Guidelines for writing scholarly paper by Sohail Ahmed
Guidelines for Writing Scholarly Papers
Writing, even just a brief essay, is one of the most difficult tasks that you will face in
college. It comes more naturally to some than to others, but it is almost never easy. And
like everything else, writing clearly and effectively requires practice. This handout seeks to
address the basics of writing, but there is no substitute for actually sitting down and
putting your thoughts on paper in logical and coherent form.
Scholarly writing has its own set of rules and conventions that are different from those of
creative or technical writing. Written work in this class will be expected to conform to
these standards, the most important of which are outlined below.
What is the purpose of the scholarly paper?
It’s a way to help you synthesize your ideas and clarify your thinking about important
issues in the field in relation to those of other scholars.
What does a scholarly paper contain?
For the purposes of fulfilling the requirements of the Master’s degree, your professor will
assign requirements for the paper. At a minimum, it should contain the following parts:
Title page – follows APA format: paper title, your name, date, name of responsible
Abstract – 100-150 words, provides a brief overview of the purpose and major
claims of the paper;
Introduction – provides background as to why the topic of the paper is important
and states the key question or theme that the paper deals with;
Review of relevant literature – this is the body of the paper. It explores several
important ideas that scholars have raised in response to the key question or theme
you have outlined in your introduction. Each of these ideas needs to be elaborated
upon and synthesized, meaning that you must relate the scholars’ ideas to each
other, explaining what they have in common and how they differ. It is also important
to include examples, which may come from the research literature or from your own
experience. Remember to cite (following APA format) every author whose ideas you
Conclusion – reiterates the main points raised in the body of the paper, drawing
conclusions in response to the key question or theme of your introduction. It may
also describe implications for practice or future scholarly research.
Reference list – follows APA format and provides citation information for each of
the sources mentioned in the paper.
Style Sheet for Student Papers
General Format: Papers shall be typed, on 8 ½ by 11 inch white paper, double-spaced, 12
point type, with 1 inch margins all around. Pages are to be numbered sequentially in the
lower right corner. The paper should be stapled once, in the upper-left corner.
Title Page: Unless instructed differently, do not use a title page. Put your name, date, class
and instructor’s name in the upper-left corner of the first page; the title of the paper is to be
centered below this, with the text of the paper following.
Quotations: Place quotations of two lines or fewer into the text, beginning and ending
with quotation marks. Place quotations of 3 lines or more in block format, without
quotations marks, as follows:
Hazrat Ali (R.A) said: “Meet people in such a manner that if you die they should weep for
you and if you live they should long for you.”
“A companion during his sickness: Allah may make your illness a means for writing off your
sins, because there is no reward for sickness but it erases sins and makes them fall like
(dried) leaves: Reward lies in saying by tongue and doing something with hands and feet.
Certainly Allah, the Glorified admits into Paradise by virtue of truthfulness of intention and
chastity of heart, whomever He wishes from among His people”.
The introductory paragraph should engage the reader’s interest by setting out clearly the
question that the paper is attempting to address, how you plan to address it, and why it is
worth addressing in the first place. Often it is wise to begin with a brief story or anecdote,
or a particularly powerful statistic, or an appropriate quotation. The key here is to make
the reader want to keep reading.
The thesis statement is a summation of your main point; this should generally appear at the
end of the introductory paragraph. Before writing, try phrasing your thesis as a simple
assertion (“The planet is running out of manganese”), and then develop it as you write by
being as specific (and, indeed, as provocative) as you can: “Thanks to over-mining by
Pakistan corporations, there is a very real possibility that the next generation will be forced
to live in a world without manganese.”
You should then provide background information, basic material about the subject, to
provide context for the reader. Continuing the above example, you would want to say
something about what manganese is and what it is used for. Depending on the amount of
background you think is necessary, you might want to include this in the introductory
paragraph; for longer essays a separate paragraph (or more) may be required.
The real “essence” of your paper will be the actual points of discussion. These will be a
series of paragraphs that support your thesis statement, with each point occupying one or
two paragraphs, depending on the essay’s overall length. In this case, one might showcase
statistics on how much manganese there is left in the world; another could contain
statistics on how quickly the manganese supply is being depleted. The actual number of
points, of course, depends on how much you have to say.
One of the hallmarks of good writing is the ability to move back and forth smoothly
between general statements and concrete details. Each paragraph should start with a
generalization—sort of a minute thesis statement. The rest of the paragraph should
provide specifics to back it up; these might include reasons (Corporations have been overmining manganese because….), or statistics (In the past twenty-five years more than 20
million tons of manganese have been taken from the earth.). Always remember, however,
that every sentence in any given paragraph should be devoted to making one individual
point, and nothing else.
The concluding paragraph should flow logically from the rest of the essay, but it should be
more than simply a restatement of what you have done. For a paper of more than three or
four pages, you might want briefly to summarize your main points. The concluding
paragraph might also offer some guidance for action (The time has come to stop the
rampant depletion of the manganese supply….).
Things to Avoid:
Contractions: Words like “didn’t,” “couldn’t,” and “wouldn’t” should not appear in
scholarly writing. Instead use the full words. Apostrophes should only be used to indicate
possession (for example, Sohail’s presidency).
Passive Voice: “Sahil chopped down the cherry tree” sounds a lot better than “The cherry
tree was chopped down by Sahil Ahmed.” The former is simple and straightforward; the
latter is wordy and clumsy. Occasionally you will have no choice but to use passive—for
instance, when the subject of the sentence is unknown—but in most cases you should use
the active voice.
First or Second Person: In scholarly writing, the author is assumed to have “distance”
from his or her subject. You should therefore write as an outside observer, not a
participant, and you should treat the reader in the same way. This means that pronouns
such as “I,” “we,” or “you” are inappropriate. Note that this document is not an example of
good scholarly writing (it is, rather, a piece of technical writing).
Incomplete Sentences: Every sentence must have a subject and a verb, unless it is part of
a direct quote. There are no other exceptions to this rule.
Slang: In conversational English it is perfectly acceptable to use phrases such as “bumped
off” to describe a killing, or “laid back” to describe someone with a relaxed attitude toward
life. However, such language has no place in scholarly writing (unless it is part of a direct
quote). In general, try to imagine how a reader one hundred years from now would react
to your words. What would your reaction be to a paper that referred to something as the
“bee’s knees” (an expression that was in vogue one hundred years ago)?
Dumb Mistakes: College students ought to know better than to confuse “its” with “it’s,”
“there” with “they’re” or “their,” and “who’s” with “whose.” At the college level students
should know that subjects must agree in number with verbs, and pronouns with their
backgrounds; for example, “Each of them had their own ideas” is wrong. “Each of them had
his [or her] own ideas” is correct. Errors like this will cause the reader to question the
basic intellectual capacity of the author.
Things to Do:
Use Proper Style for Notes and Bibliographies: Whether you use footnotes or endnotes,
make sure they, as well as your bibliography, conform to the proper style.
Pay Attention to Tense: By definition, historical events are things which happened in the
past; therefore it only makes good sense to use the past tense when discussing them. The
only exception to this rule comes when you are referring to a primary source of some kind,
such as an important document, a book, or a piece of art. For example, you would write,
“The Declaration of Independence states that ‘all men are created equal.’”
Proofread: If there is one rule that every writer (scholarly or otherwise) will agree on, it is
that the first draft is never the last. Go back over what you have written again and again,
until you are completely satisfied with the result. Ask yourself some hard questions: Is my
introductory paragraph sufficiently enticing to the reader? Are all of my statements (and
particularly my thesis statement) clear and easily understood? Have I given the reader
enough background to understand my argument? Do all of my points of discussion back up
what I said in the thesis statement? Does my concluding paragraph follow logically from
the rest of the essay?
Also, be sure to check spelling, grammar, and usage. Spell-check is a handy feature, but it
will only get you so far. Matters like subject-verb agreement and word choice may sound
petty, but they are vitally important. Sloppiness in this regard will suggest to your
reader—even if it is only your instructor—that you have not taken your subject
seriously. And if that is the case, why bother to read your work at all?
Gilderhus, Mark T. History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction. 4th ed. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.
Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford / St.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.