Length: If you attempt to write a 10-page paper entitled "The President and Congress Struggle for Power: Two Centuries of Constitutional Conflict," then your paper is destined to be "a mile wide and an inch deep," as they say. It is better to do something more narrowly focused and to do it well than to give a superficial treatment of a large subject.
Research Resources: Trying to write a paper on "Secret Military Operations in the Persian Gulf War" would also be a mistake because the government has not released the relevant information. You should take the holdings of your library into account. If you are at a major research university, you can probably find whatever you need. Even at large libraries, however, you may have trouble finding good sources to support a research paper on U.S.-Sri Lankan relations or U.S. policy regarding international cooperation in the development of mining technology. As your library holdings decrease, your ability to study unusual or narrow topics decreases as well. So be careful not to choose a topic that destines you to fail.
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.
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1. No professional writer would dream of sending a manuscript out for review or to press without writing multiple drafts. Indeed, the more one writes, the more one feels the need to do drafts. Only undergraduates have the hubris to keyboard a paper into the computer, print a copy out, hand it in, and wait confidently for that rave review and an "A" grade from the instructor. A better idea is to write a first draft. Note here that the adjective "rough" does not precede "draft." Your draft should be complete and carefully done. Once your smooth draft is done, put it aside for a few days so that you can gain perspective. Then reread it. You may be surprised at how many ways you find to improve what you have written when you look at it with "fresh eyes." The same is true for your third and subsequent drafts.
Besides organization, the other hallmark of a good paper is clarity in writing. Remember that if a paper fails to communicate well, then its research-no matter how well done--will have little impact. There is an old piece of advice that says, "write like you speak." This is terrible advice, at least for formal papers. Good written communication is somewhat different from good spoken communication. When you speak to someone, especially face to face, you can convey meaning through voice inflection, gestures, and other methods in addition to your words. These methods are not available in written communications. Therefore, choice of words, punctuation, and other considerations are particularly vital when you write. Good writing can be divided into three parts: effort, style considerations, and technical matters.
Whatever approach you choose, bear in mind that a cardinal rule is, Summarizing your findings in the conclusion does not mean that this is the only place to put "you" in the paper. Your analysis should appear throughout the paper. A big error that many novice writers make is to use the main body of the paper to create a heap of facts and to wait until the conclusion to say what they mean. This approach is boring and will not impress your readers with your analytical ability. The best papers by far are those that draw data, events, and other material together and interpret them throughout.
Approach: There are several ways to approach your paper. A common organizational approach is a chronological one. The advantage of this approach is that it uses the passage of time as its organizing mechanism. The disadvantage of a chronological approach is that it can easily become a "laundry list" of events, both important and unimportant. Students often list everything they find, leaving it to the reader to determine which factors are most important. Chronologies are also no substitute for analysis. There is nothing wrong with a chronological approach if it is done well; just be sure to put more emphasis throughout on things happened than on happened.
Also with regard to your main body, do not assume knowledge on the part of the reader. Include all important information, explain its significance, and detail your logic. Write your paper as though its reader will be a reasonably intelligent and informed person but not an expert on your topic. Your instructor wants to know what you know and will not "read into" the paper information that is not there.
Effort: Thomas Alva Edison once supposedly commented that "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." That is true whether one is inventing the lightbulb or creating an essay, a report, or a book. Writing and polishing drafts of a paper take time and effort. They cannot be done the night before the paper is due. If you sit down at your word processor the night before your report is due and write it into the wee hours of the morning, you will almost certainly leave your reader as bleary-eyed when he or she reads the paper as you were when you wrote it. Two things to do are to write drafts and to get others to read your paper.
If you are writing an advanced, theoretical paper, your introduction might well also include a review of the existing scholarship on the subject, a section in which you identify how you collected your data and other information, and a discussion of the methodology you will use. Wolfinger (1993) is a guide for such advanced papers.