Dress your paper in silk stockings part 2: setting up quotes

photo by Marc Olivier

photo by Marc Olivier

In my post, “Dress your paper in silk stockings,” I gave a starter kit of logical connectors to help make your French papers have better flow. Here, thanks to my colleague, Corry Cropper, I’m going to share some advice given to [his] 300-level French students on setting up quotes in a French research paper. The fact is, writing isn’t all poetry and inspiration (especially academic writing). A lot of it is formulaic, and if someone would just give you some recipes (which they never seem to do, for reasons I won’t explain in this post), you can knock out a pretty decent paper. I’ve added rough translations in italics to help you make sense of this useful list:

• Selon Bouvard, “____” (453).

According to Bouvard, ”  “

• Comme l’explique l’historien Pécuchet, “___” (15).

As the historian Pécuchet explains, ”  “

• Dans son livre ____, Brulotte maintient que “____” (168).

In his book [title of book], Brulotte asserts, ”  ”

• Dans un article publié dans la revue ____, Bouvard se plaint que “____” (87).

In an article published in the journal [title], Bouvard contends [note: “se plaindre” is generally translated as “to complain,” but here, I would say it means something more akin to “argues” or “contends”] ”  ”

• Pécuchet s’aligne avec la pensée de Bouvand quand il écrit “___” (15).

Pécuchet’s line of thought corresponds to that of Bouvard when he writes ”  “

• Brulotte complique la situation encore plus lorsqu’il écrit, “____” (168).

Brulotte further complicates the situation when he writes, ” “

• Bien que Foucault soutienne que “____,” le texte de Bourdieu semble suggérer le contraire

en ces termes: “____” (436; 221).

Although Foucault maintains that ” ,” Bourdieu’s text seems to suggest the opposite in the following terms: ” “

• Minou évoque ce phénomène dans son livre ____ lorsqu’elle écrit “____” (725). Cependant,

cette théorie ne colle pas avec celle élucidée par Binette qui ironise, “___” (xiv).

Minou evokes this phenomenon in her book [title of book] when she writes ” “.  However, that theory is not consistent with Binette’s explanation  when she ironically conjectures, ” “

So, that last one is a bit over-the-top, and my translation is not verbatim, but you get the idea.

5 things graffiti can teach you about writing your next paper

les mecs puent

Be bold.

Go ahead and make a bold assertion: Les mecs puent. That gets my attention. Of course, you’ll have to back that up in a paper. but why not start out with an attention grabber?

Keep it simple.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in college-level French classes is students trying to write lengthy, complex sentences. Subordinate clauses will lead you down a treacherous path to academic hell. Use them sparingly. And while it may be true that too many short sentences in a row might create choppy prose, good transition words can smooth things over.


Embrace rebellion.

Take a stand. Question conventions and assumptions. Graffiti often responds to the context of its surroundings. In the photo below, the graffiti sprayed on the ground is a biblical quote that contradicts the “regarde le ciel” graffiti message seen all over Paris. It uses the context (the ground that the reader is obviously looking at to read the message) and a quote from an authority figure to counter the work of another “author.”

Be dedicated.

Even good old fashioned scratching words into a bench takes time. The person who has carved a message into wood (not that I recommend it) has invested some time and effort to make their mark.

Love triangle


Humor never hurts.

This bench made me laugh. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a love triangle, considering it’s Paris, but still…


Dress your paper in silk stockings

photo by Marc Olivier

photo by Marc Olivier

Real fluency takes a lot of time and hard work, but you’ve got a paper due in two weeks. What to do? This next installment in my series about how to write French papers that don’t suck has one easy tip: use million dollar transition words and phrases. You wouldn’t believe the difference they make on French people or on impressionable professors like myself. Even if you’re not a student and you don’t have to write papers, the same principle applies. Certain words elevate people’s perception of your fluency. Sure, the content may be crap, but at least it will be crap wrapped in a silk stocking (to paraphrase Napoleon).

Transitions suggest that there is coherent thought behind your words. Use them judiciously and you might even create the semblance of the “connected discourse” so beloved in ACTFL proficiency guidelines. I won’t attempt an exhaustive list or a treatise on logical connectives, so consider this a good starter kit.

Putting things in order 

Things that approximate “first”



En premier lieu (this one’s the most formal of the three)

You might follow-up with “second”


En deuxième lieu

Or something like “next”



Maybe augment it with a “moreover” or an “in fact”

De plus

En fait

And wrap it up with a “finally” or “in conclusion” type transition

Pour conclure


En dernier lieu

Illustrating a point or clarifying

To say things like “indeed” or “for example”

Par exemple

En effet

Or, “in other words”


En d’autres termes

Autrement dit

Ou plus précisément

Showing that things aren’t as simple as they appear

You can introduce nuance with words that roughly fall into the “however” or “nevertheless” type function




Pourtant (this one pairs well with a paradox)

Or maybe introduce a counterpoint (similar to above, but slightly stronger)

Par contre

En revanche (fancier than “par contre” and more fun to say)

Bordering on wishy washy, in my opinion, are those two-part “one the one hand…on the other hand…” type expressions

D’une part…d’autre part…

D’un côté… which you could follow up with De l’autre côté …(assuming there are only two sides) or D’un autre côté…(if this is one more of many possible sides)

Referring to an issue

I’ve always liked the French equivalent of “As for x” (or “regarding…”) because you get to make that crisp “t” sound before the preposition “à”

Quant à …

“On this subject” type expressions

À ce sujet

À ce propos (fancier option)

Showing the implications of your brilliant logic

“And that’s why…” (sounds better in French) and “consequently”

C’est pourquoi

Par conséquent

The staples “thus” and “therefore”



 I could list dozens more, but those Netflix movies aren’t going to watch themselves. I’ve got some vegetating to do. So pour conclure, words like those above are like force fields against potential attacks on the flow of your writing. They also practically force you to organize your thoughts more clearly. Just think how much nicer your crappy paper will look dressed up in them.

Maybe we’ll work on content in a future post. As for grammar, What The French?! is your best friend. If you don’t own an iPad or a Mac, we promise, we’re still working on a version for you. Be patient.

How to write French papers that don’t suck

Quick! Before it’s too late. Before the cynicism of late-winter sets in, make a resolution for 2014 to write French papers that don’t suck. It’s a lofty goal, I know. Unattainable, some might argue. But I say, dream big, because big dreams lead to big disappointments, and what could be more French than disappointment?

So let’s dive right in with the top five:

Four out of the five fall under the fautes de paresse (lazy mistakes) category.

1. Gender

A gender (genre) mistake such as “le femme” is like giving the finger to your French teacher. The laziness of gender errors is staggering to such a degree that it can only be regarded as contemptuous je-m’en-foutisme. Maybe that’s what you were going for? Maybe “le femme” is a critique of phallogocentrism. If you can sell that to your professor, you deserve an “A”. Otherwise, since you’re stuck with a gendered language, you are going to have to prove that you are capable of looking up the gender of a word. Be methodical. Look at every single noun in your paper and ask yourself if you are 100% sure of its gender. When in doubt, look it up.

2. Agreement

Same problem as above, but a little more complicated. Agreement (accord) means, for example, that a verb is conjugated to match its subject in number (Elles vont. NOT Elles va.) and gender (Elles sont allées), or that an adjective matches the thing it modifies in number and gender where necessary (La maison blanche—not blanc), and so on. Once again, you will have to move through your paper methodically. Start with the verbs— possibly with the help of a verb conjugator—and make sure that the conjugation lines up with the subject. Then identify the adjectives and what they modify.

3. Spelling

You can install spelling and grammar tools in Word, although in my experience, French spell check is not as good as English. Or you can use various online spell checkers such as Reverso or Bon Patron, but the best way to check spelling is with a good dictionary such as WordReference.

4. Vocabulary

I learned about WordReference from one of my students a couple of years ago and now I always recommend it. The best thing about it is that it gives sample sentences. For example, without context, you might look up “occupation” and get “métier,” which is correct in the sense of “job,” but incorrect if you are talking about the German occupation of Paris in WWII (l’occupation allemande). Without sample sentences, you may end up being an apparatus with rotating blades (Je suis un grand ventilateur de sport.) instead of a sports fan.

5. Syntax

Word order is tough. There are some good chapters to help you brush up on syntax and grammar in What The French?!   It’s too much to do here in one blog post, but let me give you an important tip: don’t translate from English. Especially not with an online translator—they are really, really, bad. One of these days, I’ll do a post to show you just how bad. Automated translation aside, the danger of translating from English is that you will likely write sentences that are too complex. Write directly in French and keep it simple.

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p.s. Don’t write the paper at 2:14 a.m. as I am doing right now with this post. Who nose what mistakes you might make. (haha. groan. That’s just my disclaimer for all the lazy mistakes that you might find in this post)

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