Before you write: Read sources critically

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Academic Writing: An Overview

  • “Whether you knew it or not when you started, conducting research is the defining feature of your graduate career. If you plan to stay in academe, it will be the defining feature of your academic life.”
  • --Lesli Mitchell
  • The Ultimate Grad School Survival Guide

The genre of research

  • What it’s not:
    • A loose collection of anecdotal information
  • What it’s not only:
  • What it is:
    • Creation of knowledge
    • Added security of academic support
    • Contribution to a larger academic discussion
    • Problems and solutions

Before you write: Read sources critically

  • Read studies similar to what you want to write
    • Professional journals, master’s theses, Google scholar
  • Abstracts
  • Literature Reviews
  • Conclusions/Discussion
    • Recommendations for Future Study
  • Take notes (don’t highlight!)
    • Summarize/paraphrase passages

Quoting Sources (in brief)

  • Use quotations sparingly and strategically.
  • Use quotations only when the language is so unique that you must use it; that is, the language adds “color, power, or character,” to your project.
  • Too many quotes are distracting; reader needs to hear your voice.

Quote use

  • Identify quotes with frames that precede, follow, or interrupt.
  • Use appropriate verb of attribution.
  • Punctuate correctly.
  • Quotes should be syntactically correct and integrated into your own language.

The Art of the Paraphrase

  • You are writers, not re-typers.
  • Instances of plagiarism (from the Office of the Associate VP, CSU Fresno):
  • “Failure to use quotation marks when quoting directly from another, whether it be a paragraph, sentence or part thereof
  • Copying phrases or ideas from a book, magazine, or other source without giving credit to the author
  • Turning in a paper or computer program that is the work of another individual”


  • Should be the least time-consuming of all steps in the process
  • If it’s taking you forever to write 1,000 words, two things could be happening:
  • 1. You don’t have a clue what you should be saying.
  • 2. You're revising while you draft so that you end up with one sentence an hour.

The Introduction: Your paper’s “first impression”

  • Introductions should:
    • Introduce subject and problem
    • Clearly state purpose

Strategies for Introductions

  • Begin with a narrative
    • Anecdotes that make the topic more “real” to reader.
  • Begin with a question or series of questions.
    • Shows reader that your subject is provocative and interesting.
  • Begin by quoting a key source.
    • Bold, expert opinion captures readers’ attention.
  • Begin by citing key data
    • Alarming stats emphasize importance
  • Writing Studio at Duke University:

Review of Literature

  • Examine/analyze what has already been published on your topic
    • Find the gaps (Recommendations for future research)
    • Provide framework for scope of the problem
    • Explain where your study “fits”
  • Review must be thorough
    • Currency, credibility
    • Snowball your sources
  • Review must be accurate
    • Follow rules for specific documentation style

Report your findings

  • What trends did you find in the research?
  • Did you discover something that hasn’t been addressed? (Creation of knowledge)
  • Did you gather your own data? (surveys, experiments)
  • Presentation of findings in tables, figures, etc.


  • Place the paper in a larger context
  • Convince readers that what they read was meaningful.
  • Go beyond mere summary and avoid repeating word-for-word a statement you wrote earlier in the paper.
  • Answers the question, “Where could we go from here?”
  • Makes suggestions or calls to action

You are the author

  • Paper should be predominately your ideas and opinions.
  • Show your critical thinking skills.
  • A paper with patched together summaries and paraphrases, even if they’re in your own words, will not succeed.

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