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Helpful Information for Writers

You’ve got a topic. You’ve done some research. Now what? Prewriting strategies help you focus your thoughts on a topic so that you can develop a well-written, well-developed argument.  It all begins with asking the right questions and making a plan.  Prewriting is also helpful if you’re having difficulty finding a topic or just getting started with your research.  After completing some prewriting activities, you may find that you need to dig a little deeper into the research or even locate different resources as your thesis evolves.

Getting Started Strategies

Everyone experiences writer’s block.  Staring at a blank page can be overwhelming and intimidating.  These strategies can help you ask questions about your topic to get you started in the write direction.

Thesis Statements and Outlines

Usually a thesis statement makes an assertion or expresses an opinion about the subject.  It lets your audience know the scope and purpose of your essay and gives perspective and focus to all the other ideas in your paper.  You may want to refer back to the section of this Web site on getting started for more help on constructing thesis statements and choosing topics.  Remember writing and research are cyclical processes, so your thesis may go through several revisions as you proceed through the research and writing process.

Research Papers

You may be used to writing reports, exploratory essays, or personal narratives.  Research paper writing will take you into new territory as you explore ideas and topics with an analytical edge.  Research papers require quite a bit of planning and time management.  The resources below will show you the steps involved in writing a research paper.

First drafts are hard to begin even for experienced writers. In writing your first draft focus more on getting ideas and words on paper than correct grammar and form. You’ll have time to correct these later in the revision stage.  Also, if using sources you may find at this point that you will need more sources to develop an idea or different sources because your thesis has changed.

Writing the Introduction

Where should I begin?  Should I open with a startling statistic or a probing question?  How to introduce your essay can be a perplexing problem.  It should capture the attention of the audience while clearly laying out your position or direction for the paper.  Read on for more tips.

Developing the Argument

So what?  Why does it matter?  These are definitely not questions you want your readers to have when they finish your paper.  The main goal of most academic writing is to take a position on a topic.  While your paper may not sound like an argument or even have the word “argument” in the text, you should take a persuasive tone in your writing.

Working with Sources

It may be tempting to use sources as “filler” material for your ideas or to stretch the length of the paper.  It may also be tempting just to copy word for word from sources when you’re having trouble coming up with ideas of your own.   However, sources provide support and credibility for the claims made in your paper.  Solid research provides the necessary evidence needed to back up your argument.

Developing Paragraphs and Using Transitions

Paragraphs are the workhorses of your essays.  Well-developed paragraphs help readers understand your thesis and guide them through the discussion of the topic.  In the same way transitions, between sentences and paragraphs, signal changes in ideas or thought to your readers.  These websites give some basic principles for writing sound paragraphs and using transitions.

Writing the Conclusion

A strong finish to your essay will leave your readers with a lasting impression.  Use the conclusion to tie up loose ends, add final thoughts on your argument, and leave your readers with a lasting impression of your essay.

Since anyone can publish anything on the Internet, it is even more important for you to pay special attention to evaluating these resources. The following questions can help you evaluate the quality of websites. First, a couple of preliminary questions:

Is the Internet the best source for this information?

  • Did you know that there is a difference between Web sites and Web-delivered content?
  • Be sure to know where your information is coming from.

While the Internet may be a convenient source of information, sometimes it is easier and quicker to find the information you need in a book or journal. Unlike the Internet, at least a book or article has gone through an editing process. Before you hurry off to search the Web, consider whether or not a Web site would indeed be the best place to find quality information about your topic.

What’s the difference between a Web site and an electronic database from the library?

Web pages can be written by anyone on any topic. You can find some great information, but it may not always come from a reliable, trustworthy source. Most of the sources (journals, magazines, newspapers, etc) found in the library’s electronic databases have print counterparts. These sources have gone through an editorial review process to ensure accuracy and credibility, so there’s less chance of getting incorrect or misleading information.

Criteria for evaluating Web sites:

Authority

  • Who wrote the Web site?
  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Who is the sponsor or what is the author’s affiliations?
  • Is there contact information for the author?

Purpose/Audience

  • Why was the page created?
  • What is the purpose? Sell, inform, persuade?
  • Who is the audience? Children, researchers, general audience?

Currency

  • Is the information up-to-date? Out-of-date? Not dated?

Objectivity or Bias

Bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something you should be aware of and notice.

  • Does the author have a conflict of interest?
  • Are facts left out?
  • Are all sides of the issue presented?

Unlike websites, books usually go through an extensive editing process. However, that does not automatically guarantee that every book written on your topic is suitable for your research needs. Consider these questions when evaluating books to use for your research.

What is the book’s purpose?

  • Persuade the reader to do something?  i.e. vote a certain way, purchase something, attend something?
  • Inform the reader?  i.e. give results of an experiment or study?
  • Prove something?  i.e.  that a method works/doesn’t work?
  • Entertain? For example: fiction, humor, gossip
  • Teach how to do something? For example: resumes, cover letters, care plans, lesson plans, etc.
  • Give an overview? For example: encyclopedias, textbooks

What is the organization and content?

  • Examine the table of contents and/or headings to determine if the book is organized in a logical and understandable manner.
  • Does the table of contents indicate that the book contains the information you need?
  • Is there added material such as illustrations and appendices you might use?

Who published the book?

  • A university press?  (usually more scholarly, quality info)
  • A commercial publisher? (tends to be oriented more toward general readership)
  • Government?
  • Professional or trade association, institution or research center?  (aimed at professionals in that field/subject area)
  • Self-published? Vanity press? (normally not a good sign of quality book)
  • When was it published?
  • Examine the timeliness of the book for your subject; is it:
    • Up-to-date
    • Out-of-date
    • Timeless?

What is the authority of the author?

  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Where is the author employed?
  • What else has he/she written?
  • Has he/she won awards?

Who is the audience for the book?

  • General readers
  • Students at high schools, college or graduate school
  • Professionals or specialists
  • Researchers

Is there a bibliography?

Scholarly works contain a bibliography of resources that were consulted. References should be in sufficient quantity and be appropriate for the content.

  • Does a bibliography exist?
  • Is it short or long?
  • Is it selective or comprehensive?
  • Are references to primary sources or only secondary sources?
  • Are references contemporary to the book or much 2
  • Is the citation style clear and consistent?

While most articles go through either a peer review process or editorial process, finding information in print doesn’t automatically guarantee accuracy or authority. Developing a keen, critical mindset as you choose resources will aid you in choosing high quality sources.  Here are some questions to use as you evaluate periodical articles.

What is the article’s purpose?

  • Persuade the reader to do something? i.e. vote a certain way, purchase something, attend something?
  • Inform the reader i.e. give results of an experiment or study? inform of current events?
  • Prove something? i.e.  that a method works/doesn’t work?
  • Entertain? For example: fiction, humor, gossip
  • Teach how to do something? For example: resumes, cover letters, care plans, lesson plans, etc.

For information, including a summary description and publisher information, about different periodicals, check out Magazines for Libraries [Ref. PN4832.M23 2002] in the Ready Reference area, behind the Reference Desk.

What type of periodical is it?

  • Scholarly journals contain high quality research that has been reviewed by experts in the field prior to publication
  • Trade magazines are written for professionals within a certain field (i.e. business, engineering, nursing, etc.).
  • Popular magazines are written for general public. They contain stories on current events, pop culture, and general interest stories.

What is the bias of the publisher?

Does the publication have an inherent bias that will impact articles printed in them? Is the journal:

  • Left/liberal?
  • Right/conservative?
  • Center?
  • An alternative press?
  • Published by a political action group?
    Magazines for Libraries (Ref PN 4832 1995) identifies ideological slants for many periodicals found in libraries

What is the date of publication?

For your research topic is the material:

  • Up-to-date
  • Out-of-date
  • Timeless?

What is the authority of the author?

  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Where is the author employed?
  • What else has he/she written?
  • Has he/she won awards?

Who is the audience for the article?

Is the article for:

  • General readers
  • Students at high schools, college or graduate school
  • Professionals or specialists
  • Researchers

Is there a bibliography?

Scholarly works contain a bibliography of resources that were consulted. References should be in sufficient quantity and be appropriate for the content.

  • Does a bibliography exist?
  • Is it short or long?
  • Is it selective or comprehensive?
  • Are references to primary sources or only secondary sources?
  • Are references sufficiently up-to-date for the book or are they too far out of date when the book was published?
  • Is the citation style clear and consistent?

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using another person’s ideas or expressions without acknowledging the source. Plagiarism is usually considered a moral or ethical offense rather than a legal one. Some examples of plagiarism are submitting someone’s paper as your own, buying a paper from a “term-paper mill” and submitting it as your own, not using quotation marks when you directly quote a source, or failing to cite a source.

The King University Honor Code:

On my Honor, I pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, or fail to address any violation of this Code. I understand that a violation of this Code will result in a trial before the Honor Council.

What are the penalties for plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a violation of the King University honor code. Penalties range from failure of the assignment, test, or course to suspension and expulsion.

What if I didn’t mean to plagiarize?

True, sometimes plagiarism can be unintentional. This can occur when you do not keep careful notes from sources you have read. It can also occur if you fail to cite a source or to use quotations. However, whether intentional or unintentional, it’s still considered plagiarism.

But, then I’ll have to cite everything in my paper?

Not necessarily. In order to support your argument, you will need to use the written work of other people on the subject you are studying. It’s a common practice in academic research to use other people’s ideas to support your claims. But your paper will also contain your own thoughts and experiences with the subject as well as common knowledge.

How do I know if something is common knowledge?

Common knowledge is a fact that everyone knows and can be found in several places. For example, George Washington was the first president of the United States.

So what’s the big deal then?

Sometimes when you are writing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you may  begin to use the language of your sources to express your ideas. Maybe the original source expresses an idea better then you think you could. If you fail to acknowledge the source of borrowed phrases and expressions, then there is a problem because the words you use in your paper are no longer your words but the words of your source.

Can you give me an example?

Here’s a paragraph from a book by J.J. Tobias called Urban Crime in Victorian England (New York, Schocken Books, 1972):

From about the middle of the nineteenth century the great secular boom which lasted until the 1870s saw a marked rise in employment opportunities and far more general rise in real incomes than had hitherto occurred.  Of course, we must not go too far.  Charles Booth’s survey of the London of the 1890s is there to remind us of the appalling poverty which existed at the end of the century.

There are several “apt phrases” which you could use in your writing that would be considered plagiarism if you do not quote and cite the source. For example, “great secular boom” and “appalling poverty” are two such phrases. If you used these in your paper without quoting and acknowledging Tobias as the source, you have committed plagiarism.

So, how do I avoid plagiarism?

Glad you asked.  Try these suggestions:

  • Give yourself enough time to do the work. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and most term papers (at least the good ones) aren’t built in a day either. Ideas need time to percolate. You should give yourself enough time to understand new concepts, theories, and ideas, so that you can write about them in your own words.
  • Make careful, detailed notes. Use note cards, yellow notepads, a word processor–whatever method works best for you, but make sure that you clearly note what is a direct quotation, a summary, a paraphrase, and your own ideas or questions about the subject as well as information for the sources you used.
  • Write often about your topic. Writing can help you think about your research topic and may even lead to new ideas and insights on your argument.
  • Talk to your professor or a librarian. If you’re unsure how to cite something or if you have inadvertently plagiarized, get help from people who want to help you.  Writing lab tutors are another good source of help.
  • Learn how to quote, paraphrase and summarize ideas you read. The OWL Writing Lab: Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing has some good resources to help you do this.
  • Learn about methods for citing sources. Your professor may have a certain style manual that he or she wants you to follow.  The library has copies of these books as well as other resources that can help you cite information properly.  Again, ask for help from your professor or a librarian.

Here’s where the hard work begins.  The revision stage is time for you to evaluate your writing in terms of coherence, unity, organization, and content.  If you have time it’s very helpful to put away your writing for a day or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes.  After you have examined the structure and logic of your paper, then begin editing and proofreading for grammar and spelling.  You may even find in the revision stage that you need more evidence or support for your ideas.  If so, head back to those research resources once more.

Did you know that the King University Writing Center is available to help you with your writing?

For an appointment, call 423.652.6326.

Grammar

Using correct grammar in your writing increases your credibility and readability.  These resources provide tutorials and exercises that will refresh your understanding of grammar and usage.

Revising/Editing/Proofreading

Are these words synonyms for the same practice?  Not necessarily.  In the beginning stages of revision, focus mainly on the content and ideas in your writing.  Is there enough evidence to support your ideas?  Have you structured your essay appropriately for the style of writing and the content?  Does your logic make sense?  Once you’ve analyzed the content, then you can focus on editing and proofreading for grammar and style.

Click here to download the Citation Guide

For More Information

King University Writing Center
owl.king.edu
Council of Science Editors - CBE Style
www.councilscienceeditors.org/pubs_ssf_7th.shtml
www.dianahacker.com/resdoc/sciences/number.html
APA - Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
Ready Ref BF76.7.P83 2010
www.apastyle.org
ACS Style Guide
Ready Ref QD8.5 .A25 1986
Turabian - A Manual for Writers of Term Papers
Ready Ref LB2369.T8 2007
American Institute of Physics Style Manual
Reference Desk
www.aip.org/pubservs/style/4thed/toc.html
CMS - Chicago Manual of Style
Ready Ref LB2369.U69 2003
www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/cite7.html
MLA - MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
Ready Ref LB2369.G53 2009
http://www.mla.org

Online Writing Lab Guidelines

Please note these guidelines before you submit your paper:

  1. There is a 48-72 hour turnaround time on receiving your paper back from the OWL.  Over the weekend and at busy times in the semester, we may need more time.  Submit your paper early in order to receive feedback in time to make any needed adjustments in your paper.
  2. You must submit your paper as a MS Word document. We are not able to open and reply to other formats.
  3. The OWL is closed during official school breaks and operates on limited hours during weekends. It may take a bit longer to receive a document back that you submit over a weekend.
  4. We do not guarantee any particular grade on an assignment.  We will give you advice on improving your writing but are not responsible in any way for the grade that you receive.  That grade will be dependent on the changes that you make and how well you meet your professor’s expectations.
  5. We will only comment on grammar issues in the first two pages of a submitted assignment. Each error will be noted once and explained.  You will need to read your entire document to check for similar errors in the rest of the paper. We will not proofread or make any changes for you.
  6. We will comment on issues such as format and genre, thesis statements, organization, paragraphing, and development. These comments can be found either in the body of your paper or at the end of your document.
  7. Please submit a rubric, or assignment sheet, or both along with your paper. Your review may be delayed if OWL does not receive these important supporting documents.
  8. We typically only review each paper once. If you would like to re-submit a paper for further review, please include in your email specific questions about particular parts of the paper you would like us to address. We will not do a second review unless you follow this protocol.
  9. To submit your paper, email it to owl@king.edu or owl@student.king.edu. Be sure that the paper is a Word document.
  10. The document will be returned to you as an email attachment with comments to your King email.

To download the APA style template, click here.