by Annie Rose Stathes
Published February 5, 2013
Keep the following list of rules in mind when you write an academic paper. These simple rules may help you write a paper that is professional and easy to follow.
Ensure your entire paper has an organized flow; this may help you make your points in a clear and powerful fashion.
Move from broad and general ideas to specific and detailed ideas or from specific and detailed ideas to broad and general ideas. Do this consistently throughout your paper. Don’t introduce a general idea, move to a very specific idea, and then migrate back to an idea somewhere in-between. Move your reader through a logical sequence of information.
For example, if you’re writing an article about the impact of cellphones - on the world, the United States, the East Coast, and New York City - introduce the information in order from most general to most specific. Or reverse it. Don’t write about the impact of cellphones on the East Coast, then the world, then the United States, and then New York City.
Try to tie your ideas together and create flow by connecting your sentences. In general, the first part of your new sentence should begin where your last sentence ended.
Example: “The country of Lesotho is an enclave of South Africa. Because it is an enclave of South Africa, it…”
If it doesn’t make sense to start your new sentence with the end of your last sentence, use transitional phrases such as “therefore”, “despite this claim”, or “however” (to list a few options).
Example: “The country of Lesotho is an enclave of South Africa. Therefore, its economy is…”
Do the work of connecting your sentences so your reader can follow your sentences point for point.
Define critical terms, explain sources of information, and describe your points, theories, and conclusions as though you are describing them to someone who knows nothing.
For example, if your teacher asks you write a paper about a particular book:
“The book made many great points.”
“In his book, The Heart and the Fist, author Erik Greitens makes several great points.”
Assume you are writing for someone who has no idea what you’re talking about and provide the reader with all the information they need to understand your paper.
Keep your writer’s “voice” professional, academic in tone, and cliche-free. Use simple, straight-forward, and thoughtful words and sentences.
Many people mistake “academic tone” for big words, vague ideas, and heady data. An academic tone is conscious, intentional, committed, and dedicated to helping readers better understand a subject or argument.
Learn how to cite sources appropriately and correctly. Any time you use another person’s ideas or words, you must give them formal credit.
Use the citation/style guide appropriate to your discipline, for example; APA for Political Science, Chicago for History, MLA for Creative Writing.
Keep in mind none of these style/citation guides are forever married to a particular discipline. To be safe, see which style your professors prefer you use, and master the art of appropriate and correct citation.
If you’re not sure whether or not you need to cite, cite. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Flowery language, run-on sentences, and too many unnecessary words can dilute the impact of your arguments and confuse the overall tone of the paper.
Use your vocabulary; find the appropriate words or phrases to make your point in the strongest and most succinct manner possible.
Demonstrate your understanding of the assignment by following instructions closely. Write the correct number of pages, answer the required questions, and use the requested format. Don’t assume any one of your assignment’s instructions is not important.
Conducting analysis is just as important as the act of writing itself. Many students attempt to think as they write. This often leads to a paper lacking depth and brilliance.
Spend a considerable amount of time conducting analysis prior to writing your paper. Then, as you’re writing, conduct more. Let the entire process be one of obtaining greater knowledge and developing more brilliant ideas.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
You are in school! You are learning! You are discovering! You are not expected to be the most brilliant and profound person in the Universe (yet). You are expected to work hard, to increase your knowledge, and expand your mind. Do so with a light heart; be a kind self-critic.
Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado
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