you have a clear thesis in mind at the start, begin by writing the body of your paper first, saving your introduction for last.  Then, write your introduction and look for your thesis there.  If you do not find one the first time, try rewriting your introduction until you do. 

3.  ORGANIZE YOUR PAPER: Think about how the various components would best fit together. 

  • TIP: SKELETONS and MIND MAPS -- It is often useful when beginning to organize your thoughts for an essay to sketch ideas on a piece of paper, circle them, then, draw connections between them (traditional outlines may work better for some people.   Microsoft "Word" has a built in outlining tool that may help). 

4.  SUPPORT - It is critical to your success with these essays that you illustrate and otherwise support what you say with a hefty amount of material from the assigned readings, films, and notes from class. 

5. DOCUMENTATION:  Every idea, example, or other reference that originates in readings films, class presentations, or other sources must be documented (footnoted).  A synonym for "documentation" is "annotation." Use footnotes each time you include an idea that is not your own. 

  • TIP: Microsoft "Word" makes this chore easy: it will automatically insert a footnote space at the bottom of your page (go to "Insert" on the menu bar and click on "Reference," then, "Footnote."). 

FOOTNOTE FORMATTING: See the Writing Handbook or go to this page for a summary of how to do it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:  A bibliography is required for most Major Essays and for the final project. Again, click on this page to find out how to put one together. But rest easy: you don't need any information in addition to that which you gather for footnotes. The main points about bibliographies are these: sources should be listed on a separate page at the back of the paper entitled "Works Cited" or "Bibliography" in alphabetical order by author's name (last name first -- just the opposite of footnotes). You do not list page numbers on a bibliography. Everything else stays the same.

Important:  Use only web material from universities, published journals, and other sources that have undergone rigorous editing or peer review and that are widely recognized in academic circles for quality scholarship and authority.   You may not use Wikipedia as a cited source in any papers submitted in this course (more on this in class). .

Also review the material on "Academic Integrity" in the School Handbook, especially the paragraph on "Plagiarism." Documentation (footnoting - see above) is your safeguard against charges of plagiarism. Train yourself never to cut and paste material from computer files, with the exception of the occasional direct quotation (which should always be surrounded by quotation marks and footnoted). Material you take from other sources and paraphrase (render in your own words) must also be footnoted.

  • TIP: A good benchmark to use is the following: insert a footnote after every quotation and insert at least one footnote per paragraph.

A final reason to be careful about documentation (footnoting and bibliography) is that it authenticates your evidence and lends authority to your paper (i.e. it proves that you did not just make up your evidence: you got it from expert sources; the more expert they are, the more authority, weight, and persuasiveness your paper will carry).

6.  The Major Essay is a short exercise.  Do not fill it up with quotations from the sources.  Feel free to insert a short phrase here and there, but paraphrase longer selections (put them in your own words) followed, of course, by a footnote.

7.  Remember that the Major Essay should demonstrate your grasp of the particular unit we have been working on at the time.  At a minimum, you should make sure your paper contains what you believe to be the most important facts and interpretations we have covered and how you see them reflected in the subject of your essay. 

8.  Give your essay a title and be thoughtful about it.   A good title creates reader interest and sets the tone for what follows. 

  • TIP: One effective technique is to construct your title from a particularly catchy phrase or concept used by one of your sources.

9. Proofread your work.  Use the "Guidelines for Peer Editing" if you are working alone.  Best of all, find a "peer" to review your work.

9.  Major Essays must be typed in Microsoft Word and printed.  If you experience problems printing your papers, send a copy of your paper in "Word" form or plain text form to me attached to a message over SWIS.  This will serve as a backup until you are able to give me a printed version.  Your paper cannot receive credit and comments until it has been handed in to me in printed form.  Number all pages and include your last name at the top right corner of each page (by way of creating a "Header" for the document).

At the end of every work session, always back up your work to the school network (your Documents folder on the "Virtual Desktop"). If I do not receive at least a digital copy of your work by the time it is due, it will be marked late. 

Click here for key to frequently used paper editing symbols. 

**Finally, review the course "Policies and Expectations" before you begin writing and after you finish to double check on what I expect from you and what you can expect from me. 

Asia Rising Major Papers

Islamic Middle East


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email: tthornton@nmhschool.org

Last Revised: January 15, 2009