Some Hints on Writing a Paper:
Dr. Bill Young
Below are hints for writing a research paper. I'll add others as I
think of them. Please take these into consideration as you edit your
paper for the class.
- Start with a section-level outline of the paper. That will keep
you from wandering all over the place. Into each section, put only
what's relevant to that section. If you can't think of what sections
you need in the paper, you are not ready to write the paper.
- Divide your paper into sections with section headers. Use
subsections, if appropriate. Unless your paper is very long, you
probably don't need headers below the subsection level.
- Have an Introduction section at the start that describes the
problem you are addressing. It should conclude with a paragraph
describing what is in the other sections of the paper.
- End with a Conclusions section. It should summarize your paper and
state what you discovered.
- If you are not a native speaker of English, have a friend who is
edit your paper for you. A good strategy is to read your paper aloud
to see if your sentences are really sentences and make sense.
- Try reading the paper aloud to see if your sentences make sense
or read fluidly. Given some of the bizarre non-sentences I find, I
can't believe some students actually ever read the papers they
- Avoid long and complex sentences. Don't use words that you don't
fully understand to make yourself sound smart.
- It's usually considered bad form to have a paragraph that is a
- If you have two distinct thoughts in a sentence, consider making
it two sentences. In no case should you just separate them with a
comma; that's called "comma splicing." Use a semicolon instead, but
only if they are closely related. Example: "This is one thought; this
- Use a spell-checker.
- "It's" is a conjunction for "it is." If you can't replace a use
of "it's" by "it is," you meant "its."
- Any time you use the word "which," ask yourself if "that" would
work as well. If so, use "that" instead.
- In written American English, quotation marks always follow commas
and periods. They may fall inside other punctuation. Example,
"foo," "bar," and "baz." Did she say "braf"?
- Whenever you have a list of things, make sure that the items in the
list are parallel. That is, all items should be of the same type
(nouns, phrases, sentences, etc.).
- If you are tempted to say "as I told you above" or something
similar, rethink it. If you said it before, you probably don't need
to say it again, particularly in a short paper.
- Make sure you are not plagiarizing. Any significant fact that you
got from another source should have a reference. Every direct
quotation should have a reference, unless you have a bunch of them in
a row from the same source. If you copied a sentence verbatim from
Wikipedia or another source, you are plagiarizing. You must
credit the source and rewrite it into your own words (unless it's a
- Make sure your references and bibliography follow a style
accepted for the field. Don't trust your text formatter to get them
right. Look them over.
- Use figures, pictures, tables and graphs where appropriate. A
long prose description of a complicated algorithm is boring and much
harder to follow than a graph.
- Don't pad your paper with excessive spacing, big margins,
extraneous figures, etc. It's better to have a short paper that is
substantive than a long paper full of fluff.
- Long quotes should be set off from the body of the text. The
rule of thumb is that any quote shorter than four lines can be
in-lined. Longer quotes should be block indented.