How to Write a Good Paper
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Your Argument

1.Have a thesis, and state it clearly and concisely at the start of the paper. A paper is not a newspaper article, or a book review. The thesis should be the backbone of your paper Ė eliminate material that is not relevant to it. Refer back to the thesis as the paper develops.

2.Have a conclusion The paper should not just fizzle out when you run out of ideas Ė finish with something that ties your argument together nicely. Itís often useful to summarize your argument, gathering together the main pieces of evidence and showing that they demonstrate your thesis.

3. Give supporting evidence. Strengthen your argument by referring directly to the text of the books. Donít just recount what happened in the book, interpret it. Analyze the evidence to show how it supports your thesis. Quoting phrases or single sentences is fine, but donít include large chunks. Give page numbers for specific points, chapter numbers where you are talking more about a general part of the book. Extra credit for using relevant evidence (books, papers, novels) not assigned for this class.

4. Donít bite off more than you can chew. For a short paper, such as these three page assignments, narrow your focus and choose a thesis that you can support in the space allocated.

5. Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is a serious offense and is grounds for failure. This includes handing in a paper for which you have received credit in another course (even if it is your work), handing in someone elseís paper or a portion of their paper, or failing to acknowledge (cite) your sources.

6. Remember your audience. Your paper is not a private communication between you and your professor. You should have in mind an audience of smart, interested people who are not necessarily experts in the field. Remember also that there are some things that we do in informal writing (contractions, abbreviations, slang) that are not appropriate in formal writing. Your papers should be composed in the formal manner.

Picking a Thesis

1. Try to pick a question that covers themes raised in more than one of the readings. This lets you intelligently compare the approaches of different authors.

2. Remember that this is a an historically based STS course.. That doesnít mean that you have to put in the names of Presidents and the dates of battles, but try to show an historical appreciation of change over time, how different events fit together and so on.

3. Try to make the thesis something that is not totally obvious (otherwise the paper is boring). For example, arguing that computer technology has changed a lot since 1950 and so some ideas are out of date would be a bad thesis.

4. On the other hand, the thesis should be supportable. I donít have to agree with you after reading, but I do need to feel that youíve made a strong case and that the argument might be plausible. Try to take into account possible objections to this view.

Mechanics

1. Give you paper a title which indicates the subject of the paper and your argument.

2. Double-space your papers, using a 12 point serif font (Times, Palatino, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, etc.)  with margins of at least one inch all around. Going more than half a page over the limit will be penalized.

3. Number the pages.

4. Staple your papers.

5. Keep a copy. Donít risk losing it.

6. Always proof your paper. Read it carefully, from a printout. Reading it out loud is the best way of spotting typos. Remember, the spell checker does not know what you actually meant to say. 

How to Cite Sources

Historians base their arguments around the careful citation of evidence. Whenever you directly quote someoneís work, report someone elseís ideas, or present facts that are not common knowledge, you should let your readers know your source and give enough information for them to find that source. Even if you use your own words to restate anotherís ideas, failing to cite constitutes plagiarism.

For these papers, it is fine to cite the main novels under discussion at the end, and refer to them by name or by the authorís name in the body of the paper. If you refer to any other books (histories of science fiction, other novels, critical essays) please footnote you first reference to these texts, and give a full citation in the footnote.

As a minimum, you must include the full title of the book, the name of the author, the year and city of publication. If you are citing a paper within a larger volume, then you must give the name of the collection and its editors. The examples below are from an actual history paper.

bulletFrom a book: Sidney Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), chap. 7.
bulletFrom a journal: Clarence H. Danhof, ďThe Farm Enterprise: The Northern United States, 1820-1860,Ē Research in Economic History, 4 (1979), 127-191.
bulletFrom a collection: Albert Fishlow, ďAntebellum Interregional Trade Reconsidered,Ē in R.L. Anderson, ed., New Views on American Economic Development (Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1965) pp. 187-200.

Everything you could ever want to know about the technicalities of academic writing is contained in the Chicago Manual of Style. However, the book itself may be a little too complete for your current needs.

You will find a more user friendly version of the same material in Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. 6th edition, revised by John Grossman and Alice B. Bennett. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). This is the standard work recommended for student writing.


Page copyright Thomas Haigh -- email thaigh@sas.upenn.edu.    Home: www.tomandmaria.com/tom. Updated 01/18/2002.