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General Research Paper Guidelines

Research papers should follow the guidelines of formal academic writing. The essay should introduce a topic and then present a thesis (argument) about a particular issue. The body of the paper should be a formal expository argument supporting the thesis. The thesis should be derived from academic research and analytical thinking about the research. Remember that evaluators have strong feelings about maintaining the standards of formal academic writing. Thus, poor writing influences the evaluator’s ability to assess the depth of learning the student is attempting to convey.

It is important when exploring or developing the ideas and concepts of others, to correctly attribute research sources using an appropriate documentation style. Although you can offer your own interpretations and ideas in your essay, you also need to refer to expert research sources and writers in the field under discussion. Remember to paraphrase your source material rather than to have extensive and frequent quotes.

The point here is that the evaluator is not interested in reviewing extensive excerpts from various texts that are inserted for “filler”. Unsuccessful essays are those that take voluminous excerpts from texts and then connect them with a few narrative statements written by the student. Inferior essays also tend to wander aimlessly through the narrative, rather than be characterized by clear and concise writing.

Successful essays, in contrast, exhibit critical thinking skills and academic discipline. Analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and logical development are the key skills the student applies to interpret ideas, works of literature, or historical events into a meaningful structure. Research and reading of multiple and conflicting sources are essential to the development of adequate essays. An essay that merely recounts events or facts, summarizes other people’s ideas, or reports on a book’s characters or plot is not fully developed.

Clearly, then, a number of reputable scholarly sources should be consulted. A portion of these should be recent publications (published within the last fifteen years) that provide a broad overview of your topic. An additional number of sources may be more narrowly focused on the particular issue under consideration. Knowledge of current theory and recent research is necessary. Use scholarly literature that describes recent theories and research. The student’s own experience may be used to support the thesis in the essay, but it should play a secondary role.

Students should carefully and deeply probe a specific topic or the content of a scholarly work. Essays should be well-developed, well-organized, interesting, original, and supported with reference to criticism. They should reflect an understanding of the time period or of the genre or of a particular theme. They should reflect critical thinking and awareness of the theory related to the content. They should follow the guidelines of formal academic writing.

Graduate and postgraduate papers differ from undergraduate papers in several ways. First, graduate and postgraduate essays contain more discussion and insight into the theory and background of the field. These essays may, if appropriate to the course, discuss several different theoretical approaches and provide more discussion about emerging and state-of-the-art issues, ideas, and practices. These essays will contain more citations and references.

Students need to back up their opinions with sources that demonstrate the validity of their approach as well as demonstrate opposing points of view. Students should be just as concerned with the quality of the sources in a reference list as in the quantity of sources. The evaluation of the quality of a source is based on its contribution to current theory, the timeliness of the source, and the depth of information the source provides.