Thursday, February 24, 2011

12 Tips to Improve Your Academic Paper

As a teacher I have read many students’ papers and conducted writing workshops for students. I offer these simple tips if you are a budding writer.

· Choose a manageable topic. A strong paper is one that is focused and shows the author has something to say. You can cast the net wide when you fish for a topic, but once you know more about the subject, you have to narrow it down.

· Start with a strong beginning. Journalists usually start with a story as a hook. Make it enticing for your reader.

· Provide a clear road map. What is the paper about? Why does it matter? What do you want to do? How are you going to do it?

· Use your own words. An academic paper does not mean that you should hide behind other authors’ words.

· Develop a narrative arc. I learn this from fiction writing. Why is the paper divided into different sections? What drives the arc? Where is the climax and where is the tension? How is the end related to the beginning?

· Don’t just cut and paste. When you cite other people’s words, make sure they fit the context of your paper. Read your paper without the quotes once to see if your arguments are clear.

· Check the direct quotes. Make sure you quote correctly (before you return the books).

· Always re-write. Even professional writers can’t do it right the first time. It is often when you’ve come to the end of your paper that you really know what you're trying to say. So leave time for re-writing and editing.

· Follow the style sheet. Your work will not be taken seriously if your notes do not conform to the “academic convention.”

· Read poetry and literature. I am sorry to say that many of the theology books are quite dry. You need to read outside the field to write well.

· Ask someone to read over it. You have worked on your paper for so long and can use a fresh pair of eyes.

· Never stop learning to write. It is a craft to be honed.