Graduate Student Seminar: Writing an Academic Paper


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Graduate Student Seminar: Writing an Academic Paper

  1. 1. Researching An Academic Paper stockphotos.itKrista J. Patriquin, PhD candidate & writing tutor Dalhousie University
  2. 2. Getting to know you…• Previous writing experience (lab reports, English essays, literature reviews, research projects?)• Field of study• Stage of thesis (just starting, data collection, analysis, writing?)
  3. 3. Choosing a topic• Do you have a topic already given by supervisors?• Do you have a general area of interest but no specific topic yet?• What makes a good topic?
  4. 4. Finding information• Reliable sources (depends on discipline) – Peer-reviewed articles – Reference books – Government records – Case studies – Technical reports WIKIPEDIA IS NOT A SUITABLE SOURCE!• Where to look – Subject guides – Library databases – e.g., Web of Science, Novanet – On-line open source – e.g., try Google Scholar• Ask library staff for help!
  5. 5. Finding information – cont’d• Search terms Be specific – HINT: use “and” to combine terms• If too many papers – check relevance (more on this later)• If of interest but not directly relevant, put aside for later• If too few – consider looking for papers on similar topic but in different systems(e.g., organisms, locations, populations, concepts)
  6. 6. Go through process live:Someone suggest a topic…
  7. 7. Finding information – cont’d• Try to begin with review papers• Filter information for relevance by – Title – Keywords – Abstract – Introduction – Discussion – Methods/Results – If lit. review, look at table of contents* Some fields may start with methods/results• BEWARE sidetracks!!
  8. 8. Refining your topic/ Formulating a thesis• Read over sources• Ask questions like – What is known about the topic? – What are the gaps on the topic? – What has been proposed as ‘future directions’? – How can existing studies be improved? – Can similar ideas be explored from a different perspective, different focus group, etc?• Come up with a specific question of interest – Ask: Do I want to analyze, explain, or take a position on a topic? – Ask: “How” or “Why” questions about a topic – The possible answer to your question(s) is your thesis statement See
  9. 9. Formulating a thesis – cont’dTypes of theses: • Analytical: assesses a particular issue • Expository: explains a topic • Argumentative: takes a position
  10. 10. REMEMBER: Writing is an iterative process
  11. 11. What makes a good thesis?• Clear, specific statement of topic/purpose• Clear position – i.e., statement of goal, opinion or perspective on the topic• Overview of direction (i.e., what will be discussed)• Importance of the paper clearly established• Clear, simple language• Arguable position(i.e., not just fact or opinion)• Topic an be properly addressed within limitations of particular guidelines• Placement early in your paper – often at end of introductionNOTE: Your thesis statement may change once you start reading in more detail and start writing.Adapted from
  12. 12. What makes a good thesis? Examples “Last year saw a decrease in the number of ‘bad girl’ roles in Hollywood”. vs “The decrease in bad girl roles witnessed in 1998 reflects the conservative backlash against strong female characters in the media”. What was ‘wrong’ with the first statement?Examples from
  13. 13. Formulating a thesis – exerciseIdentify type of thesis and what you expect the paper should contain (be specific).1. “The life of the typical college student is characterized by time spent studying, attending class, and socializing with peers.” = expositoryPaper should:“explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers”2. “An analysis of the college admission process reveals one challenge facing counselors: accepting students with high test scores or students with strong extracurricular backgrounds.” = analyticalPaper should:“explain the analysis of the college admission process…&…the challenge facing admissions counselors”3. “High school graduates should be required to take a year off to pursue community service projects before entering college in order to increase their maturity and global awareness.” = argumentativePaper should:“present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college” Adapted from
  14. 14. Thesis exercise -2• Write out a thesis statement on a topic of your choice (can be related to your own research or something else)• Ask someone to read your thesis statement and tell you in his/her own words what he or she expects the paper to address.
  15. 15. Researching to support your thesis• Refine your search: – use terms specific to your thesis, use the word ‘and’ to connect terms (For example social AND culture AND bats), and/or use quotation marks around key terms.• Look at relevant papers cited in those sources you have already read• Use the “Cited by” and “Related Records/Articles” (or “Find similar results”) features in databases
  16. 16. Making notes• Present information from other sources in YOUR own words (paraphrasing).• Use bibliographic software (e.g., Refworks) to organize references• Critically assess sources
  17. 17. Evaluating findings: Points to consider• What is the central argument/ thesis statement/ issue? —Does it relate to your topic?• What are the primary pieces of evidence? – HINT: look at topic and concluding sentences
  18. 18. Evaluating findings: Points to consider• Is the evidence convincing? —Is it clear how evidence supports the argument? If not, how can it be improved? —Are alternatives considered? —Are limitations considered? —Is the evidence weak or strong?
  19. 19. Evaluating Findings: Points to Consider• What is your opinion of the paper? —Based on your evaluation, not on style —Expected to include this in your own writing e.g., “Although the study suggests that 85% of drivers have never used alternative modes of transportation, it did not include walking as an option in its survey.”…
  20. 20. Making notes• Keep a journal/document that includes – Main ideas contained in sources; HINT: look at topic sentences – Only information directly related to YOUR thesis – Your critical assessment of sources – Distinction b/w authors’ info and your own comments – Distinction b/w direct quotes and paraphrased material – NOTE: to do this, you will need to read thoroughly any source at least two times (after the initial scan) – YOUR own words. HINT: use point form!
  21. 21. ExerciseLook at the first page of a peer-reviewed article:• What is the thesis statement/ purpose?• What are the main arguments of each paragraph?• Are these arguments well supported?• Are they relevant to the thesis/purpose?
  22. 22. Organizing your notes• Spreadsheets• Index cards• Word documents with headings• Organize by topic/argument• INTEGRATE sources in your writing!!!
  23. 23. Getting Started• Don’t try for perfection on the first go• Make an outline!• Talk to peers• Refer back to notes• Start with ‘easy’ sections: e.g., Methods, Results• Do a rough Introduction first for direction• BUT finalize your Introduction last
  24. 24. Outlines By L. Weir
  25. 25. From the page on the right, create a formal, linear outline. Thesis: Opportunities for social learning depend on group structure, which in turn depends on a number of intrinsic and extrinsic influences on group living.
  26. 26. Exercise• Create a thesis statement and outline for a paper that answers the following:“Do social networkers have rights to privacy?”• Create a thesis and outline of the arguments to support YES and another to support NO.
  27. 27. Writing a first draft• Free-writing• Keep draft open while reading/reviewing notes• Make notes to yourself IN your draft• Include sources as you go? – Pros: saves time looking things up later, limits risk of plagiarism... – Cons: disrupts flow of thought
  28. 28. Free-writing….philo – eventhough they argue strong site philopatry despite seasonalmovement away from breeding sites, Poland et al. 2008 genetics suggests thisis only true at a broad scale, not local scale- probably not kin as expected b/cPomeroy et al’s paper was BS (Lehmann & Roussett 2010 REFS FOR SOCIALSTRCUTURE...) and ecology (Miller-Butterworth et al. 2003). Scale of interest– global population contains multiple communities (aka local groups ordemes) which in turn contain multiple cliques (Lehmann & Roussett 2010).Distinction b/w dispersal and philopatry – dispersal often refers to wherejuves of one or both sexes disperse away from natal territory/habitat andother sex, then, remains. Natal philopatry, on the other hand, suggests thatboth sexes disperse initially, but then one or both return at sexual maturity.CHECK defs –NEED TO MAKE DISTINCTION?? IS END RESULT DIFFERENT??. Kinstructuring within an area typically arises when there is strong natalphilopatry of one or both sexes (e.g grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, Pomeroyet al. 2000; cackling Canada geese, Branta canadensis minima, Fowler 2005;southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonine, Fabiani et al. 2006; Campbell et al.2008READ; Galápagos sea lions, Zalophus wollebaeki, Wolf & Trillmich 2008).For example, matriarchal population genetic structure is common amongspecies (; xx) with male-biased dispersal and female natal philopatry (e.g.,snow geese, Chen caerulescens Avise et al. 1992; xx...) In addition, groups oflong-lived organisms often consist of overlapping generations, thus creatingconditions for selective association based on age...
  29. 29. Writing a first draft• Different starting points: beginning, middle, end• Use headings – Write out tangential ideas where relevant, then come back to what you were working on• Use review function to make notes
  30. 30. Revising your drafts (YES, drafts)• Use the “points to consider” for your own work• Always ask: – Is this relevant to my thesis? – Is it clear how this supports my thesis? – Is it logical? – Is it organized? – Does it flow?• Consult your outline• Read drafts aloud• Use resources like OWL Purdue and Writing Centres
  31. 31. Exercise• Write one paragraph based on your outline• Swap paragraphs with someone and comment