Once you have an idea of what you want to say, and have some grasp of what others have said, you need to make your ideas more concrete by coming up with a thesis sentence s. A thesis indicates the main argument of your paper.
The point of any class paper is to persuade your reader that you have something to say that he or she should care about. A good thesis should be debatable, specific, and concise. The following is not a good thesis:.
While it is concise and somewhat specific, this thesis is not really debatable. This thesis is debatable, it is specific, and it is reasonably concise. It takes one side of a possibly refutable argument. One can imagine someone arguing that the history of the USSR indicates the problems of political totalitarianism and says nothing about economic planning.
The basis for your supporting arguments should be the material that has been covered in class and in the readings, and, if required, from outside sources. The whole reason to take a course is to discover a framework for analyzing new phenomena whether natural, social, literary, or artistic , and formal papers are an opportunity to demonstrate that you have learned enough to do such an analysis. It is also crucial to remember to put your thesis up front.
This is what you should be doing during the entire paper. The purpose of course papers is to give the instructor your informed opinion on your topic. Your thesis is a guide to the view you will present in the rest of the paper. Put it up front and stick to it. Think of yourself as a lawyer and think of defending a thesis as being like trying to convict a defendant, and think of the professor as the judge, not the jury.
This means thinking of your sources as evidence. This works in both directions. Sources that back up your argument are great because you can quote or cite them to build up your evidence, like eyewitnesses to a crime.
Sources that contradict what you have to say are important as well because you must present arguments for why you believe that contradictory arguments are incorrect or incomplete. If you found a source that argued that the history of the USSR teaches us nothing about the feasibility of economic planning, then you would have to try to refute it or explain its incompleteness.
If the defendant has an alibi, you have to show that he is lying or that even the alibi cannot get him off the hook. Introductions are just that. They allow you to introduce your argument to your reader and vice versa. They also try to convince the reader why he should care about what you have to say.
Start with something interesting and sufficiently general, and then draw your reader in by applying that general idea to the topic at hand. Introductions should be general but not too general. A bad introductory sentence is:. You want your intro to say something reasonably specific about your subject, like:. See how that really addresses something of substance? You could go on from there to talk about the nature of exploitation, how he defines capitalism and then conclude it with a thesis that explains why he thought capitalism causes exploitation.
Conclusions are also just that: Would a prosecuting attorney end a closing statement this way: Conclude by telling your reader what conclusions one could draw from your paper. Provide her with a moral of the story. The idea behind citation is simple: As a writer, you have the right to articulate your own ideas and opinions, as well as the right to draw upon the work of those who have come before you.
With those rights comes the responsibility to both inform your reader of which ideas are yours and which are not and to give credit to others when you make use of their work. This is your way of showing others that you have both done your research and understand the importance of your sources in developing your own arguments. My preference on style is that you use in-text citations with a bibliography at the end, i.
To give a citation, use the name s of the author s , the date of the specific text and page number s. Unless you are citing the argument of a whole book or article, you must indicate the pages where the specific thing you mention is discussed. It also shows your reader and me that you actually read the text in question.
If you are using an idea that pervades the whole source, then you can leave it without a page number. Just make sure there are no exact quotes or close paraphrases of specific pages. You must provide an in-text not just a listing in the bibliography citation, including a page number, when you paraphrase or quote an author word for word. You must provide an in-text citation when you use statistics that you obtained from a source. These are the unbreakable rules. If you break them you are guilty of plagiarism.
I take academic dishonesty very seriously. You should always introduce a quote, rather than just sticking it in the middle of a paragraph identified only by the citation. Also, quotes should never be placed back-to-back without any text in between. To write either of the previous sentences and not give a citation is not acceptable. Again you have the right to use whatever sources you see fit, but with that right comes the responsibility to inform your reader where and how you obtained your information.
That is the purpose of a citation. When you use ideas or information or statistics, giving an in-text citation is just like calling specific witnesses.
You need to do this to make your case. This is equally true if you try to use the ideas more generally:. To leave that sentence without citation is also not acceptable. Therefore you must indicate where it came from.
In reality, knowing when to cite is as much an acquired skill as anything else. There are a few unbreakable rules, such as citing a direct quote or a paraphrase or statistics. Beyond that, use your judgment. It is always better to cite too much than too little. To continue the metaphor: And witnesses for the other side must be cross-examined!
In choosing to use this citation style, you are required to create a bibliography at the end of the paper which includes all of the material you have cited within the text. If you got ideas from it then you better cite it. If you are familiar with official APA citation style, please use it. At the very least, bibliographic style should look like the following examples:. University of Notre Dame Press, However, do be careful how you cite articles in edited volumes.
The editor s of the book i. Usually the editor s have only one or two of them at most. You must cite each article separately by the name of the author s of each article. Check to make sure you are clear on whose article or chapter is whose. Also make sure you underline or italicize pick one and stick with it the book title and put the article or chapter title in quotes.
For more examples of bibliography formatting, and the relevant information on the course readings, consult the syllabus.
Nor has she told you what the paper should look like. Should it summarize one of the theories of self? Should it compare two or more theories? Should it place these theories into some historical context? Should it take issue with these theories, pointing out their limitations? At this juncture, you have two options: In other words, is your professor looking for information or argument? As you think about a topic, ask yourself the following questions:.
When writing an academic paper, you must not only consider what you want to say, you must also consider to whom you are saying it. To whom are you writing, and for what purpose? When you begin to answer all of these questions, you have started to reckon with what has been called "the rhetorical stance. When you write a paper, you take a stand on a topic. You determine whether you are for or against, passionate or cool-headed.
You determine whether you are going to view this topic through a particular perspective feminist, for example , or whether you are going to make a more general response. You also determine whether you are going to analyze your topic through the lens of a particular discipline - history, for example. Your stance on the topic depends on the many decisions you have made in the reading and thinking processes.
In order to make sure that your stance on a topic is appropriately analytical, you might want to ask yourself some questions. Why did you find some elements of the text more important than others? Does this prioritizing reflect some bias or preconception on your part? If you dismissed part of a text as boring or unimportant, why did you do so? Do you have personal issues or experiences that lead you to be impatient with certain claims?
Is there any part of your response to the text that might cause your reader to discount your paper as biased or un-critical? If so, you might want to reconsider your position on your topic. Your position on a topic does not by itself determine your rhetorical stance. You must also consider your reader. In the college classroom, the audience is usually the professor or your classmates - although occasionally your professor will instruct you to write for a more particular or more general audience.
No matter who your reader is, you will want to consider him carefully before you start to write. What do you know about your reader and his stance towards your topic? What is he likely to know about the topic? What biases is he likely to have? Moreover, what effect do you hope to have on the reader? Is your aim to be controversial? Will the reader appreciate or resent your intention? Once you have determined who your reader is, you will want to consider how you might best reach him.
In any case, when you are deciding on a rhetorical stance, choose one that allows you to be sincere. What if you are of two minds on a subject? Declare that to the reader. Make ambivalence your clear rhetorical stance. Though some professors find it flattering to discover that all of their students share their positions on a subject, most of us are hoping that your argument will engage us by telling us something new about your topic - even if that "something new" is simply a fresh emphasis on a minor detail.
Do you really want that to happen? In high school you might have been taught various strategies for structuring your papers. Others of you might have been told that the best structure for a paper is the hour-glass model, in which you begin with a general statement, make observations that are increasingly specific, and then conclude with a statement that is once again general. When you are writing papers in college, you will require structures that will support ideas that are more complex than the ones you considered in high school.
Your professors might offer you several models for structuring your paper. They might tell you to order your information chronologically or spatially, depending on whether you are writing a paper for a history class or a course in art history. Or they may provide you with different models for argument: No prefab model exists that will provide adequate structure for the academic argument.
For more detailed advice on various ways to structure your paper, see Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. When creating an informed argument, you will want to rely on several organizational strategies, but you will want to keep some general advice in mind. Your introduction should accomplish two things: Often writers will do the latter before they do the former.
That is, they will begin by summarizing what other scholars have said about their topic, and then they will declare what they are adding to the conversation. Even when your paper is not a research paper you will be expected to introduce your argument as if into a larger conversation. For more specific advice on writing a good introduction, see Introductions and Conclusions. Probably you were taught in high school that every paper must have a declared thesis, and that this sentence should appear at the end of the introduction.
While this advice is sound, a thesis is sometimes implied rather than declared in a text, and it can appear almost anywhere - if the writer is skillful. Because your thesis is arguably the most important sentence in your paper, you will want to read more about it in Developing Your Thesis. Because every thesis presents an arguable point, you as a writer are obligated to acknowledge in your paper the other side s of an argument.
Consider what your opponents might say against your argument. Then determine where and how you want to deal with the opposition. Do you want to dismiss the opposition in the first paragraph? Do you want to list each opposing argument and rebut them one by one? Your decisions will determine how you structure your paper. Every convincing argument must have support. A topic sentence or claim is like a thesis sentence - except that instead of announcing the argument of the entire paper, it announces the argument of that particular paragraph.
The topic sentence is more flexible than the thesis in that it can more readily appear in different places within the paragraph. Most often, however, it appears at or near the beginning.
For more information on structuring paragraphs, see Writing: Writing a good conclusion is difficult. You will want to sum up, but you will want to do more than say what you have already said. You will want to leave the reader with something to think about, but you will want to avoid preaching. You might want to point to a new idea or question, but you risk confusing the reader by introducing something that he finds irrelevant.
Writing conclusions is, in part, a matter of finding the proper balance. For more instruction on how to write a good conclusion, see Introductions and Conclusions. You need to be analytical. You need to create an informed argument. You need to consider your relationship to your topic and to your reader. But what about the matter of finding an appropriate academic tone and style? The tone and style of academic writing might at first seem intimidating.
Professors want students to write clearly and intelligently on matters that they, the students, care about. The tone of an academic paper, then, must be inviting to the reader, even while it maintains an appropriate academic style. Understand that you are writing to a person who is delighted when you make your point clearly, concisely, and persuasively. In short, then, good academic writing follows the rules of good writing. But before you do, consider some of the following tips, designed to make the process of writing an academic paper go more smoothly:.
Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Learn more about our research. What is an Academic Paper? So how does a student make a successful transition from high school to college?
When you sit down to write an academic paper, ask yourself these questions: What do I know about my topic? Can I answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how? What do I know about the context of my topic? What historical or cultural influences do I know about that might be important to my topic? Does my topic belong to any particular genre or category of topics? What do I know about this genre? What seems important to me about this topic? If I were to summarize what I know about this topic, what points would I focus on?
What points seem less important? Why do I think so? How does this topic relate to other things that I know? What do I know about the topic that might help my reader to understand it in new ways? What do I need to know?
How can I find out more? How does one move from personal response to analytical writing? Choosing An Appropriate Topic Many students writing in college have trouble figuring out what constitutes an appropriate topic.
The first thing that you'll need to understand is that writing in college is for the most part a particular kind of writing, called "academic writing.". While academic writing might be defined in many ways, there are three concepts that you need to understand before you write your first academic paper.
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