How to write for class

After many years in school, I find myself forgetting that determining the “goodness” of a source, developing a truly convincing argument, and formatting a paper so it looks polished and reads easily are trained tasks.  Here’s a handout I developed to guide one of my interdisciplinary courses towards better evaluation of sources and argumentation:

How to write for this class

Amanda McMillan Lequieu

This handout is a place to start—you would do well to treat this document as a basic rubric for good writing assignments.  However, you must take ownership of your learning beyond this simple set of expectations: explore the UW Writing Center resources, ask librarians for assistance, seek out colleagues for peer-review outside of class, and ask your instructor before your assignment is completed.

Plan your writing

Where to start?  Once you have your topic, use the following questions to help you form a coherent, focused paper.  Why should anyone care about this topic?  What background material is relevant to building a case for this topic’s significance?  What is my main point, or thesis statement?  How did I get there?  What information must I share with the reader to convince them that this thesis statement makes sense, in light of past research?

Choosing quality information sources

As you learn more about a specific commodity or research question, rely on reliable, college-level, academic sources for the core of your information.  You’ll need to choose sources which help you build a well-informed, nuanced, and authoritative case for your main points (see http://library.wisc.edu/research-tips/#evaluate-support-conclusion for more information).  The most compelling papers stand on the shoulders of giants as they build an argument, connect the dots between scholars, and raise interesting questions beyond existing literatures.

Scholarly journal articles, published books, and government reports are excellent sources for your writing.  Peer reviewed journals have been submitted to scrutiny of a panel of fellow experts in a particular field.  In contrast, Wikipedia, personal blogs, or US Weekly, for example, are non-scholarly, popular sources which are not appropriate for college-level writing.  According to a UW Library handout, Good sources are “accurate, well-written, current, cover their topic thoroughly, have a clearly stated purpose, and provide supporting documentation” (see http://library.wisc.edu/research-tips/#evaluate-popular-scholarly for more information.  Also see information on how to use Google Scholar effectively at http://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/content.php?pid=126813&sid=1199775 and http://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/howdoi/use_google_scholar.html.)

Document your sources

Your writing assignments in this class require you to gather, assess, and utilize the writing of other scholars.  Properly citing and using external sources is part of this course and is vital to your academic and professional career.

Your written assignments must be uniquely yours, in your own words, and cited fully and properly.  You must credit the source in-text and in a reference list whenever you directly quote an author or paraphrase new information or author-specific ideas.  Your in-text citation will be in (Author, Date) format, including a page number when necessary.  Your complete reference list should provide your reader with enough information to locate the specific article, website, or book.

If you do not cite properly when you draw from the work of others, you tread on the slippery slope towards plagiarism.  Take a look at the syllabus or http://students.wisc.edu/doso/acadintegrity.html to see what plagiarism is, and how very seriously we take it in this class.  Be forewarned: your TA runs papers through highly accurate plagiarism software.

  • Questions? Start here: take a look at some of the fantastic resources and handouts created by the UW Writing Center: http://www.writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/QuotingSources.html.
  • Action: Pause and save or print “Citing References in Scientific Research Papers,” found on Learn@UW under the “Assignments” tab, to your computer right now.

Format correctly

You must abide by the following formatting rules.

  • 12-point, Times New Roman font
  • Double-spaced
  • 1-inch page margins on all sides
  • Remember, take your page count before adding the following elements, which are not included in your page count:
    • Tables and graphs
    • Photos
    • Reference list
    • Appendices
  • Header
    • Top left corner: your name/ the names of all your group members, the class number, and the date of submission
    • Center: Paper title
  • Footer
    • Page numbers
  • And of course, in-text, parenthetical citations and a corresponding reference page

Please proofread

Typos are a great way to announce to your reader that you procrastinated.  Develop the skill of proofreading your own, and others’, papers.  Look at http://www.writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/Proofreading.html

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