A paper is a powerful thinking tool. If you do it properly, you will realize at the end of it that you now understand something you didn't understand before. Also, you will understand more of what knowledge is, and how to get it. Your grader knows this about the paper and your grade will come from how clearly you show this process in your writing. Now, here are tips and strategies to make sure the grader finds all he or she is looking for in your paper and gives you the best possible grade.


You may be given a title or question which you cannot change. If so, stick to it. But if the title is up to you, you want to get the reader interested and alert. So think about it carefully:


You have caught the reader's interest with the title. Now you want to get him or her on your side. So be helpful! Readers are busy. Explain at once what he or she needs to know about your piece. So:

(1) Set the scene:

All this creates the impression that you are in control of the subject, and taking responsibility for it. That gives your reader/grader confidence in you. Next you want to create a sense of purpose, so:

(2) Give the thesis statement (say what the paper will be about)

Now you want to show that you are trustworthy, so warn the reader/grader of potential pitfalls:

(3) List watch points or problems

Here are some examples

Note that these watchpoints and problems are specifically scholarly. They are NOT to be used for personal difficulties in tackling the assignment, such as all the books were checked out of the library, couldn't find any pictures, didn't have enough time, don't feel competent. All these sound like excuses (which they are), and alienate your reader. The purpose of your paper is to help your reader navigate the field, so stick to academic problems and watchpoints only.

But you can sometimes exploit your personal problems usefully. For example, if you can't find any pictures this may be because they haven't been published. Mentioning the need for fuller publication of the primary material IS academic. Whining about lack of available sources is not.

These three sets of information are your introduction. Together they give the reader/grader a quick overview of what he or she is about to read and why, roughly how the argument will develop, what the pitfalls are, and how important the piece is to the field as a whole. This is very impressive and the reader is now very much on your side.


Now it is time to impress the reader/grader with your breadth and depth, your easy control of the material, and your overall sense of purpose. This will create respect! Take it gently and kindly. Make the reader your friend. You are enjoying a very pleasant and learned discussion with an equal. So do not patronize, and do not make the reader fight to understand you (use ordinary language!). Be sober, courteous, and direct.

Now, here are some ways of creating powerful arguments:

Now, here are ways of getting those threads into useful paragraphs:

Now, here is how to deal with citations or references. Here are rules of thumb to help you decide:

Notice that you must cite even when you change the words. This is because it is all evidence, and your argument is stronger when your reader knows what it is based on. Besides - it might be unreliable. If your source is wrong, you want to be sure everyone knows it wasn't you! Whether or not you use the same words as your source, you are still using information or opinions provided by him/her - that information is what you are giving credit for.

Of course, you could go mad with citations. So here are some pointers about when it is ok to leave them out.

Basically, though, if in doubt - cite!


Now, you have made it clear that you are a serious student or scholar, that you have taken the project suitably seriously, you know your material, and you respect your reader. Naturally, the reader/grader responds very positively to this! He or she wants to agree with you, or deeply regrets the necessity of disagreeing with you. Either way, he or she respects you, and that is what you want. Now you are goint to clinch the matter with a TRIUMPHAL EXIT.




All papers should have a bibliography (or reference list) at the end. Although published works show these in alphabetical order of authors, this is not a good working strategy - it is for the final, public version only.

A much more powerful bibliography is an annotated bibliography, which is created on the wordprocessor as you do the reading or research. It is very simply done:

This will make quite a surprisingly long document, which will be the most useful part of your notes when it comes to writing up your paper. If you later have to re-write your paper, it will be even more useful - you will know exactly where you got your information and can quickly verify or correct it.

Here is a sample annotated bibliography with explanatory comments. It concerns an object you probably won't have come accross - that is deliberate! Just note the layout, how the bibliography works, and the variety of useful comments that can be included. Note also the use of foreign language publications - if you read a foreign language, exploit that to get an edge on the subject!


Catch the last possible glitches which might spoil the good effect.

Annotated Bibliography Paper Presentation
Grading Policy Other Links