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Richard Welsh Library 2.0: How to Write an Academic Paper

How to Write an Academic Paper

This guide walks you the many steps of writing an academic paper. These include planning out your paper, selecting your topic, developing your thesis, writing an outline, finding your voice, and developing your writing style. 

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Need help with Writing?

Contact the Director of the Center for Academic and Student Success (AKA: The Center)

 

 Email Allison Riley

Phone: 619-684-8765

Office Location: M-205


 

Helpful Links:

 

APA Citation Help

Guides you through using APA Citation styles in your format, in-text citations, and list of references.

 

How to Research

An overview of the research process complete with researching resources and search strategies.

 

Start Your Search

Our "Research" page. Find articles, books, and more.


How to Avoid Plagiarism

13 - avoiding plagiarism from Joshua Vossler on Vimeo.

A concise explanation of how to ethically use other people's words through summary, paraphrase, and quotations.


 

How to use someone else's work:

Direct Quotations

Directly quoting your source is the simplest way to incorporate other's ideas into your paper. However, too many direct quotes won't leave room to develop your own ideas. So use direct quotes sparingly and always comment on quotes when you do use them. Do not use a direct quote at the beginning or end of a paragraph, and avoid ending your paper with a quote. The last sentence of your paper should be your idea. 

 

Summary

Summarizing is a good way to include an idea in your paper that may have taken your source's author several pages to explain.

 

Paraphrase

Indirect quoting, or paraphrasing is a sophisticated way to include other's ideas in your paper.  Paraphrasing is a good alternative when you feel your paper has too many direct quotes, or you prefer your own phrasing over that of the author. Paraphrase Examples

 

**Paraphrasing and summarizing are tricky. The best way to indirectly quote is to read a passage, set it aside, and then rephrase it in your own words. Go back and check the original text. If it is too similar, try paraphrasing your first attempt to be sure it is not a direct quote.

** Don't forget to include in-text citations with ALL of the above styles.


 

Have a Plan

Have a Plan

Research paper assignments are often given weeks--even months--in advance, making them easy to put aside while you focus on more pressing deadlines. Eventually, you can no longer put it off and are up until four in the morning trying to pull it together. You can do a lot to alleviate the stress of procrastination by doing little bits over an extended period of time. It's a good idea to make a plan with specific deadlines at the very beginning of the process. This check list can help:

1. Look carefully at the assignment. What are the specific requirements and constraints? Start to consider what you might like to write about. Thinking about your paper is the first step!

2. Decide on a topic. If you are unsure that the topic you are interested in fits the assignment, ask your professor.

3. Begin investigating your topic by checking out books, finding scholarly articles in databases, and browsing websites.

4. Use concept mapping to connect the information you have gathered from your various sources.

5. Draft your thesis statement. Be sure to revisit and revise your statement throughout the process. 

6. Create an outline of your structure.

7. Organize the content you would like to use for quotes and paraphrases that support your thesis.

8. Collect your citations and write your references page. You can add or subtract as you go, but a rough draft helps you stay organized while you write.

9. Begin writing! Once you have a rough draft, you will know if you need to find more research to support your ideas.

10. Edit, revise, and finish it up. You now have your final draft!


Selecting Your Topic

Choosing a topic is the first step. For instance, if you are writing about the work of a contemporary architect, you need to choose a subject. For this exercise let's choose Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Formulate a simple research question to begin:  

Who is Tadao Ando?

Start with superficial research using open web sources. Maybe you can find a basic biography, or view some documentary footage on YouTube. Use the information to refine your question and begin developing a thesis statement. Note down some key words that can be used for deeper searching. From here, you need to find scholarly resources. Our How to Research page walks you through the search process.


Develop Your Thesis

Once you have read around your subject, you are ready to develop a thesis statement. Purdue Owl has some great Tips for Creating a Thesis. Here is one example:

“The architecture of Tadao Ando can be viewed as a modern interpretation of Japanese traditions. However, some elements of his work are unique and inspired by other cultures.”

Write an Outline

If you follow the three point structure for your papers (even if you have five points, the same structure will serve you well), you can begin to build your arguments, ideas, and point of view within a format that helps to clarify your perspective and make your work accessible. Every art form has constraints--whether it is setting up a shot, performing on a stage, or composing to the size of a canvas--academic writing does as well. This does not limit your ability to be creative, rather it gives you a defined space in which to create.

   

I. Introduction

  1. Hook (grab your reader with your first sentence)
  2. Introduce your topic/subject
  3. State your thesis (try to refer to the three points you will use to support it)
  4. Transition sentence (if necessary)

 

II. Body of Evidence

  • First Point (original idea or argument)
  1. Topic sentence (first point that supports your primary thesis--kind of like a supporting thesis)
  2. Research to support your claim using a quote or paraphrase
  3. Comment on relevance of research
  4. Transition to next paragraph
    1. *Topic Sentence (in support of your first point, you may have several paragraphs that support each point and each will need a topic sentence)
    2. Research to support your claim, possibly using a quote or paraphrase for support
    3. Comment on the relevance of research
    4. Transition to the next paragraph
  • Second Point (original idea or argument)
  • Third Point (continue as needed)

 

III. Conclusion

  1. Transition Hook (broaden the scope from your last argument into your conclusion)
  2. Paraphrase your thesis statement
  3. Summarize your argument
  4. Conclude with an original idea, not a quote or paraphrase.

* For some papers you will need more than one paragraph to support each point/ idea/ argument. Keep the structure the same, and remember to have a topic sentence at the beginning and a transition sentence at the end of each paragraph.


Finding Your Voice

Writing academic papers can be confusing. It often feels like you are being asked to do contrary things:

  • Come up with an original idea (thesis) but rely on what has already been written.
  •  Use the opinions of experts while using your own arguments.
  • Cite your sources and also be a source of new information.
  • Improve your writing while retaining a "voice" rather than adopting the voice of the scholars you are reading.

 

 In the end what you choose to write is your decision. No matter the topic: Write in a way that interests you.

  • Explain what you think about the topic (and why).
  • Express your thoughts in your own words. Writing is a creative activity, even when it includes research.
  • You still get to make choices about content, structure, and have opinions.
  • If you approach research and scholarship with the mind of a designer, you develop critical thinking and communication skills. 

Developing Your Writing Style

Developing a writing style is important. Who you are writing for and why you are writing should inform your style for the assignment. Ask yourself:

  • Who is your audience? Are they going to trust what you write?
  • Will your audience want to continue reading what you write? 
  • What is your purpose? Writing can be used for many things, such as arguing, informing, and entertaining. Be clear about what you want to do. 

Academic and scholarly writers often mistake a dry delivery and complex language for intelligence. Your writing does not need to be complicated in order for you to present as intelligent and knowledgeable. In fact, clear and simple writing is often more effective. Here are some simple do's and don'ts to consider when writing academic papers:

  • DO consider your audience. Will your audience understand the vocabulary associated with your subject? If not, take the time to explain it.  
  • DON'T use slang (e.g., psyched, wicked, cool), text abbreviations (e.g., lol, brb), contractions (e.g., hasn't, it's), or clichés (commonly used phrases such as "what comes around goes around" and "the writing is on the wall")
  • DO remain objective. Even though you may be writing in support of or against an idea or topic, you will want to present your case without being overly emotional: use facts not feelings. 
  • DON'T use second person pronouns (you) and make an effort to avoid first person (I, me, we, us) unless you are presenting your own data. Try to present your information in the third person (they, them, he, she, one, it etc.). 
  • DO use concise, clear language. Avoid being overly poetic. This can be difficult when writing about design as we often romanticize our subjects. Too much flowery language can confuse your reader. Decide what you really want to say and edit your sentence as you would your design: Less is More. 

The pages associated with this Research and Writing guide have been informed by the following sources:

Association of College and Research Libraries (2014).Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. American Library Association. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (2012). APA Formatting and Style Guide. Purdue University. Retrieved from: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Walden Online Writing Center. (2014). Writing Resources. Walden University. Retrieved from: http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/home

Content is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence

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