academic writing and research advice for students

Research Paper: First-Hand Writing Advice

Academic writing is sometimes seen as a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be. Following the tips below will help to organize the writing process so that your research is efficient and your paper is relevant and organized.

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Know Your Topic

Before you can research your paper, you must have a clear idea of what you need to write about. Paying careful attention to directions is important here, but so is having a basic understanding of the field you are researching. Start by gaining a general understanding of your topic. The type of information needed will differ depending on the academic field. For example, an economics paper would likely require an understanding of mainstream economic theory, while historical research will require an understanding of the timeline and major events of the period being researched.

Narrow Your Research

Once you have a general understanding of your topic, it's time to address the specific questions your paper seeks to answer. There are many sources available for research, and today most of them can be accessed via the internet. However, some existing research can be difficult to access, so having a subscription to an online library such as JSTOR is helpful.

Understanding what counts as original research is important for avoiding the appearance of plagiarism. Simply copying verbatim from Wikipedia is not academic writing. Nor, generally, is simply rephrasing that information. Following that information to its source, taking a properly cited quote, and applying it as evidence for part of a larger original argument is more appropriate. A good rule to follow is to always give credit to any thoughts or facts that are not your own.

During research, collect relevant sources and organize them in a way that makes them easy to sort through. Having your sources collected makes the writing process easier, as you will have your information organized and will not need to pause for research.

Writing the Paper

Writing requires several skills. Knowing the mechanics of language, such as spelling and grammar, is the most obvious requirement, but there are others. For example, understanding the audience of your paper is necessary for effective communication. When writing for an academic audience, it is generally advisable to write in the third person, avoid personal anecdotes, and structure the paper logically. Different fields of study may also require slightly different presentation. For example, writing a literary critique may allow more impressionistic language, while a medical research paper requires careful attention to very specific terms.

Understanding proper citation is also important. While citations seem like pointless minutiae to many students, proper citation is necessary for two reasons. The first is that it allows anyone interested in your work to check your ideas and follow your sources. The second is that proper citation is often an important part of how a paper is graded. For the sake of organization it is helpful to cite as you write, so that if you need to return to a section you know where the information in it came from.


The final step in the academic writing process is reviewing your work. Take a moment to check the overall quality of the paper. Was every source you cited also listed in the references, and vice versa? Is it formatted correctly? Simply running a spelling check will do a world of good, but actually taking the time to read through a work is better, as it will allow you to pick up things that a spellcheck will miss. A paper that pays attention to details will read more easily and show that some effort was put into the work.

How to Write a Dissertation or PhD Thesis

Diverse disciplinary fields call for the application of different research methodologies and approaches. Even then, the essence of dissertation or thesis writing is largely about critical thinking and less about the collection of experimental data. Arguably, the most important aspect of the development of a comprehensive and meaningful academic paper is the compilation of evidence and documentation of a cohesive discussion to support or deny one or a set of hypotheses.

At the heart of advanced academic writing is the contribution of new knowledge. The concept of novelty implies that the research candidate undertakes comprehensive analysis of existing literature, identifies the gaps and finds new solutions to pertinent problems in existing works. Adding new and relevant knowledge to a field of study is a demonstration of the expertise and authority the researcher possesses in a specific discipline. Novelty does not always entail groundbreaking findings, completely radical theories or the discovery of new facts. University faculty consider the demonstration of critical thinking power through excellent analysis of critical thinking power a valid contribution to the field of study.

In analysing literature to add new knowledge to a certain discipline, PhD candidates are expected to adhere to citation requirements that are unique to their discipline. Every opinion and statement obtained from secondary sources such as peer reviews and academic journals must be well documented and attributed to the respective sources. Cooley and Lewkowicz cautions that there needs to be a balance between the candidate's ideas and those obtained from other existing literature. While source documentation and attribution is important, the candidate's voice and critical thoughts must also be reflected in the discussion.

A consistent and cohesive narrative demonstrates a thorough understanding of theories and application of research methodology. Academic dissertations, whether for PhD or MA purposes, do not necessarily require breadth but they necessitate depth. Essentially, the dissertation is only a demonstration of the candidate's understanding of the field of study. Davis & Parker observes that critical and comprehensive analysis of theories, a proper application of methodologies and an in-depth literature review contribute to a consistent narrative or discussion that seeks to support or challenge a given hypothesis. On the contrary, a lack of cohesiveness in the thesis is a clear indication of subpar research, inadequate understanding and application of theories and suitable methodologies. In determining the data and literature to include in a thesis, the candidate must consider whether such data or literature would pass scientific peer scrutiny. The narrative or thesis discussion should contain material that is either publishable or has been published.

Theory development is the foundation of a successful dissertation. Willis, Inman and Valenti, argues that the role of the dissertation is to define a problem, engage in critical analysis of literature around or about the problem, identify a possible gap in how existing approaches address the problem and find novel solutions or explanations to the identified problem. The identification and development of theoretical frameworks serves to push forward the goal of a thesis. An appropriate theory will allow the candidate to thoroughly examine a topic to arrive at possible solutions or explanations of the identified research questions or problems. In writing a dissertation, the candidate may utilize one or more theories to contribute new knowledge to the field of study. Willis, Inman and Valenti does however, caution against the use of too many theories as this may in effect disrupt the cohesive flow of the dissertation's intended narrative.

A publishable academic dissertation must, therefore, reveal the candidate's in-depth understanding of the field of study, as seen through the development of a consistent discussion throughout the paper. Novel contribution to existing works and a sound application of suitable research methodologies to come up with evidence that supports hypotheses and conclusions is equally an exhibition of the candidate's critical analysis power.

How Should Public Schooling Goals Be Determined, and Who Should Determine These Goals?

From the time of Benjamin Franklin, American public schools have been a national institution and one of the country's presumed strengths. Most Americans would agree that an education is important, and in any list of American virtues, education would be most always near the top. There is a singular assumption, as pointed out by Gatto, that the goal of schooling is threefold: to make good people, to make good citizens, and to make each person his or her personal best.

The practice, however, is far from the ideal. In analyzing court cases from 1946 to 1992, Arum, Beattie, Pitt, Thompson, and Way, quoting VanderStaay, found that school discipline, a hallmark of authority, underwent challenges to the notion “that students perform best in school disciplinary contexts that are orderly, strict, and fair, and that, when asked, students describe the desirability of such contexts." The greatest change to school authority and goal determination occurred in the early nineties with major school reforms in all of the states. Before this time, schools were relatively autonomous, and determined their goals based on tradition and a few national guidelines. Since 2001, with the passage of No Child Left Behind, however, schools' policies and goals have been mandated by federal caveat.

The result is predictable. Dropout rates have increased, and children are performing less capably than their previous-generation peers. As the distance between policy-makers and the schools increases, the less autonomy and realistic goal-setting occurs. Public schooling goals should be set locally as much as possible, not mandated by a one-size-fits-all strategy that takes no account of cultural norms or local conditions. Standards are important, of course. The application of sanctions for schools that do not perform well on high-stakes tests are not, and are seemingly detrimental. Students functioned well for years without federal and state mandates; a return to local authority, driven by all stakeholders, is the best way to determine the goals that should be set.

How to Prevent Plagiarism among Students?

Plagiarism is the act of copying, borrowing or taking another person's original design(s), ideas, inventions, writings literary or artistic works and presenting them as one's own without due acknowledgement. It remains one of the most common problems within the global academic domain. Actions or practices of wrongful appropriation or purloining of either one's own or another individual's ideas whether literary, artistic, musical, statistical or scientific is tantamount to academic dishonesty. Aggregately, it remains a broad term applicable to varied types of copying ranging from claims of authorship of entire pieces of work to minor misattribution or insufficient acknowledgement in academic papers.

Statistical analysis corroborates the problem's prevalence within academic institutions with the Center for Academic Integrity indicating that an estimated 70% of students interviewed admitted to being involved in academic plagiarism at some point of their academic life. Academic dishonesty occurs due to a number of reasons such as easy access to information from the internet, time constraints, and pressure to achieve. It may also result from ignorance or lack of understanding and social acceptance by other peers to practice some form of academic dishonesty. Irrespective of the causes, plagiarism and academic dishonesty undermine scholarly integrity hence a number of ways can be used to prevent them.

Plagiarism can be primarily prevented by correctly citing all borrowed information since academic works draw from a vast pool of findings, texts and ideas accumulated over time. All borrowed arguments should be supported by proper references and whole verbatim quotations documented with quotation marks. Paraphrasing synthesized text and using original ideas can also help students avoid academic dishonesty. Paraphrasing entails rewording other author's writings in your thoughts hence failure to cite paraphrased text is tantamount to academic dishonesty. Students should aim at completely change the sentence structure and wordings of the source so as to avoid plagiarism.

Due acknowledgement to paraphrased text or direct quotes is also imperative to avoid plagiarism hence proper attribution serves to recognize the contributions of other authors. Precise information about a given source must be provided using proper citation through the use of footnotes, endnotes and in-text citations. The student should be explicit about any external ideas or materials used in the assignment. Proper use of citation styles is critical to avoiding plagiarism as it facilitates intellectual honesty with authors attributing other writer's ideas. Failure to appropriately acknowledge sources constitutes academic dishonesty. The most commonly used citation styles include Harvard, APA, MLA, Harvard and Chicago referencing styles. Besides having specific formats to unify academic works, citation styles provide references to books, articles, web pages or other forms of published items. In text citation followed by a list of all referenced materials must be properly included within an academic paper to avoid plagiarism as improperly cited material constitute academic dishonesty.

Moulton & Robinson contend that, academic dishonest occurs as a result of two possible motivations; absence of ethics and ignorance of citation conventions. In the former, authors do not appreciate the value of academic texts hence deliberately submit works of other. Based on the second claim, authors are ignorant of the conventional academic citations hence tend to plagiarize inadvertently. Academic dishonesty is a vice that should be adequately punished as it undermines the credibility of academic programs and systems besides leading to unfair award of degrees. In summary, Academic Plagiarism remains a critical discussion topic within the academic environment. Fundamental plagiarism avoidance techniques remain summarizing and paraphrasing, using one's original ideas, appropriate quoting and proper citation.

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