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Tim KrywulakSix Essentials for Effective Papers

by Tim Krywulak

Many students struggle with writing an effective academic paper. Writing for a scholarly audience has its own distinctive style, tone, and demands. Understanding what these are is essential to producing a paper that will meet with the expectations of your professor. I’ve found there are six main areas in which students typically encounter difficulties. Here’s what to do to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Have a clear, succinct, and specific thesis statement. All good essays have a thesis statement that clearly and succinctly summarizes the overarching point of the paper in the introduction. This statement provides the central basis for all else that follows, providing structure and coherence to the analysis. And having an analysis embedded in your thesis is also key. A research essay should be making an argumentative point about something. It should not be a simple narrative of events; rather, it should be seeking to persuade and inform readers about why something happened (or happens) in a particular way. For further assistance in developing your introduction and thesis, see Introductions and Thesis Statements by LEO (Literacy Education Online).

2. Use specific evidence to support your thesis statement. Whatever general proposition you may have about your topic, you will need to provide evidence to support it. Such evidence will often come in the form of quotes, anecdotes, case studies, analogies, or statistics. Indeed, it is usually a good idea to use some combination of the above, so as to vary the types of evidence provided and avoid an over-reliance on one form or another. Too heavy a reliance on case studies and anecdotal stories may leave the reader wondering about how generalizable the argument may be. Conversely, too many general statistics can leave the reader wondering about the specifics of how and why things actually work in practice. Where possible, one good approach can be to offer a few specific examples to support your point, followed by some statistical data to show how “widespread” the phenomena in question may be. In a political science essay, for example, you might offer some quotes from convention delegates saying why they supported a particular candidate, followed by polling results providing evidence that many other delegates felt the same way. Although it’s not always possible to find this combination, it gives you an idea of how specific and general evidence can be combined to create a fuller and more compelling argument.

3. Integrate quotes sparingly and effectively. To have the desired impact, quotes need to be used sparingly and be integrated into your text in an effective way. Too many quotes tend to give the paper a “cut-and-paste” feel, suggesting that the writer merely grabbed bits of other peoples’ work and stung them together rather than taking concepts, knowledge, and ideas from multiple works and integrating them into an original analysis.

- Quotes should also never be simply dropped into a text out of nowhere, with no introduction, context, or discussion. All quotes should be introduced so as to let the reader know “who” is being quoted and to integrate the quote itself into the flow of your text.

- Quotes should also be discussed and analyzed, explaining “what the quote illustrates” or “how it supports the argument” in cases where these things may not be immediately obvious to the reader.

- LEO (Literacy Education Online) provides more assistance in integrating quotes effectively.

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