By Dr Andree Swanson
|Artwork: Dr. Murad Abel|
You have been tasked to write your first paper and the instructor gave you feedback. It read: “This is not appropriate for an academic paper.”
You are now at a loss to understand what defines an academic paper. Here are a few tips to remember when writing.
Most importantly, you are creating a document that is in your own words. It is imperative to properly research the paper. It is not unusual to have parenthetical citations after each sentence. The reason this happens is that you have conducted a great deal of research on your topic. You are now reflecting on what you have read, so the bottom line is... you are not presenting new information. Let me restate this. You are presenting someone else’s information. In fact, you may be presenting more than one person’s information and must properly cite each source.
Your paper is filled with ideas that came from many journals, web sites, and books. Basically, there are no new ideas in the world, especially at the bachelor’s level. You are not writing a dissertation nor developing your own research on a topic, thus, your academic paper is merely a reflection of your research… not your opinions. Given this statement, you must properly cite your sources.
A prescriptive formula for writing an academic research paper can be defined in the following equation:
A + B(x) + D(x) = an appropriate academic paragraph
A = A statement in your own words
B = A paraphrase or summary of what you have read on the topic
D = A quote which adequately reflects what you stated above
x = Your APA citation in APA or MLA format*
Here is an example of this formula in action:
Figure 1. Example of a properly cited paragraph.
Another example that incorporates information from more than one source is shown below:
Figure 2. Example of citing more than one resource for a quotation.
In addition to critically thinking, paraphrasing and summarizing, and adequately citing your references, it is important to avoid certain elements when writing.
Use citations sparingly –
When writing a paper it is important to put the paper in your own words. This means paraphrasing and summarizing what you have read, and to then properly reference the source. In the example below, there are 146 total words. Of these words, 28 are the author’s. This is not good. Nineteen percent of this paragraph is in the author’s own words.
Figure 3. Example of multiple quotations strung together
Avoid vague terms… be specific –
Avoid empty words such as “things,” “stuff,” “many,” etc. Use specific terms. I have a vocabulary challenge on my personal website.
Avoid colloquialisms –
It is necessary to avoid colloquialisms in academic papers. For example, although you may use the words below when you are writing an article or a brief narrative paper, but not an academic paper. Can you think of how you might reword this sentence so it is appropriate for an academic paper?
It was raining like cats and dogs outside while I was working on this academic paper.
Avoid references to pop-culture –
Quotes are good, but you must use the appropriate quote for the paper. I personally like this quote, but would not include this in an academic paper.
Jerry Seinfeld once stated that when average Americans were asked what their number one fear was he said it was public speaking and number five on the list was death. Seinfeld stated, “...that would mean that at a funeral, people are five times more likely to want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”
*APA is American Psychological Association and MLA is Modern Language Association
Stress and how to lower it: A health guide for teens. (2007). Center for Young Women’s Health Children’s Hospital Boston. Retrieved February 23, 2007, from http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/stress.html