Writing a General Paper
Given the variety of professors in the department, you may have a bit of flexibility in how you structure a generic research paper. (Obviously, you should adhere to the professor's guidelines for the assignment.) The typical research paper , however, will have a title, an introduction (within which you will lay out your thesis), a body (in which you will develop your thesis), a conclusion, and a reference page. The descriptions you see below come primarily from the instructions that Denise Evert uses in her courses.
Provide a meaningful title that lets the reader know what the paper is going to be about. For example, don't just call it "Memory and the Brain." Instead, use a more informative title like, "The functional architecture of spatial memory in the brain: Converging evidence from neuropsychological, animal, and imaging studies." Think about how much you rely on informative titles when you are browsing through journals or using bibliographic databases.
Your paper should include a clear and concise introduction that sets up the reader for what to expect from the paper. Introduce the pieces of evidence you are going to consider and briefly describe how they relate to each other. Identify your thesis statement for the paper-- what are you attempting to demonstrate with this paper, what is the argument of your paper? Basically, tell the reader what your conclusion is, based on your reading and integration of the literature. Briefly suggest how you are going to go about explaining your argument and what kind of evidence you will use. Then use the rest of the paper to convince the reader of that conclusion by providing the relevant evidence.
Faculty will vary in what they look for in terms of the content of the body of the paper. Ideally, the body should reflect integration of the material that you've read. In other words, a simple summary of the material that you've read either will not suffice or will be less impressive. For most faculty, you should make every effort to relate the material to concepts that you've discussed in the course (or in other courses).
In an effort to avoid potential problems, some faculty simply disallow the use of quotations in your paper. Other faculty may allow quotes, but remember that your task is to learn the information to the degree that a quote should be unnecessary.
You may also include throughout the paper some ideas, reflections, criticisms, etc., not contained in the readings themselves. For example, you may want to critique ideas presented in some articles, give evaluative comments about methodology or conclusions, raise questions about the topic that the articles did not consider, generate experimental ideas, connect the ideas presented in the readings to other things you know, etc.
Finally, your paper should include a strong conclusion that briefly reiterates the main take-home messages from the paper. What do you want the reader to take away from the paper? What new information did you learn by integrating the readings?
Include a reference page at the end of the paper listing the articles cited in the paper. Some professors require APA-style references, while other professors merely recommend such referencing and other professors don't seem to care. Even if you're writing a paper that doesn't have to use APA style, you may find that using the APA referencing style is preferable. Using APA-style referencing is actually fairly painless and, once you get used to it, easier than many other referencing styles. Here are some links specific to APA-style referencing:
With the advent of the web has come the need to develop referencing styles for such resources. The above links address electronic citations, but the ones below are specific to web resources:
- Electronic Reference Formats (APA)
- APA Style Electronic Formats (Guffey)
- Citing the World Wide Web (Troy State)
- Bibliographic Formats for Citing Electronic Information (Li & Crane, UVM)