The Dalhousie University Writing Centre Writing a Research Paper Linda Macdonald, PhD
Overview Introduction to the Writing Centre The Elements of a Good Paper Key Features of Academic Writing The Writing Process Referencing Additional Resources
The Dalhousie Writing CentreContact 494-1963 or firstname.lastname@example.org All students, regardless of year of study or writing experience, are welcome at the centre. We can help with
any piece of writing (essays, lab reports, proposals, etc.);
any phase of the writing process (brainstorming, developing thesis statements, crafting the final draft, revising);
organization and structure of your writing;
Appointments are 30 or 60 minutes.
You will be asked to bring a hard copy of your writing.
You will be asked to describe your assignment and identify the aspect of your writing you would like to address.
The tutor will provide feedback and offer suggestions for improvement (but will not edit) and may refer you to other writing resources or university services.
Assessing Your Current Knowledge … In terms of writing research papers: Do you understand this kind of document’s purpose and structure? What do you have difficulty with?
Key Features of Academic Writing Several key features distinguish academic writing. These features, adapted from Gillet (2011), include Accuracy– Vocabulary, facts, and figures are used accurately and are consistent with the standards of your field. Explicitness– The relationship between ideas is clarified through the use of signaling words and transitions. Complexity– Academic writing incorporates language particular to your audience and field and addresses more intricate issues than other types of texts. Formality– Academic writing should be free of contractions, slang, and abbreviations. Responsibility– You are responsible for the claims you make and for understanding the sources from which you draw. You are also responsible to the people whose work you draw on to make your claims. This responsibility is reflected in proper in-text citations and proper reference list form. Objectivity-- The emphasis of the writing is on the information you are conveying or the argument you are making rather than on you.
The Writing Process Steps in the writing process 1. Plan the paper (understand the assignment, time management). 2. Decide on a topic. 3. Make an outline. 4. Research the topic. 5. Repeat 3 & 4 as necessary. 6. Draft the paper. 7. Revise (re-seeing the whole paper, checking surface issues, referencing, and seeing a writing tutor).
Understanding the Assignment The type of academic paper you write will inform both the content and form of your work.
Carefully read the assignment criteria and ask for clarification if necessary. Clarify due date, length, scope, format, and style.
Break the assignment into manageable parts and estimate how much time it would take to complete each part. Allow plenty of time for the revision stage.
Use the assignment calculator feature available through the library: http://www.library.dal.ca/assignment/calculator/
Choosing a topic
Brainstorm on the topic
Determine the point of view
Categorize the ideas (handout)
Understand the characteristics of the individual parts
Understand the relationships among the individual pieces
Organize these into groups according to the relationships
Establish an overall picture of how these groups relate to each other
Identify the type of resources available
The Thesis Statement The thesis statement offers the point of argument or purpose. The thesis statement must be arguable. It is not simply an observation; it is not a question; it is not simply an announcement of the topic. For example, I think that universal health care is important. (This statement is a statement of opinion and it can not, therefore, be argued.) Currently there is no federally funded universal health care program that includes subsidized day care. (This statement is a fact and is therefore not arguable. It may, however, be the problem; the proposed solution would be the thesis.) To redress inequality between men and women, the federal government should develop and implement a universal health care program that includes subsidized day care. (This statement can be debated and is, therefore, an appropriate thesis statement.)
Using Secondary Sources Some papers require you to use secondary source material as evidence for your assertions in the course of your discussion. Other papers require a literature review, which provides an analytical synthesis of key issues and themes on a topic.
The Use of Secondary Sources as Evidence The use of secondary sources enables us to provide evidence of our assertions. They do not speak FOR the writer; instead, they provide support for the writer’s claims.
Indicate clearly the distinction between your claims and those of the source:
Although Smith (2009) asserts that greed is the key motivator of this character, the second chapter indicates that other motivating factors are at work. Air New Zealand implements effective advertising techniques by incorporating symbols of national identity. As Jones (2005) asserts, consumer identification influences purchasing habits.
The Use of Secondary Sources as Evidence
Use direct quotations sparingly and for effect and only when you can not say something better yourself.
Bird (2011) refers to this solution as “insensitive” to native cultures (p. 2).
Literature Reviews Literature reviews are not summaries; rather, literature reviews offer an overview of the themes, approaches, perspectives, and conclusions of the literature on a subject. A literature review enables us to
demonstrate familiarity with an area of study;
participate in the ongoing academic dialogue;
establish the relationships between ideas;
identify points of tension in the academic dialogue;
identify gaps in current knowledge;
establish the need for further research.
Literature Reviews A literature review should include the following elements: An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review; Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely); Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others; Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research. (http://library.ucsc.edu/help/howto/write-a-literature-review)
Steps in Creating a Literature Review 1. Define your topic and create a thesis statement. 2. Identify your sources. 3. For each of your books and/or articles, take note of the Keywords/concepts (how is the subject described), Themes (what is the author saying about the subject), Approaches (method of research), Perspectives (the theory used to understand the subject), Findings/conclusions (results of the research).
Steps in Creating a Literature Review 4. Consider how your sources relate to each other and to your thesis. Look for similarities, identify differences, and note omissions. 5. Structure your literature review around the themes that emerge rather than the individual sources (synthesize the material). Three themes emerge from the literature. These themes include…
Steps in Creating a Literature Review 6. Clearly express similarities and differences by incorporating synthesizing phrases. UnlikeSmith (2003), Jones (2005) suggests that poverty is a result of systemic failures related to the uneven distribution of wealth. Althoughtheir perspectives differ, Stone (1998) and Goldberg (2006) conclude that poverty is best redressed through increasing minimum wage. Both Morse (1998) and Stone (1998) attribute poverty to personal short-comings of individuals.
The Elements of a Good Paper The introduction must accomplish three tasks. It must show the reader that there is a problem or explain the context for an issue; state the thesis (point of argument or purpose) and emphasize the implications of this claim; and state your intended route or "roadmap“ (the elements of your analysis in the order you develop them). The body paragraphs develop and support your thesis. Each paragraph has a specific purpose in developing the thesis, a purpose that is presented in the topic sentence, offers evidence from primary and/or secondary sources; fits logically within the flow of the argument. The conclusion reaffirms your paper’s position; draws together the main points; emphasizes the implications of your analysis and findings, making clear your contribution to our understanding of the topic.
Good body paragraphs are explicitly linked to one another and to the thesis.
Each paragraph should offer an idea or point that supports your thesis.
Each paragraph should contain one central idea (expressed in the topic sentence) and multiple elements (description, factual details, and analysis) to support the central theme of the paragraph and the thesis statement.
Each paragraph should flow logically from the preceding paragraph.
The relationship between the elements that make up the paragraph should be explicit.
Sentences should flow logically.
Transitional words and phrases should be used.
Transitions Transitions establish the logical connections between ideas, create smooth flow, and reinforce the organizational structure. Transition words and phrases
link paragraphs to the thesis statement
Dalhousie should also resist the pressure to create more parking areas because greater availability will lead to increases in traffic.
continue an idea or emphasize similarity (additionally, also, and, because, furthermore, in the same way, then, therefore)
Smith (2005) furtheraddresses the effect of weather on classroom behaviour.
indicate a point of contrast (but, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, yet);
The argument made by Bird(2008) for changes in immigration assistance aresimilar to Smith’s (2009); however, Smith offers a much more convincing argument by drawing on the direct experiences of immigrants.
summarize (finally, lastly)
create links in a chain of points (first, second, third; first, furthermore, finally; basically, similarly, as well; generally, however, therefore)
establish order sequentially or chronologically (after, at first, before, finallyfirst...second...third, later, meanwhile, next, then)
In order to better understand this occurrence, the historical context must first be addressed. Before addressing the key issues, it is necessary to define… For lists of transition words and their uses, seehttp://www.sass.uottawa.ca/writing/kit/grammar-transitional.pdf
Revision Look at what you have written from the perspective of someone reading it for the first time and answering the following questions: What is the occasion for writing or the problem the paper seeks to address? What sentence contains the thesis? What sentence(s) in the introduction indicates the projected organization? How is the essay organized? Are transitions in place throughout the paper to facilitate the flow of the argument? Is the information from secondary sources synthesized and effectively used to develop the paper’s thesis? (Conversely, are the sources allowed to dominate the discussion and minimize the author’s voice?) Are there errors in the paper that inhibit the flow of the argument or limit the effectiveness of the content? Does each paragraph, each sentence, each word have a clear purpose? Does the conclusion effectively summarize the key findings, reaffirm the thesis, and emphasize the implications?
Referencing Use of secondary sources with proper citations and referencing demonstrates academic integrity and successful engagement in the profession. Use proper author/date in-text citation with page numbers for direct quotations. Use the style manual (APA, MLA, or Chicago, for example) appropriate for your course.
References and Additional Resources Gillet, A. (2011). Features of academic writing. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from www.uefap.com/writing/feature/intro.htm Purdue Online Writing Lab. (2011). Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue/owl/ Taylor, D. (n.d.). The literature review: A few tips on conducting it. Retrieved from www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review Transition words. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sass.uottawa.ca/writing/kit/grammar-transitional.pdf Write a literature review. (2011). Retrieved from http://library.ucsc.edu/help/howto/write-a-literature-review