to Write a Good Paper?
a good paper takes practice. If you read the criteria for evaluating papers,
you should have known that a good paper shares some important
characteristics. In writing you should try to demonstrate those
characteristics that will put your paper in a good category. I hope you will
read carefully my general guidelines for term papers and criteria for
evaluating papers when you write your papers. In addition, I would like to
provide some excerpts from Stephen Van Evera’s work for your reference.
Although these are just some very basic ideas, your paper should demonstrate
them in order to suggest that you know how to write a good paper.
Van Evera, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science
(Cornell University Press, 1997)
your paper with a short summary introduction. This summary
introduction should answer up to five (5) questions:
What question or questions do
these questions arise? From what literature or real-world events? Offer
background that clarifies your questions and puts them in context.
What answer or answers do you
offer? Summarize your bottom line in a few sentences. (or statement of
your position on this issue. This is your thesis)
you reach your answers? Say a few words about your sources and methods.
What comes next? Provide a roadmap
to the rest of the paper: "Section I explains how I began my life
of crime; Section II details my early arrests; Section III describes my
trip to death row; Section IV offers general theoretical conclusions and
policy implications." Something of that sort.
introductions of this sort help readers grasp your argument. They also help
you diagnose problems with your paper. A summary introduction can be hard to
write. A possible reason: gaps or contradictions in your arguments or
evidence, which summary exposes. Solution: rethink
and reorganize your paper.
their argument in their conclusion; however, a good summary introduction
often makes a full summary conclusion redundant. If so, recapitulate quickly
and then use your conclusion to explore the
implications of your argument. What policy prescriptions follow from
your analysis? What general arguments does it call into question, and which
does it reinforce? What further research projects does it suggest?
injunctions on argumentation should be kept in mind.
Use empirical evidence
– facts, numbers, history – to
support your argument. Purely deductive argument is sometimes
appropriate, but argument backed by evidence is always more persuasive.
Clearly frame the
general point(s) that your evidence supports. Don't
ask facts to speak for themselves. To summarize points 1 and 2:
to support your arguments and state the arguments
your evidence supports.
“Argue against yourself.”
After laying out your argument, acknowledge questions
or objections that a skeptical
reader might raise, and briefly address them. This shows readers that
you were thoughtful, thorough, and paid due regard to possible
objections or alternate interpretations. Often, of course, the skeptic
would have a good point, and you should grant it. Don’t claim too much
for your theories or evidence!
Use footnotes to
document all sources and statements of fact. On footnote and citation
format, consult and obey Kate L. Turabian, A
Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th
ed., rev. John Grossman and Alice Bennett (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1996), in paperback. You should own a copy.
writing is essential to clear thinking and effective communication. So bear
the following points in mind:
Your paper should make a single point or a handful of
related points and should follow a simple organization.
Avoid cluttering it with extra points. If you developed an argument that
later became ancillary as you rethought your paper, drop the argument
from the paper. This is painful ("I sweated hours on that
idea!") but extraneous argument drain power from your main
Break your paper into numbered sections
and subsections. More sections is better than fewer. Sections help
readers see the structure of your argument. Label sections with vivid
section headings that convey the main
message of the section.
I recommend the following structure for
Start each section with several sentences summarizing
the argument presented in the section. You may cut these summaries from
your final draft if they seem redundant with your summary introduction,
but you should include them in your first drafts to see how they look.
Writing such summaries is also a good way to force yourself to decide
what you are and are not doing in each section, and to force yourself to
confront contradictions or shortcomings in your argument. Often these
section summaries are best written after you write the section, but
don't forget to add them at some point.
Start each paragraph with a topic
sentence that distills the point of the paragraph.(fn.1) Later
sentences should offer supporting material that explains or elaborates
the point of the topic sentence. Qualifications or refutation to
counterarguments should then follow. In short, paragraphs should have
the same structure as whole sections. A reader should be able to grasp the
thrust of your argument by reading only the first couple of sentences of
Write short, declarative sentences. Avoid
the passive voice. (Passive voice: “The kulaks were murdered”
– but who did it?
Active voice: “Stalin murdered the kulaks.”)
Write from an outline.
Outlines are major aids to coherence and readability.
Write at a level appropriate
for college undergraduate readers –
i.e., smart readers without much background knowledge on your
topic. In fact your class papers will be read by teachers who probably
know something about your topic, but they want to see how you would lay
out your argument for folks who don't.
more advice on writing see William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The
Elements of Style, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1979), and Teresa
Pelton Johnson, "Writing for International Security: A Contributor's
Guide," International Security 16 (Fall 1991): 171-80.(fn.2)
you are doing a research paper, you might also consult Kate L. Turabian, A
Student's Guide to Writing College Papers, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1976), for advice. (fn. 3)
a friend or two to give your paper a look before you turn it in; and return
the favor for them when they have a paper under way. Two heads are better
than one, and giving and receiving comments are important skills.
care to turn in a neat, clean paper. Run your spellchecker. A messy-looking
paper suggests a messy mind.
to Learn More about How to Write Papers
articles you or others admire and imitate their better aspects.
The topic sentence can appear as the second sentence in a paragraph, but
should not appear later than that.
Other useful guides to writing include Claire Kehrwald Cook, Line by
Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985);
Frederick Crews, The Random House Handbook, 4th ed. (New York: Random
House, 1984); Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Other primers include Roberta H. Markman, Peter T. Markman, and Marie L.
Waddell, 10 Steps in Writing the Research Paper, 5th ed. (New York:
Barron's, 1989); Michael Meyer, The Little, Brown Guide to Writing
Research Papers (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982); Audrey Roth, The
Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content, 7th ed. (Belmont, Calif;
Wadsworth, 1995); Ellen Strenski and Madge Manfred, The Research Paper
Workbook, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1992); Harry Teitelbaum, How to
Write A Thesis: A Guide to the Research Paper, 3rd ed. (New York:
Macmillan, 1994); Stephen Weidenborner and Domenick Caruso, Writing
Research Papers: A Guide to the Process, 5th ed. (New York: St. Martin's
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