Fort Hays State University > About FHSU > Academic Divisions > College of Arts and Sciences > Master of Liberal Studies > Mlssh Crawfords Guide
C. B. Crawford, Ph.D.
Writing a final term paper is a very typical requirement in most liberal arts graduate classes. The final paper is a great way for a professor to gauge the level of understanding that a student has on a topic. In many cases the final paper carries as much weight as the exams, so its importance is not to be minimized. On the contrary, given the importance of the final paper in most classes it should be a top priority for every graduate student to excel on this particular task. Final term papers may be referred to as any of the following:
thesis paper, or
The goal of every student should be to demonstrate that they have mastered the subject matter at hand through their superior coverage of a topic either assigned to or chosen by the student.
Even though the term paper is commonly required in most graduate courses, the specifics of each requirement are as unique as the individual professor teaching that particular class. In other words, even though this document attempts to point out some common elements of great paper writing, there will always be more specific directions that are included in the course syllabi.
The purpose behind the final term paper is varied and subject to curricular demands. In many cases it can be condensed into just a few compelling reasons:
1. A term paper helps a student put structure to an unorganized collection of information to improve the educational experience,
2. A term paper allows a student to get practice in performing original (or archival, in most conditions) research in a controlled situation,
3. A term paper facilitates advanced integration and synthesis learning.
If YOUR personal goal is to organize your thinking, to perform quality research, and to integrate and synthesize theory, then you will be far ahead of other students just rushing to get the paper done before the deadline passes.
II. Research Process
1. Define your Topic or Problem
Clarify your information needs
Organize your thoughts
Develop an overview of the topic
Become familiar with the terminology
Keep notes and record
2. Plan a Research Strategy
Consider the scope of the project
Know the level of the project
Think about managing the project
Plan data collection
Draw a conceptual framework
Plan research questions and hypotheses
3. Locate and Retrieve Information
Know what type of information you need for your literature review
Determine the likely and unlikely sources of information
Acquire materials from other libraries/sources early
Assess if you have enough information to write the research paper, Rule 10-2-20 (10 to 20 pages of source text for every page you write)
4. Evaluate the Information
Establish credentials of the authors
Read and highlight the materials
Determine the purpose and results of the individual works early
Evaluate the methods, accuracy, and relevance
Recognize theoretical orientation, bias, and perspective
5. Determine if You Have Enough Information
Get more information than you can use
Finalize the organization of the paper, fill in the information you have, then look for areas that are weak
Seek to find multiple sources to support every major point
Do any significant questions seem to be inadequately addressed?
6. Planning Data Collection (quantitative research only)
Know the research variables and how to operationalize them
Pilot test the instruments, learn from the trial
Expect the unexpected in data collection
Build a code book
Gather the subject pool
Identify key statistical tests to be run
7. Collecting Data (quantitative research only)
Find more subjects than you’ll need
Observe the participants for possible intervening variables or possible questions to ask for the next study
Consider the theoretical implications of what you are researching
Push on to the end – get a target number of cases and achieve it
Don’t cut corners, do data collection the right way
8. Data Analysis (quantitative research only)
Review the instruments for error and artifacts
Build a database of the cases
Once data has been entered, scrub the data free of error
Compute and print basic descriptive statistics
Review descriptive statistics for accidental findings
Compute and print the inferential statistics
Place the statistics in context, interpret their meaning
9. Synthesize and Present the Information
Determine the best presentation format
Cite sources completely
Know when is “good” and when is “good enough”
Write the paper in sections
Spell check and proofread your draft
Write an abstract, make final changes, “dress it up”
Address the theoretical component
10. Evaluate the Project
Evaluate the results
Evaluate the process
Keep feedback on the project
III. Preparing to Write Your Paper
Four Ts (Time, Tools, Texts, Techniques)
No writing gets done if one of the four Ts is missing. Each is critical in preparing to write the best possible paper.
To a large extent, writing is limited by the amount of time you have to complete the task.
More time does not always guarantee a better product, but less time typically does guarantee reduced quality.
Abundance of time can create complacency and procrastination.
No one has the ability to control or extend time, even when deadlines are flexible you are stealing time from something else.
The best way to control time is to prioritize, budget, and schedule. There is no quick fix, and writing that is put off tends to suffer.
Tools relate to the various technologies that people use to assist their writing.
Mastering the tools of writing are also critical since a mastery of those tools means more time to put into creation and proofreading.
Tools can be “hi tech” or not. Some of the most dependable tools are pen, paper, a dictionary, or typewriter.
Be aware that if you use more “hi tech” tools like computer word processors or spreadsheets then you will be forced into a learning curve that can be lengthy and steep.
Use tools that are most appropriate for the assignment. If the assignment is extensive then a complex word processor may be the most useful tool, if the assignment requires less work then you may be able to use less complex tools to convey the point.
Understanding the basics of the technology is your responsibility, so it may be in your best interest to invest in some basic training on the tools you’ll be commonly using.
Writing without source texts inevitably shows ignorance. Even the most basic position is strengthened through adding the support of relevant source materials.
Follow the 10-2-20 rule. Collect, read, process, and understand at least 10 to 20 pages of relevant source text for every page of text you are writing. There is no substitute for having source text, not even secondary texts (textbooks) are as effective as original studies or seminal works.
Collect as much source text as you can before you begin, but be prepared to collect more after your writing project starts based on directions the work takes.
There are rarely situations where you are disadvantaged by knowing too much about what you are writing about.
The technique is the most personal element in preparing yourself to write. Technique is simply your own personal writing style.
Your personal writing style is something unique and cannot be reproduced by anyone else. Analysts can identify people based on their vocabulary and grammatical habits.
Understanding your personal technique is important to improving writing style. If you know that you bend certain grammatical rules, then knowing that will make you more attentive to that as you proofread your documents.
Word processors (remember, the tool) often contain elaborate spell checking and thesaurus based assistants. The use of these is highly recommended, but do not allow the word processor to take the technique out of your writing. Let it assist your writing.
IV. Writing a Qualitative Research Paper
Begin with a point of interest
Introduce the basic research focus
Relevance of the study
Audience of the research results
Discuss the expectations of the research
Discuss the criteria for evaluation of the research
2. Theoretical Foundation
Discuss the research paradigm (naturalistic, qualitative, hermeneutic)
Review authors that have used the same research type on the same basic research issues
Discuss the assumptions made in developing your research project
3. Literature Review
Discuss what have others said in relation to this research issue
What methods have been used?
Discuss the research that has been conducted
Elaborate on what is known about the research question you seek to answer
Keys to success
Thorough and complete
Logical and organized
Original primary research
Critical and analytic appraisal
Build a case for a new study (yours!)
4. Research Questions
Discuss the questions that you seek to find some answers for in your data collection
Discuss any subsequent findings that may emerge from investigation into the primary research question
Defend your research questions by discussing lesser relevant questions in contexts outside the parameters of your research
5. Research Method
Identify and describe your research methods
Discuss the procedures followed for your research
Discuss the sample used
Describe the type of data collected
Discuss the role you played in the data collection (neutral, collaborative, objective)
Discuss how you kept track of the data
Describe how confidentiality was maintained
Discuss data analysis
Explain how you maintained a valid and reliable research method
Explain what responsibility you have to share your data with the study group
Present the research results
Include results from both quantitative and qualitative methods
Include quotations and other language sources as helpful
Use simple charts and graphs to simplify the results
Avoid blatant interpretation and discussion, stick to the findings
Discuss the analysis that will be provided and what will not be provided in the final product
V. Writing a Quantitative Research Paper
Discuss the research paradigm (heuristic, qualitative, positivistic)
“How has this theory driven your research interest?”
Comprehensively discuss what others have said in relation to this research issue
What methods have been used? What samples have been accessed? In what context?
Identify any hypotheses that will be tested
Identify and describe your research methods and the basic research design
Discuss the procedures you’ll follow for your research
Discuss the sample you have chosen and how they will be treated (confidential, ethical)
Discuss how the variables will be operationalized, the type of data you’ll collect, and from what instruments
Describe how you’ll insure confidentiality
Discuss how you’ll analyze the data
Explain how you’ll maintain a valid and reliable research method
Discuss how you will organize and present your data and the necessary level of significance for statistical tests
6. Expected Results and Summary
Elaborate on how research results will be presented
Describe how you’ll use a statistical package to analyze the data
Describe the tables and graphs that will be included
Discuss the limitations of the expected findings
VI. Writing Style Guidelines: Basics and Beyond
The formality of the writing is largely dependent on the goal of the paper. For more academic works, a formal, contemporary style (called formal academic writing) is normally most appropriate. Formal style refers to several general conventions that are adopted when writing in this manner. Consider some of the following norms of formal writing:
Avoid the use of first or second person (I, you, we, me, him, her, mine, etc).
Expectation that quoted materials from primary and secondary sources will be used.
Structured arguments based on effective evidence and reasoning and avoidance of personal opinion as the basis for conclusions.
Avoidance of “prosaic” or “fluffy” language, seeking more scientific terms
Attention to structure of both sentence and paragraph.
Avoid passive voice and seek descriptive verbs.
Understand that the function is more important than the form; that the ultimate use and outcome is more important than the writing. Writing is simply a tool to increase understanding or reporting findings.
Every research paper that you write is an argument of some sort. Obviously, it is not the same type of verbal disagreement that happens between people with conflicting views, but it is a rhetorical argument that you present to an audience implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) requesting change. Every argument has component parts that are essential to its effectiveness. First, every argument has a claim. The claim is above the level of disagreement – in other words, both parties do not agree on the claim. If both parties did agree, then no argument would need to be posed, right? Second, every argument has evidence. Evidence relates to the supporting proofs relating to the claim. Common forms of evidence might include the following:
Note the ordering of the above items. Perhaps the most compelling evidence is the existence of an object or artifact that reflects proof of the claim (in a traffic accident skid marks are often measured; in a homicide trial the existence of the murder weapon and fingerprints is compelling evidence). Likewise, evidence at the lower end of the list (opinion, testimony) are likely less compelling because it is based on human credibility. Evidence must be related to the claim through reasoning, the third component, otherwise it is irrelevant in supporting the claim. Several different forms of reasoning exist including the following:
Reasoning from sign
Reasoning from analogy
Reasoning from generalization
Reasoning from cause
Reasoning from authority
Forms of reasoning are less relevant in this discussion; suffice it to say that evidence that is not linked to the claim is worthless. The final aspect of every argument is the context in which argument occurs. This aspect may be outside the control of the rhetor. But, to the extent that you control the argument and submit your work in an exceptional manner (meeting and exceeding all assignment parameters), the context has been as controlled for as much as possible.
The final aspect of formal writing style relates to a few writing conventions that may be helpful if applied. Since every paper is an argument, this fact must be conveyed in the manner in which you write. The fact is that every research paper is likely to have multiple arguments (many claims which need reasoned support). As you begin to actually write the paper these many claims may serve as the basis for an organizing strategy for your paper. You know that certain claims rely on other claims for support, so it is smarter to put those preliminary claims first, and their secondary claims later. Additionally, it is has been said that each paragraph serves as a claim all by itself. If this is the case (and it probably should be) then every paragraph ought to be organized according to the following guidelines:
Paragraph Sentence 1 – THESIS SENTENCE – Describes the basic point of the paragraph or what the reader is trying to impart in that paragraph
Paragraph Sentence 2 – MAJOR SUPPORT – Summarizes a good reason why the thesis sentence is correct, serves as a link between the thesis sentence and the minor support.
Paragraph Sentence 3 – MINOR SUPPORT – Provides key evidence supporting the truth of the major support and ultimately the thesis sentence.
Paragraph Sentence 4 – MINOR SUPPORT - Provides key evidence supporting the truth of the major support and ultimately the thesis sentence.
Paragraph Sentence 5 – MAJOR SUPPORT – Summarizes a good reason why the thesis sentence is correct, serves as a link between the thesis sentence and the minor support.
Paragraph Sentence 6 – MINOR SUPPORT – Provides key evidence supporting the truth of the major support and ultimately the thesis sentence.
Paragraph Sentence 7 – MINOR SUPPORT - Provides key evidence supporting the truth of the major support and ultimately the thesis sentence.
Paragraph Sentence 8 – SUMMARY/RETHESIS – In this final sentence the argument is brought full circle by suggesting that at least two reasons support the truth of the thesis. Also provides persuasive “bite” for the reader in support of the position.
Anyone following the above will write well more developed, distinct, and persuasive papers (claims) than those who write in a journalistic style, a “stream of thought” style, or an organized style.
VII. Bibliographic Style Guidelines: Basics and Beyond
Bibliographic style refers to the manner in which references will be used and referenced within the work. Like writing style, one of the assumptions made of graduate students centers on their ability to use a bibliographic style guide to reference their works. The important thing is that you use a consistent style. My suggestion is to find the most common style that is used in your field. Among the more popular styles guides used are the APA (5th edition) and the MLA style. Many others exist, and some fields reject submissions that are in a style guide that is not familiar, so do your homework.
NOTE: One way to tell the style guide of your field is to look at the references at the back of journal articles. Many journals tell you the style that is acceptable.
The APA style uses the author-date method of citation. For direct quotations, a page number is also given within the parentheses.
The APA format calls the list of books, periodicals, print and non-print materials "References." Some Guidelines for preparing the "References" list:
APA "References" Examples [4.16]
Taken from http://www.bridgew.edu/Library/apa.htm
The reference list should be arranged alphabetically by author surname. The APA format requires book and journal titles etc. to be italicized, although you can underline instead in a handwritten list.
The details needed for a book can be found on the front and reverse of the title page. Make sure you locate the name of the publisher rather than the printer or typesetter. You need the name of the publisher in your reference list. The Library Catalogue gives the publisher's name if you are in any doubt. Ignore any reprint dates; you need the date when the first, second, third edition etc. of the book was published according to which edition of the book you are using. The details needed for a journal article can usually be found on the contents list, front cover or article itself.
American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author.
Encyclopedia of psychology. (1976). London: Routledge.
Gardner, H. (1973). The arts and human development. New York: Wiley.
Moore, M. H., Estrich, S., McGillis, D., & Spelman, W. (1984). Dangerous offenders: the elusive target of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (1979). The elements of style (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan.
Note: List up to 6 authors. The 7th and subsequent authors are abbreviated to et al.
Maher, B. A. (Ed.). (1964-1972). Progress in experimental personality research (6 vols.). New York: Academic Press
Article in edited book (Chapter)
Vygotsky, L. S. (1991). Genesis of the higher mental functions. In P. Light, S. Sheldon, & M. Woodhead (Eds.), Learning to think (pp. 32-41). London: Routledge.
Lijphart, A. (1995). Electoral systems. In The encyclopaedia of democracy (Vol. 2, pp. 412-422). London: Routledge.
If the entry has no author, begin the reference with the entry title followed by the date of publication.
Great Britain. Command Papers. (1991). Health of the nation (Cm 1523). London: HMSO.
Great Britain. Home Office. (1994). Prisons policy for England and Wales. London: HMSO.
Birney, A. J., & Hall, M. M. (1981). Early identification of children with written language difficulties (Report No. 81-502). Washington DC: National Educational Association.
Conference paper in published proceedings
Borgman, C. L., Bower, J., & Krieger, D. (1989). From hands-on science to hands-on information retrieval. In J. Katzer, & G. B. Newby, (Eds.), Proceedings of the 52nd ASIS annual meeting: Vol. 26. Managing information and technology (pp. 96-100). Medford, NJ: Learned Information.
Noguchi, T., Kitawaki, J., Tamura, T., Kim, T., Kanno, H., Yamamoto, T., & Okada, H. (1993). Relationship between aromatase activity and steroid receptor levels in ovarian tumors from postmenopausal women. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 44(4-6), 657-660.
Popper, S. E., & McCloskey, K. (1993). Individual differences and subgroups within populations: the shopping bag approach. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, 64(1), 74-77.
Weekly magazine article
Barrett, L. (2001, August 23). Daewoo's drive to survive in the UK.Marketing Week, 22-23.
Caffeine linked to mental illness. (1991, July 13). New York Times, pp. B13, B15.
Young, H. (1996, July 25). Battle of snakes and ladders. The Guardian, p. 15.
Two or more works by the same author(s) with the same publication date
Where an author (or particular group of authors) has more than one work in a particular year, list them in title order and follow the date with a lower case letter a, b, c, ... For example:
Harding, S. (1986a). The instability of the analytical categories of feminist theory. Signs, 11(4), 645-64.
Harding, S. (1986b). The science question in feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
When referred to in the text these letters are also used (see last page section b).
If a work is signed "Anonymous", your reference must begin with the word Anonymous, followed by date etc. as normal.
If no author is shown, put the title in the normal author position.
Note on page numbers
Use pp. for page range only for encyclopedia entries, multi-page newspaper articles and chapters or articles in edited books. For articles in journals or magazines use the numbers alone.
Because an interview is not considered recoverable data, you do not give details in your reference list. You should, however, cite an interview within the body of your text as a personal communication:
…and this point was conceded (J. Bloggs, personal communication, August 22, 2001)
The details shown below have been compiled according to the guidelines available on the APA Website (http://www.apastyle.org) in August/September 2001. Check this Website and the 5th edition of The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association which is available in the Frewen Library for further guidance.
The basic pattern for a reference to an electronic source is:
Author, Initials. (year). Title. Retrieved month, day, year, from Internet address.
Banks, I. (n.d.). The NHS Direct healthcare guide. Retrieved August 29, 2001, from http://www.healthcareguide.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/
Alexander, J., & Tate, M. A. (2001). Evaluating web resources. Retrieved August 21, 2001, from Widener University, Wolfgram Memorial Library Web site: http://www2.widener.edu/Wolfgram-Memorial-Library/webevaluation/webeval.htm
Deciding your future. (2000). Retrieved September 5, 2001, from University of Portsmouth, Careers Service Web site: http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/careers/ plan career/deciding-your-future.htm
Electronic journal articles which are duplicates of the printed version
Use the same reference format as for a printed journal article but add "Electronic version" in square brackets after the article title:
Lussier, R. N., & Pfeifer, S. (2001). A cross national prediction model for business success [Electronic version]. Journal of Common Market Studies, 39(3), 228-239.
If you are referencing an online article where the format differs from the printed version or which includes additional data or commentaries, you should add the date you retrieved the document and the Web address (URL).
Articles in Internet-only journals
Korda, L. (2001, July). The making of a translator. Translation Journal, 5(3). Retrieved August 21, 2001 from http://accurapid.com/journal/17prof.htm
Articles retrieved from a database
Use the format appropriate to the type of work retrieved and add a retrieval date, plus the name of the database:
McVeigh, T. (2000, July 9). How your gestures can do the talking. The Observer, p.7. Retrieved September 10, 2001, from The Guardian and The Observer on CD-ROM database.
Citing references in the text
Taken from http://www.libr.port.ac.uk/support/BR_APA.html
VIII. Feedback and Learning
When writing for an assignment, learning takes place at every step of the process. Some learning occurs as you do the research, some occurs as you organize your materials, and a great deal of learning occurs as you compose your paper. But, the learning does not stop there. Most people learn a great deal more about their papers by receiving feedback on it. Feedback comes at three different stages:
Your own self-evaluation as you proofread your paper for errors.
A peer-evaluation when you give your paper to a peer for them to review prior to you submitting it.
The instructor evaluation is very important because the grade is often assigned based on the instructor’s expert evaluation.
It is absolutely natural to be concerned about evaluation outside your control. Your self-evaluation should be as thorough as possible to make sure you catch simple errors before you give it to a peer for further review. As you receive peer-evaluation and your instructor’s evaluation, it is easy to be fearful of the result. The ego involvement of research, organizing, and writing a paper is naturally very high. Critical comments are often difficult to take and likely cause much defensiveness. One should try to receive the critical comments as objectively as possible and the result must always be based on what makes the paper better.
----------Return to the Table of Contents
Copyright © 2009-2013 Fort Hays State University • 600 Park Street, Hays, Kansas 67601–4099 • 785–628–FHSU (3478) Contact Webmaster with any questions or comments concerning this Web site.