Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Teaching Students to Write Good Papers

This module is designed to help you teach students to write good papers. You will find useful examples of activities that guide students through the writing process. This resource will be helpful for anyone working with students on research papers, book reviews, and other analytical essays. The Center for Teaching and Learning also has comprehensive writing resources featuring general writing tips, citation guidelines, model papers, and ways to get more help at Yale.


There are several steps TFs and faculty can take to prepare students to write good papers. If you are responsible for making writing assignments, remember that most students need to practice the basic elements of writing — purpose, argument, evidence, style — and that these skills are best practiced in shorter, focused assignments. Opt for shorter essays and papers throughout the semester in lieu of long, end-of-semester research papers. Build opportunities for revision and refinement into your assignments and lesson plans.

For each assignment, there are steps you can take to help students produce better writing. First, use strategies for making sure students understand the assignment. Use individual meetings, short, in-class writing exercises or small-group activities to make sure students can articulate what their paper will accomplish (describe, compare/contrast, explain, argue) and to what standard.

Second, guide students in selecting and analyzing primary and secondary source material. Use in-class activities to teach students: the difference between types of sources and their uses; strategies for evaluating a source and its value in a given argument; and examples of how to incorporate source material into an argument or other text with proper citation.

Finally, teach them to construct strong thesis statements and support their arguments with evidence. Use model documents to introduce students to strong, arguable statements. Give students practice developing statements from scratch and refining statements that lack importance or clarity. Ask students to analyze the relationship between thesis statements and supporting evidence in short essays. Teach them to use the active voice.

Students who have never gone through a thorough revision process are used to handing in and receiving poor grades on first drafts. These students will lack confidence in their ability to produce good writing. Do all you can to let your students experience good writing through revision. Require drafts of papers, or parts of papers, so students can learn to apply the standards of good writing to make their papers better. Have students read and comment on each other’s papers to give them practice reading for clarity, style, persuasiveness, etc.

By focusing on the process of writing, not just the product, you will help students write better papers and gain confidence along the way.

For those of you who work with teaching fellows, we also include an agenda for teaching these skills to others and a workshop evaluation form.