Nail That Paper

Learn to Write A+ Academic Papers

The 4C Thesis Statement Solution

Your thesis statement is the backbone of your entire paper.  Get it right, and you are set up to write a great paper.  A good thesis statement not only clearly states your position on the topic, it also provides a quick outline for the rest of your paper.  But how do you write a thesis statement that works? You could use a thesis statement generator, but you still need to do the thinking involved to know what to put into it.

That’s where the 4C Thesis Statement Solution comes into play.

What is the 4C Thesis Statement Solution?

The 4Cs stand for: Choose a topic, Collect evidence, make a Claim, and Convince your audience of your claim.

The thesis statement itself has 3 parts, Topic, Claim, and Evidence List, but to get to those parts, you have to go through the 4Cs.

The following shows you how to go through the 4Cs and arrive at a well written thesis statement at the end:

1. Choose a topic

Your purpose in stating your topic is to let your reader know what the paper will be about.

Have you ever been lost somewhere without a quick way of finding out where you are? It is confusing and frustrating.  Similarly, if you don’t state your topic in the beginning of your thesis statement, your reader will feel lost before he or she even gets to the meat of your paper.

If you have an open ended assignment in which you are asked to choose a topic yourself, make sure your topic is not too broad.  It is really hard to form an opinion on a very broad topic. You can start with a broad topic and narrow it down.

For example:

The 1960s –> music –> rock and roll –> The Beatles

Shakespeare plays –> Romeo and Juliet –>major characters –> Mercutio

Are you writing a thesis statement now?  If so, write your paper topic at the top of your document.

2. Collect evidence

Imagine a detective pinpointing a perpetrator without collecting any evidence first.  Impossible, right?  The evidence has to be gathered before the crime is solved. So then why do so many students feel that they have to write their opinion before they have enough evidence to form a valid one?

Before you can make a claim and write your thesis statement, you need to be very knowledgeable about the topic at hand.  If you are writing about a book, find quotes in the book that address your theme.  If you are writing about a broader topic, find articles and other sources that give you multiple views on the topic.

In the process of gathering evidence, you may find yourself narrowing your topic even further.  Let’s take the example of The Beatles.  While it’s already narrowed down from 196os history, The Beatles still may be too large a topic to form a meaningful opinion.  You may decide to focus on their influence on the world.  Or perhaps you want to discuss one of their albums and its influences.  Don’t be afraid to discard some evidence in order to focus on a more coherent and manageable topic.

3. Make a Claim

What do your pieces of evidence have in common?  What do they say about your topic?  These relationships should form the basis for your claim.

For example, in rereading scenes from Romeo and Juliet, you may find that Mercutio is always a good friend to Romeo.  That can be your opinion:

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is a great friend to Romeo

You’ll notice that the topic is clearly stated, and the claim almost hits you over the head with its directness.  That’s good.  Your thesis statement should be extremely clear.

4. Convince your audience of your claim

Now that you’ve made a claim, it’s time to convince your reader that you are right. You do this by compiling a brief list of the evidence you will use to prove your claim.

You may want to include all of your evidence in your list, but you may also want to leave some of it out if it doesn’t prove your opinion.  Remember, everything in your paper should prove your claim.  This is especially important for your list of evidence, because it tells your reader where you are going with your paper.

Look through the evidence you have gathered and pull out 3-5 main ways of proving your opinion.  Then list them out:

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (topic), Mercutio is a great friend to Romeo (claim). This is shown when Romeo is pining after Rosamond in the beginning of the book and Mercutio helps him lighten up, when Mercutio supports Romeo in his fight with Tybalt, and when Romeo is devastated at Mercutio’s death (list of evidence).

The Beatles’ music (topic) made a huge impact on the world (claim). They changed music forever with their unique sound,  influenced 1960s fashion, and have appeared on numerous forms of media, including video games and television shows (list of evidence).

To recap:

The 4Cs of thesis development are:

Choose a topic (not to broad!)

Collect evidence on your topic

Make a claim based on your evidence

Convince your reader you are right with an evidence list


The thesis statement itself has 3 parts –

Topic, Claim, Evidence List


I hope the 4Cs will help you write better thesis statements in the future!

How to set yourself up for writing success this school year

The beginning of the school year can be a real challenge.  New teachers mean new expectations and new types of assignments.  You may have learned to be a writing rock star in your classes last year, only to find out that your new teacher has much higher expectations.  Don’t panic.  Now is a great time to set yourself up for success for the rest of the school year.

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Get to know your teacher.

Many teachers give rubrics and guidelines in the beginning of the school year.  If your teacher is one of these, make sure that you look through the guidelines carefully and clarify any questions with your teacher.  He has taken the time to provide this framework because he cares about your ability to meet his expectations, so don’t be afraid to ask questions so that you can follow them better.

If your teacher didn’t provide any guidelines about his expectations, make sure to ask if he uses a rubric he can share with you.  If not, perhaps he has a sample paper that shows what he’s looking for.  Some new teachers may not have this available either.  If this is the case with your teacher, at least he’ll know that you care about his class and will work hard to succeed.

2. Use a rubric.

If your teacher provided you with a rubric, use it. If not, use one of the following rubrics to help guide your writing:

AP Rubric

College Writing Rubric

Writing without a rubric is like driving to a new destination without a map (or a Smartphone). Use the rubric before and after writing your paper to ensure that you are on the right track.

3. Ask for feedback.

When you get your first paper back, hopefully it will be full of helpful comments that will guide you to become a better writer.  However, many teachers don’t have time to write comments, or they assume that students won’t care enough to look at them.  If your paper comes back with a grade but no comments, find time to meet with your teacher and ask her why you received the grade you did.  Even if you got an A, you should know why, so that you can replicate it in the future.  You can even bring a rubric with you to guide your meeting with your teacher.

4. When in doubt, follow these basic writing rules:

1. Write a thoughtful thesis statement containing your opinion and a roadmap of at least 3 justifications for that opinion.

2. Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence letting your reader know what the paragraph is about.

3. Only choose quotes that support your thesis statement and that you can follow up with at least 2-3 sentences of well thought out explanations.

4. Make sure that your paper contains more of your own thoughts than it does quotes written by someone else.

5. Write an outstanding conclusion that sums up your paper without directly restating your introduction and gives your reader something to think about when it’s over.  (Answer “So what?” about your paper.)

If you do all of these 4 things now, in the beginning of the school year, you will set yourself up for success in writing and have less stress throughout the year as well.

4 Ways to Remove Passive Voice from Your Paper

First of all, what is passive voice, and what’s so bad about it?

When a sentence is written with passive voice, it contains words like “were” “are” “is” “had” or “will be.” A sentence written in passive voice isn’t bad, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. By including these words, the writer takes the easy way out. He or she doesn’t have to spend time thinking of interesting or specific verbs, or writing in clear and concise language. It may be a time saver, but it will lead to a more muddled paper. Consider these two sentences:

1. Odysseus was a poor leader, which is shown by his refusal to listen to his men.

2. As a poor leader, Odysseus refused to listen to his men.

Or these two:

1. Women were unable to vote for decades after men were able to do so.

2. While men elected official after official, women dreamed of going to the polls themselves.

In both cases, the second sentence is stronger. In the first case, it is more concise, and in the second, it forced me to write a more interesting phrase.

When I taught elementary school, our coaches instructed us to have funerals for “dead verbs” with our classes. Our students created coffins for “is” and “was” and buried them on school grounds – that’s how strongly they felt about weeding them out of the students’ writing.

You may be looking at your most recent paper and noticing that almost every sentence contains “is” “was” or “were.” But how do you get these nasty, boring verbs out of there? Here are 4 methods to think about:

  1. Choose a different verb.

This is possibly the easiest method for removing dead or passive verbs from your writing. Just look at the sentence and think of a better, more specific verb to use.


The street was filled with fruit stands./The street heaved (burst, sagged, etc.) with fruit stands.

Mercutio was the most interesting character in Romeo and Juliet./ Mercutio stood out as the most interesting character in Romeo and Juliet.

The war was long – it lasted 8 years. The war continued for 8 long years.

2. Get rid of “ing”

If you look through your passive sentences, chances are you’ll see quite a few “was”s and “were”s followed by an “ing” verb. Just remove the “ing” and you will have a more active sentence.


She was walking home from school./She walked home from school.

The settlers were persecuting the Native Americans. /The settlers persecuted the Native Americans.

The prisoners were dying by the dozens every month./ The prisoners died by the dozens every month.

3. Move your adjective (describing word) before your noun.

Have you ever written a sentence like this? She was beautiful, cold, and unaware of his affections.

It is tempting to use a dead verb preceding a list of adjectives, or even just one adjective. Why not write it like this instead:

The beautiful, cold, and oblivious woman ignored the young man’s affections.

Other examples:

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader and a peaceful man who died in 1968. /A great leader and proponent of peace, Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968.

William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of all time and was responsible for changing literature forever. /The brilliant William Shakespeare changed the face of literature forever.

4. Change the order of your sentence.

Sometimes, just switching the subject to the beginning of your sentence will get rid of your nasty passive verb.


Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte./ Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre.

The Jews were put onto cattle cars by the Nazis. /The Nazis forced the Jews onto cattle cars.

The scarf had been left on the table by Margaret./ Margaret left her scarf on the table.


If you want to write with greater clarity and specificity, pay special attention to weeding out the dead verbs the next time you revise a paper. Use these four methods to eliminate almost all of them.

What is in a thesis statement?

I’ve noticed that by far, the most hits on this blog come from my post on thesis and outline generators, so I thought I’d take a minute and write about the formula for a good thesis statement.

A good thesis statement has 3 parts:

1. Presentation of the topic

2. Your opinion on the topic

3. Your roadmap for how you will prove your opinion

For example, if you were to write a thesis statement on the topic of kids watching TV, it might look something like this:

Topic presentation:

In the United States, the average child between the ages of 2 and 11 watches around 30 hours of television a week.


While there are some educational television shows out there, nothing can replace the learning that comes from loving human interaction; therefore, parents should spend more time with their kids and reduce the amount of television their children watch.

Roadmap (3 parts)

(1) More human interaction would benefit kids by helping them learn how to interact with and treat others in a real world context.  (2) Children who spend more time with their parents are proven to do better in school and have larger vocabularies.  (3) Also, many tasks must be learned hands-on, especially in early childhood, and a television can’t provide that type of learning experience.

(Notice that each part of the road map tied back to the opinion about learning, and didn’t just list general reasons why television watching is bad for kids.  Be specific in each part of your thesis statement!)

Put all three parts together, and there you have it – a comprehensive thesis statement, letting your reader know what your paper will be about, what your opinion on the topic is, and how you will convince him or her that you are right.


Q: I don’t even know what my opinion is on the topic.  How can I write my thesis statement before I know what research is out there?

A: You can’t.  Wait until you have researched and synthesized the information before writing your thesis statement.  Sometimes I wait until I have written the bulk of my paper before writing my thesis statement.  Then I go back and tie all of the paragraphs back to the thesis statement.

Q: What is the difference between a thesis statement and an introductory paragraph?

A: Good question.  An introductory paragraph can sometimes include only a thesis statement, but the better-written ones also have a grabber at the beginning, like a quote, a compelling question, or an interesting scenario.  Then there is a bridge connecting the grabber to the thesis statement, and finally, the thesis statement itself.

Q: What if my paper is much more complex, and I have far more than three parts to include in my roadmap?

A: First, group your subtopics together as much as possible.  Even if a section has multiple components and paragraphs, as long as all of those paragraphs relate to the same subtopic, you can mention only that main subtopic in your thesis statement roadmap.

Then, make sure that your wording is as concise as possible for your thesis statement roadmap.  You only want the main idea of the subtopic in your roadmap, not the details.

Q: Why do thesis statements matter so much?  Why do my professors seem to care about them?

A: A well-written thesis statement prepares your reader for the rest of your paper.  It tells her what you will be proving in your paper and how you will go about proving it.  Thesis statements also help you by providing you with a roadmap for your paper, as well as a central idea on which to focus.

Q: Once I’ve written my thesis statement, can I just forget about it and write the rest of the paper?

A: No.  You must tie every paragraph or subtopic back to it in some way.

How to Write Better Papers in Less Time: 5 Tips

Have you ever gotten an assignment to write a paper and thought, “I hope this takes me a long time?” I didn’t think so.  However, most students waste time and drag assignments out needlessly.  I’d like to present a list of the top 5 ways to save yourself time while writing your papers for school.

1. Eliminate distractions.

We do our best work when completely focused on the task at hand.  However, there are increasingly more distractions that keep us from staying on track.  Write a list of all of the distractions that typically lure you away from writing your paper.  My top 4 are Facebook, searching for things to buy online, answering texts, and checking my email on my phone.  Once you’ve identified the distractions, make a point to be more aware of when you let them get in the way of working on your paper.  You may feel like you are rewarding yourself for doing so much hard work, but you are just extending the time that you have to sit and “try” to work on your paper.  Say no now, and you’ll have more time later to do the things you really want to do.

2. Be deliberate and strategic when choosing a topic.

The first hurdle in paper writing is choosing a topic.  When thinking about a topic for your paper, ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. Will this topic help me show my professor that I understand the course material?

2. Will I be able to easily find enough resources for this topic?

3. Does the breadth of the topic correspond with the required length of the paper?

If the answer to any of these 3 questions is “No,” your paper will take you more time to write.

Be strategic, but don’t spend a lot of time choosing a topic beyond asking yourself these 3 questions.  Allow yourself no more than 15 minutes to choose a topic.

3. Don’t edit your paper until you are done writing it.

If you think you will save yourself time at the end of writing your paper by editing it throughout the process, you are wrong.  Stopping to edit will waste a lot more time than it saves.  Even if you don’t feel confident about your writing, force yourself to keep going.  Get all of the content on the page, and then go back and make changes.  Trust me, if you start and stop and go back, paper writing will be a very painful process.

4. Generate your “Works Cited” page as you write.

Every time you cite or use an article or book, quickly type the source down in the required format.  And don’t forget to take down the page number immediately! If you wait until you get to the end of the writing process, you’ll have to spend time re-finding every source you used – a real time sucker and an unpleasant task when all you want to do is drink a beer and celebrate that you’ve finally finished writing your paper.

For your convenience, here are the book and article formats for citing in APA and MLA:

APA Article:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article.Title of Periodical,    

                  volume number(issue number), pages.

APA Book:

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location:


MLA Article:

Author(s). “Title of Article.” Title of Journal Volume.Issue (Year): pages. Medium of


MLA Book:

Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.

Medium of Publication.

(Citation information is from the Purdue OWL.  Check it out for more detailed information about APA and MLA formatting.)

 5. Each time you sit down to write, write for at least an hour with no breaks.

People do their best work in unbroken, meaningful chunks of time.  Every time you take a break, you are pulling your thoughts away from the paper and adding a few minutes when you come back to refocus and get back to work. An hour isn’t that long, but it is long enough to fully immerse yourself in your paper, to the point where you gain greater insights and can really knock out a portion of your paper.  Schedule at least an hour to write your paper and don’t let yourself take any breaks during that time.

Try out a few of these tips and leave a comment below with your tips for saving time.


Say it, then write it

As a writing tutor, I find that a lot of what I do is listen.  When my clients ask me to read their writing and give them pointers, I read their words out loud to them.  Then I ask them questions about what they wanted to say.  Many times, they are able to articulate their points much more effectively out loud than they could on paper.  Using their spoken words, we revise and add to their papers.

When attempting to write papers , I think a lot of students freak out.  They know what they want to express, but when it comes down to writing the words, they freeze.  That’s why it’s helpful to first say it, then write it.  If you have someone who is willing to sit with you and discuss your writing, wonderful. If not, just say your thoughts out loud, record them on your phone or computer, and then write down exactly what you said.  This will help you get unblocked and also will aid you in writing more coherent sentences.

Try it, then comment below.  What did you think of the experience?  Did it help your writing?

Outline and thesis generators

Are you struggling to write a thesis for your paper?  Confused about how to construct an effective outline?  Here are three websites that will help you do the job.

Thesis builder/outline generator

On this website, you can generate either a thesis statement or a paper outline. The outline, for a 5 paragraph essay, is especially helpful; It not only plugs in your main points, it also gives you tips and guidance for the rest of the paragraphs.  You can extend this into a longer essay by printing the guidelines and applying them to the rest of your body paragraphs. Just plug in your main opinion, 2 supporting arguments, and one opposing argument, press the button for either the thesis or outline generator, and whallah!   

University of Phoenix thesis builder 

This is very similar to the above thesis builder, but it gives you an example before you actually plug in your own ideas.  Also, it lacks the outline generation component.  If you need a bit more guidance in coming up with your argument and supporting ideas, visit this site.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School Outline Maker

This outline generator is awesome.  Type in your thesis statement and up to 4 subtopics, with up to 3 pieces of supporting evidence for each subtopic. Then, press the button for your very own outline.  Part of why this site is so helpful is because it guides you through the outline creation process in a very accessible way (the different parts of the outline are color-coded for visual learners) and helps you to see how to generate a successful outline.

When you are done using this, you will be more than ready to begin writing your paper!

Writing with purpose

Every weekday I sit down to write a blog entry about academic papers, and sometimes I imagine readers out there wondering, What is so interesting and important about academic papers? 

I was thinking about that a lot over the weekend, and I realized something: Writing academic papers is only important and interesting if you write with purpose.

As an elementary school teacher, and now a writing coach, my core belief is that education has purpose.  To be effective and influential, teachers and tutors MUST infuse their teaching with purpose.  They must show their students why learning is relevant, and approach academic subjects with passion. However, some teachers are ineffectual.  They lack the ability to create purposeful lessons.  Many paper assignments seem to be busy work, unconnected with the rest of students’ lives.

I urge you, as the student, to see the bigger picture.  If you are an adult learner returning to school, you returned with a purpose.  Approach every assignment from a bird’s eye view  and ask yourself how it fits in with your career and life goals.  What paper topic will help you excel in your chosen field?  In this economy, in order to be successful, you must stand out as an expert.  Can you write your papers in a manner that brings you closer and closer to that expertise?


Why the ellipsis is your friend…

Have you ever been listening to someone tell a story, and you know there is a point to it, you know it’s coming, but it seems to take forever for the storyteller to get to the point?  Don’t you just wish that you could cut out some of the middle to get to the important parts?  Well, you can!  In your papers, that is.  You can, and you should.

Sometimes, when writing a paper, you will come across a great quote that supports the point you are trying to make in your paper.  The beginning really relates to your point, and the end drives it home as well.  But the middle deviates to another topic.  What do you do? You throw an ellipsis (…) into the middle, and magically have a perfect quote to use.  Just write the beginning of the quote, and in place of all of the throwaway words in the middle, write … Then, continue the quote with the ending you’d like to use.  You can also take out 2 or 3 useless sections by inserting an ellipsis into each section.

Yeah, you may be thinking, but if I include the middle of the quote, it will make my paper longer.  Sure it will, and all of that pointless stuff in the middle made your friend’s story longer, too, but it also turned it into a less than pleasant tale to sit through. Remember, you want your professor to enjoy reading your paper, not just be happy with the length.


Why writing a paper is like going on a backpacking trip

Backpacking is probably one of my favorite activities.  I feel the most alive, the happiest, when traveling through unknown places, preferably 3rd world countries, because they are cheaper and still full of incredible experiences.  My husband and I went to Belize a few months ago, and I did not want to leave.  I was imagining us extending our trip, going to Guatemala, and then further south, not returning home for months.

Wouldn’t it be great to feel like that about writing a paper?

Most people see paper writing as a burden, as something they have to do to get through school.  But in reality, writing papers is one of the most authentic learning experiences we have in college.  Just like traveling, we decide where to go.  We immerse ourselves in learning.  And, unlike when traveling to third world countries, we can’t get giardia from doing so.

I find that when I have a task to accomplish which I perceive as unpleasant, it is helpful to reframe it for myself to make it more enjoyable.  For example, I can see working out as a way to become more fit, instead of an hour of my day spent grunting and sweating.  In doing so, I try harder and get more out of it.

So here are a few ways you can look at your paper writing assignment as a backpacking trip. In doing so, you will hopefully become more invested in your paper, enjoy it more, and come out with a better paper in the end.

1. Choosing a topic = Deciding where to go

You may be thinking yeah, but my professor controls the topic of my paper.  It has to relate to the course topic.  You are right.  And when planning a trip you are limited by a specific budget, a certain time frame, flight availability, etc.  However, when choosing a destination, you also think about places you really want to see and explore.  Can’t paper writing be the same?  Choose a topic you really want to explore and about which you’ll enjoy learning.

2. Doing initial research = Reading travel guides before you leave

When I am going on a trip, I love visiting book stores and paging through travel guides.  What can I see in Italy?  Where do I want to go in India?  Finding research for your paper can be the same.  I think that most people look for sources as if they are shopping for paper plates for someone else’ s party.  They know they need  them, and they know the basic size and material they want, but other than that, anything will do.  The moment you begin choosing boring sources, that’s when the paper writing process begins to suck.  Instead, look through your research database like you are looking through a guidebook.  Be selfish – where do you most want to go?

3. Writing an outline = Creating an itinerary

You have done a little bit of research about where you want to go within your paper.  Now it’s time to plan your trip.  What are the main places (ideas) you want to visit in depth?  When planning a trip, you decide on a few places to stay and learn even more about them, and that’s also what you do in the outlining phase of writing your paper.  When my husband and I went to Italy, we decided we would first go to Rome, then Venice, and then down to Florence.  Once we knew where we were going, we looked into the deeper details of where to stay, which museums and sites to visit, etc.  It is the same with your paper.  Once you know your subtopics, you can begin the exciting part – figuring out more about each topic.  As you identify further subtopics, write them into your outline. Now you know where you will go in your paper.

4. Doing deeper research = Packing for your trip

Once your initial outline is roughly complete, go back to your sources and pull out specific quotes to use in each section of the paper.  I find it very helpful to write these into the outline, citing them as I go, so that I don’t have to go back and type them up later.  Doing this is like packing the essentials in your backpack before a trip.  Do you have enough sources?  If not, keep looking.  But don’t include random sources just to fulfill your professor’s requirements.  Make sure that everything you put in your paper is essential.  Backpacking can be a pain in your back when your pack is filled with nonessential items. Trying to shove unrelated articles into your paper will make the process painful as well.

5. Beginning your paper = The plane flight over

I admit it – beginning a paper is my least favorite part.  Why?  It is hard to know where to start.  I usually start with my first subtopic, rather than the introduction, because the introduction is a preview of the rest of the paper, and until I know what is in the rest of the paper, I think it is fruitless to try to write an introduction.  But forcing myself to sit down and begin writing can be difficult.  I have to get the first few sentences down, and then it takes off.  Similarly, plane flights are usually one of the low points of the trip.  But you have to go through them to get to your destination.

6. Writing the body of the paper = Experiencing the trip

As you write the paper, you learn so much about your topic.  You explore ideas you never knew about previously.  As you learn more about your topic, your initial outline sometimes changes.  You decide to explore new ideas as they are revealed to you.  But you still stay in the same subtopics and stay focused on the same overall topic.  After all, if you are in Florence, you aren’t going to wake up in Guatemala City.

7. Writing the introduction and conclusion = Creating an album of your trip

After I return from traveling, I like to create an album showing where I was and what I experienced.  It is the same with your introduction and conclusion.  Now that you know the specific subtopics and the details within them, you can write your introduction, showing the reader where you will go, and the conclusion, showing where you have been.  Make the introduction exciting by beginning with a grabber, and the conclusion satisfying by tying it all together with a call to action.

8. Editing and revising = Telling exaggerated tales about your trip

Lets face it – no trip is perfect, and without editing, your paper won’t be perfect, either. But we don’t go home from a trip and tell everyone about the moments we wish hadn’t happened.  Instead, we embellish the good parts and conveniently leave out the less than savory moments.  When you edit and revise your paper, you get the chance to remove the imperfections before handing it in.  Do you really want your professor to know about that night in Roatan when you got locked out of the hostel?  I didn’t think so.  You also don’t want him to see all of the mistakes in your first draft.

So you see, paper writing can be like going on a great trip.  The key is to see this as a great learning opportunity and be picky about your topic and your sources.  Make sure you really care about your paper.

And while you’re at it, send a postcard or two to share your learning.

Post Navigation