Six Essentials for Effective Papers
(Continued from 1)
Remember too that quotes are not your only source of evidence. You can also use statistics, anecdotes, deductive or inductive reasoning, survey results, or a myriad of other forms of evidence to support your argument. Indeed, employing a good mix of evidence from a good mix of sources is often key to producing a good essay.
4. Remember that Presentation Counts. Proofread and pay attention to details. Avoid creating a bad impression by paying attention to presentation. In practical terms, this means ensuring that you have a title page that includes your name, student number, assignment number, assignment title, course number, and date submitted on it. It also means ensuring that you follow the proper format for your citations and bibliography, and proofread your paper carefully or – better yet – have a friend or family member give it an independent read to help weed out needless errors in spelling, punctuation, and so on (which may come off as “careless errors” to your professor, tired as he or she may be after marking countless other papers).
5. Use quality sources. In most cases, this does not include sites such as Wikipedia. In the academic world, research sources typically includes academic books (published by university presses), scholarly articles (published in peer-reviewed journals), or Web sources published by a governmental department, research organization, or another credible source.
Although Wikipedia can be useful as a starting place for general information, there are two main reasons why you should not cite it as a source:
(1) As a general reference source, it tends to provide only a basic overview of its topics. What you need is a more in-depth knowledge that can only be developed by digging into more detailed sources.
(2) Part of what you want from your references is for them to lend additional credibility to your arguments. Wikipedia will not do so because: (a) it is an unsigned general reference source rather than a targeted commentary produced by a recognized expert in the field who has attached their names, and reputations, to the source; and (b) it does little to suggest to your professor that you have done in-depth research on the topic (beyond a basic Google search).
For further reading on why not to cite Wikipedia, see Williams College Libraries, “Should I Use or Cite Wikipedia?”
6. End strong with a good conclusion that answers the “So What” question. As you get to the end of your paper, you’ll probably begin to get to a point where you just want to finish up as quickly as possible to move on with other work or life in general. Resist this urge. As is often said, the conclusion is your last chance to make a good impression on your professor. Use that opportunity to give them a reason to think well of the time and effort you’ve invested in your topic. A good way of doing this is to be sure and answer the “so what” question. In other words, why is your research important, or why should we care?
Instead of just re-summarizing your thesis, conclude with saying something about the wider significance of your analysis (a larger issue to which your research relates). For example, how might your insights change the way we understand the topic, and what implications might this have for how we approach it today? The approach you take will depend on your subject, but be sure you don’t miss the opportunity to strengthen and deepen the quality of your analysis. For ideas, see How to Write a Compelling Conclusion.
With these principles in mind, you should be well on your way. Producing an effective research paper is hard work, but it can have its own rewards in gaining and in-depth understanding of a particular topic and getting specific and insightful feedback from experts who have dedicated their lives to a given field of study. Happy writing!
Tim Krywulak holds a PhD in History from Carleton University, and has taught history at Carleton University and Royal Military College of Canada.