Need a quick refresher on academic writing? These 10 tips might help!

1. What’s the difference between a research and a persuasive paper?

Research paper
In a research paper, you choose a question and then lay out the research to answer that question.

Persuasive paper
In a persuasive paper, you choose a stance on a controversial topic and then present research and arguments that support your stance to persuade your reader. Both require fact-based research.

2. What’s a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is (usually) a single sentence that states the purpose of a paper. Think of a thesis statement as a road map; it should serve as a guide for you and your reader regarding what the paper will be about. In a research paper, it answers your research question. In a persuasive paper, it lays out a stance on a topic that you will then go on to support. For a thesis to be effective, it must be more than a statement of fact; it must be a debatable claim with the potential for arguments for and against it. Learn more in this virtual workshop on writing thesis statements.

3. How do I structure my arguments?

Most papers will have an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement at the end. This is followed by several paragraphs of arguments supporting your thesis statement. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph and supports the thesis. Then, supporting evidence from your sources is provided with your analysis of those quotes or statistics. Body paragraphs often end with a transition sentence to lead the reader into the next body paragraph. Learn more in this infographic on organization.

4. How do I write an introduction/conclusion?

An introduction should ignite reader interest, provide context for the topic at hand, and lay out your position with a thesis statement. A conclusion should summarize your arguments and reiterate to the reader why the thesis matters. Introductions should be shaped like a funnel (starting broadly before getting to your specific topic/argument), while conclusions should be shaped opposite (starting narrow by reiterating your paper’s main ideas before providing the broader implications or takeaways of the paper). Learn more in this infographic on writing an introduction

5. How do I cite sources within my paper?

Whenever you pull information from another source to use in your paper, you need to cite it with an in-text citation. The exact information included varies by citation style. For instance, MLA requires author and page number while APA requires author and year of publication. Citation formatting varies by the type of source (newspaper, book, interview, etc.). Specific details on in-text citation styles for different kinds of sources can be found through OWL Purdue.

6. How do I create a works cited page?

A works cited page or bibliography is a listing of all sources used within an academic paper that is included at the end of the paper. Its purpose is to assist a reader in accessing your research. The formatting of works cited/bibliography pages varies by citation style (MLA, APA, CMS, etc.) but bibliographies must always list all sources referenced in the paper. Some people format their works cited as they compose the paper, while others gather all their sources in a separate document and format them correctly at the end. 

7. What’s the difference between MLA and APA?

MLA (“Modern Language Association”) citations are used in papers written for the humanities, such as English, literature, or cultural studies. APA (“American Psychological Association”) citations are used in social sciences, including economics, psychology, business, and nursing. APA citations include the year published because research in many fields that use APA citations is fast-moving, and information quickly becomes out-of-date. Other citation styles include Chicago (fine arts and general research) and AP (journalism). Learn more on this ch

8. Can I use “I” in my papers? What about “you”?

Academic writing, unless otherwise specified, should be written in the third person. This means that your writing should not directly reference you, the writer (“I believe” or “When I had this experience”) and also should not directly reference the reader (“What would you do if” or “You might think that”). It is important to make no assumptions about the reader of your paper.

9. Is my grammar ok?

A good way to check grammar is to read your sentences out loud! Sentences may be phrased incorrectly or include other errors in the rush of drafting.  The Writing Center recommends the use of Grammarly, which assists in making sure your writing is grammatically correct, clear, and compelling to read. Students can access Grammarly Pro via OneLogin.

10. How can I get more help with academic writing?

Participating in a writing consultation at the Writing Center is the best way to get help at any stage of the writing process or to learn more about these tips.