When you are first faced with the task of writing a long essay or term paper it can be intimidating, but you make your job and the reader’s job much easier by following some basic rules of thumb. Of course, if your professors offer you any specific guidelines about writing be sure to follow those first. Otherwise, incorporate the advice that follows into your papers wherever appropriate.
Of course, papers should always be typed, double-spaced on 8-1/2 x 11 paper on one side of the page only, and letter-quality print or better is always expected. Often you are expected to supply a cover sheet giving the date, your name, the title of the paper, the class, and the professor’s name. Tables and figures should be numbered consecutively throughout the text, and if there are a good number of them, then separate lists of tables and figures at the beginning of the paper may be expected. Tables and figures should always have descriptive captions, and if they come directly from sources, the sources must be specifically credited in the captions with the same citation style that you use throughout the paper.
A paper’s title should be succinct and definitive, individual and informational. Clearly, the title "An Overview of the Hydraulic Fracturing of Methane-Bearing Coal Formations" is more complete, satisfying, and informative than "Hydraulic Fracturing." The title is important because it announces the paper’s specific content and typically serves as a pathway to the paper’s thesis.
Your introduction is your opportunity to be at your most individual. You should get your reader’s attention immediately by announcing the paper’s subject or by launching into a relevant scenario or narrative that informs or illustrates your overall argument. A paper illustrating the costly effects of poor mine design, for instance, might open with the scenario of how a poorly designed pillar at a salt mine in Louisiana once collapsed, fracturing the surface above and draining an entire lake into the mine. A paper on the supply and demand of nickel might begin by straightforwardly announcing that the paper will explain the uses of nickel, detail its market structure, and use data to forecast the future supply and demand of the metal.
In brief, a paper’s introduction should define and limit the paper’s scope and purpose, indicate some sense of organization, and, whenever possible, suggest an overall argument. Another important principle in technical writing is that the introduction should be problem-focused, giving the reader enough background so that the paper’s importance and relationship to key ideas are clear. A rule of thumb about the introduction’s length: about 5-10% of the entire paper.
As examples of how creative an introduction can be, here are the opening lines from a geography paper and a paper on optics, both of which use narrative technique to arouse our interest. Note how the first excerpt uses an "I" narrator comfortably while the second excerpt does not use "I" even though the writer is clearly reflective about the subject matter. The first excerpt is from a paper on the generic nature of America’s highway exit ramp services; the second is from a paper on shape constancy.
The observation struck me slowly, a growing sense of déjà vu. I was driving the endless miles of Interstate 70 crossing Kansas when I began to notice that the exits all looked the same. . . .
Our eyes often receive pictures of the world that are contrary to physical reality. A pencil in a glass of water miraculously bends; railroad tracks converge in the distance. . . .
Thesis Statement / Objective
Most papers have outright thesis statements or objectives. Normally you will not devote a separate section of the paper to this; in fact, often the thesis or objective is conveniently located either right at the beginning or right at the end of the Introduction. A good thesis statement fits only the paper in which it appears. Thesis statements usually forecast the paper’s content, present the paper’s fundamental hypothesis, or even suggest that the paper is an argument for a particular way of thinking about a topic. Avoid the purely mechanical act of writing statements like "The first topic covered in this paper is x. The second topic covered is y. The third topic is . . ." Instead, concretely announce the most important elements of your topic and suggest your fundamental approach—even point us toward the paper’s conclusion if you can.
Here are two carefully focused and thoughtfully worded thesis statements, both of which appeared at the ends of introductory paragraphs:
This paper reviews the problem of Pennsylvania’s dwindling landfill space, evaluates the success of recycling as a solution to this problem, and challenges the assumption that Pennsylvania will run out of landfill space by the year 2020.
As this paper will show, the fundamental problem behind the Arab-Israeli conflict is the lack of a workable solution to the third stage of partition, which greatly hinders the current negotiations for peace.
Body Paragraphs / Section Headings
Never simply label the middle bulk of the paper as "Body" and then lump a bunch of information into one big section. Instead, organize the body of your paper into sections by using an overarching principle that supports your thesis, even if that simply means presenting four different methods for solving some problem one method at a time. Normally you are allowed and encouraged to use section headings to help both yourself and the reader follow the flow of the paper. Always word your section headings clearly, and do not stray from the subject that you have identified within a section.
As examples, I offer two sets of section headings taken from essays. The first is from Dr. Craig Bohren’s "Understanding Colors in Nature" (1), which appeared in a 1990 edition of Earth & Mineral Sciences; the second is from a student’s paper on the supply and demand of asbestos.
Section Headings From "Understanding Colors In Nature"
- Color By Scattering: The Role of Particle Size
- Color By Scattering: The Positions of Source and Observer
- The Blue Sky: The Role of Multiple Scattering
- Color By Absorption in Multiple-Scattering Media
- Color by Absorption: Microscopic Mechanisms are Sometimes Elusive
Section Headings From "Asbestos: Supply and Demand"
- Industry Structure
- The Mining and Properties of Asbestos
- World Resources and Reserves
- Byproducts and Co-products
- Economic Factors and Supply and Demand Problems
- Uses of and Substitutes for Asbestos
- The Issue of Health on Supply and Demand
Just by considering the section headings in the above examples, we can begin to see the fundamental structures and directions of the essays, because both sets of headings break the paper topic into its natural parts and suggest some sort of a movement forward through a topic. Note how these headings—as all section headings should—tell us the story of the paper and are worded just as carefully as any title should be.
Most importantly, then, you must use your section headings in the same way that you use topic sentences or thesis statements: to control, limit, and organize your thinking for your reader’s sake.
Most papers use "Conclusion" as a heading for the final section of the text, although there are times when headings such as "Future Trends" will serve equally well for a paper’s closing section. When you are stuck for a conclusion, look back at your introduction; see if you can freshly reemphasize your objectives by outlining how they were met, or even revisit an opening scenario from the introduction in a new light to illustrate how the paper has brought about change. Your conclusion should not be a summary of the paper or a simple tacked-on ending, but a significant and logical realization of the paper’s goals.
Beware of the temptation to open your final paragraph with "In conclusion," or "In summary," and then summarize the paper. Instead, let your entire conclusion stand as a graceful termination of an argument. As you write your conclusion, concentrate on presenting the bottom line, and think of the word’s definition: a conclusion is an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence you have presented.
What follows is an excerpt from a conclusion to a paper entitled "Exercise in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis in Women." Note how the conclusion reflects directly on the paper’s hypothesis and spells out the bottom line, gracefully bringing closure to the paper’s argument:
The majority of evidence presented in this paper supports the hypothesis that exercise positively affects bone mineral density in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Significantly, exercise has been shown to increase bone mineral density in premenopausal women even after the teenage years, and it helps preserve the bone mass achieved in the following decades. There is also evidence that exercise adds a modest, yet significant amount of bone mass to the postmenopausal skeleton. As these findings demonstrate, women of all ages can benefit by regular weight-bearing exercise, an increased intake of calcium-rich foods, and—for postmenopausal women—the maintenance of adequate estrogen levels. For all women, it is never too late to prevent osteoporosis or lessen its severity by making appropriate lifestyle choices.
Any sources cited must be correctly listed on a References page using the Author-Year or Number system (see Chapter 5 of this handbook).
Term Paper: Format of Citations and References
As you write your term papers, it will be important for you to document where you obtained the information cited in your report. Many of the references you use will come from published sources. Some may come from electronic sources such as the World Wide Web, Melvyl and Harvest databases available through the UC Davis library, CD references and the like, and some may come from interviews. An important component of your writing will be the effective use of reference material. This skill will serve you well in writing papers of all types, not just those required for classes.
For this class, we will be using the documentation style of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2001) modified with italics substituted for underlining. This format is very similar to that of the Modern Language Association, and these are the most commonly used styles for publishing in the social and natural sciences. The general form of citations in the body of the text is to include the author and date in parentheses (as above) and optionally include the page number(s) after the date. If the author's name was just mentioned in the text, it is not necessary to repeat it in the citation. The rules are described in more detail, with examples, in section 3.
2. Basic Guidelines
The purpose of the term paper in ECS 15 is for you to learn how to do effective research on a subject and then write it up clearly, showing where you got your information.
A research paper requires searching for information pertinent to a given subject, organizing it, and presenting it effectively in written form. Oral research reports are also useful, but this course does not cover them.
In the following sections, we will present the way that we want you to cite your references in the term paper for this course. The required format meets the accepted practices cited in Li and Crane (1993), a reference that is currently considered the best authority on citing electronic sources. This book in turn follows the basic format for the American Psychological Association (APA, 2001), which is a good format (though by no means the only acceptable one in technical publications). You may be required to use slightly different formats for other papers, such as papers submitted for publication to refereed journals, each of which typically have their own styles. Learning how to follow one such set of rules is a worthwhile exercise. You will therefore be expected to use the format set out below.
3. In-text Citation to References
When citing a reference from your reference list, please use the following conventions. Put in parentheses the author(s) last names, the year, and optionally the page number(s) separated by commas.
For one author, use the author's last name and year separated by a comma. For example: (Walters, 1994) or (Austin, 1996).
For two to five authors, use their last names separated by commas and with an ampersand "&" before the very last name in the list, then the year separated by a comma. For example: (Li & Crane, 1993) (Charniak, Riesbeck, McDermott & Meehan, 1994).
For more than five authors, use the first author's last name and "et al." For example: (Walters, et al., 1992).
For the date, use the year. If there are two references by the same author(s) for the same year, use letters after the year: (Walters, 1993b).
If there are specific page numbers for a citation, add them after the year (Walters, 1994, pp. 31-49).
If you include the author's name(s) in the text of a sentence in the paper, you may omit their names from the parentheses as follows: "Austin (1996) includes valuable references to ...." or "The examples given by Li and Crane (1993) on web addresses ...".
Do not use footnotes in this class for citations. You can use them for explanatory text, but not for references. Have the citation make it easy to find the reference in the "References" section. All references in that section should be complete enough for readers to obtain a copy for themselves.
4. Your List of References
Create a list of references, one for each item cited in the paper, in a section called "References". This section goes at the end of your paper. The references are to be alphabetized by the fist author's last name, or (if no author is listed) the organization or title. If you cite more than one paper by the same first author, sort them by year of publication, earliest year first. Do not use footnotes for citations.
Single-space the entries in your list of references. Start at the left margin for the first line of each bibliography entry. Each additional line of each entry should be indented a reasonable amount. Separate the entries with a blank line. Do not number the references. Doing so means you have to renumber all the references whenever you insert a new reference.
4.1. Author, Date, and Title
The general format for the author, title, and date in your reference list is as follows:
Author. (date). Title. [the full reference, which follows, is discussed below]
The following explains these fields.
First author's last name, followed by the initials. If there are two authors, separate their names with "and". For three or more authors, separate all but the last author's name with commas, and use "and" before the last author's name in the list. If published by an agency with no author given, list the name of the agency. End with a period. For example:
Walters, R.F. and Reed, N.E.
Walters, R.F., Bharat, S. R. and Austin, A.A.
Charniak, E., Riesbeck, C., McDermott, D. and Meehan, J.
National Bureau of Standards.
Enclose the date in parentheses. Use a date sufficiently specific for the item. For example, give the year of publication for a book, the year and month of publication for a monthly magazine or journal, and the year, month, and day for a newspaper or daily periodical. End with a period. For example:
(1995, August 30).
If the title is that of an article, use the regular font; if it is the title of a book, italicize it. Capitalize only the first letter of the first word and proper nouns. If there is a subtitle, it too should begin with a capital letter. End with a period. For example, an article's title would look like:
Computer-based systems integration.
and a book's title would look like:
The abc's of MUMPS: An introduction for novice and intermediate programmers.
4.2. Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers
The following apply to citing the name and identifying information for journals, magazines, newspapers, and periodicals in general.
When citing the name of a journal, magazine or newspaper, write the name in italics, with all words capitalized except for articles, prepositions and conjunctions.
Volume, number, and page numbers
Give the volume number in italics, followed by the issue number in parentheses (if there is an issue number), and the page number(s). For magazines, precede page numbers with "p." (if the article is on a single page) or "pp." (if the article is on multiple pages). For example:
Communications of the ACM, 27(2), 141-195.
Journal of Advertising Research, 32, 47-55.
Time, 146, pp. 42-44.
Publisher and Location
Give the city and state (if in the United States), followed by a colon and the publisher name, followed by a period. For example:
Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
London: Edward Arnold
If you choose to include any personal interviews, reference them with the person's name, their professional title and employer, and the date, time, and place of the interview. For example:
Albert Einstein (1935, January 5), Professor of Theoretical Physics, Princeton University, 3:00pm, Princeton, NJ.
4.4. References Found in Electronic Form
Many resource materials are available through Melvyl and Harvest, which are the electronic access points for the UC Davis library. More are on CDROM, or on the Internet. These can serve as appropriate references for research reports and term papers. It is important, however, to acknowledge the sources of these documents, even though you may never have seen "hard copy" (printed versions) of the file(s) you wish to cite. This section describes how you are to cite references that you have obtained from electronic repositories.
The basic form of your reference will be similar to printed references, but you will need to add some important additional information: the type of medium used, and the material's availability.
In general, if you wish to cite an electronic file, you should include either the term "[Online]" or the term "[CDROM]" (enclosed in square brackets) before the closing period terminating the title of the work cited. If you are citing a part of a larger work, you should give the title, followed by a comma, the word "In" followed by the larger work, and then add "[Online]" or "[CDROM]" as appropriate, followed by a period.
Citing the availability of an electronic document should give the reader enough information to know where to locate the file and, if necessary, the specific portion of the file cited. Electronic documents can come from several types of locations:
ftp: identify the ftp server, location (path), and file name
Internet (e.g., world wide web): give the location and file name; the URL is sufficient
mailing lists, newsgroups: identify the server, method of access, and file name; do not cite personal email
databases (e.g., computer database in Melvyl): identify access method
In each case, you should give enough information to let the reader know how to access the information electronically. Generally, giving the site (Internet-style server name) on which the information resides, the name of the file, and the complete path (list of directories) showing how to get to it is sufficient.For example:
[Online]. Available: email: firstname.lastname@example.org Message: Get POETICS TODAY.
[Online] Available: FTP: ftp.bio.indiana.edu, Location: /usenet/bionet/neuroscience, File: 9512.newsm.
[CDROM]. Available: UMI File: Business Periodicals Ondisk Item 91-11501.
[Online]. Available: http://escher.ucdavis.edu:1024/rtahomepage.html
5. Samples of Complete References
All of the examples given above may be summarized by citing a few references in the form we would like you to use. Here are some examples that would be cited in the text as (Crosley, 1988), (Essinger, 1991, May 28, pp. 97-99), (Armstrong & Keevil, 1991, p. 103), and so forth.
5.1. Printed Book
Crosley, L.M. (1988). The architects' guide to computer-aided-design. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.
5.2. Magazine Article
Essinger, J. (1991, May 28). Just another tool of your trade. Accountancy 108, pp. 91-125.
5.3. Journal Article
Armstrong, P. and Keevil, S. (1991). Magnetic resonance imaging-2: Clinical uses. British Medical Journal 303(2), 105-109.
Computer, Christopher C. (1996, January 10) Professor, Computer Science Department, University of California - Davis, 3:00 pm, Davis, California.
5.5. World Wide Web Address
Austin, A. (1996) Annotated List of World Wide Web Technical Writing and Computer-Aided Composition Resources [Online]. Available: http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~austina/cai.html.
Burke, J. (1992, January/February). Children's research and methods: What media researchers are doing, Journal of Advertising Research, 32, RC2-RC3. [CDROM]. Available: UMI File: Business Periodicals Ondisk Item: 92-11501.
Blood, T. (1995, November 30). Re: Brain implants: the Chinese made it! [Online] In Newsgroup: bionet.neuroscience, Available FTP: ftp.bio.indiana.edu, Directory: /usenet/bionet/neuroscience, File: 9512.newsm, Date: Thu, 30 Nov 1995 20:39:35.
Watson, L, and Dallwitz, M.J. (1990, December). Grass genera of the world-interactive identification and information retrieval. Flora Online: An Electronic Publication of TAXACOM (22). [Online]. Available FTP: huh.harvard.edu, Directory: pub/newsletters/flora.online/issue22, File:022gra11.txt.
American Psychological Association (APA) (2001). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (Fifth Edition).Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Li, X. and Crane, N.B. (1993). Electronic style: A guide to citing electronic information. Westport, CT: Mecklermedia.
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