Writing the Graduate
This information is published by the
SUU MSFS program as part of the educational support given to graduate
students in the program. These are guidelines for writing the graduate
paper; however, you should be aware that each professor may have individual
rules or guidelines as well. As such, before beginning a paper for any
graduate faculty member be sure to get full instructions from them.
What is Different in Graduate
Writing the graduate paper is
significantly different from writing at the undergraduate level. The
first difference is the depth of the material being covered. As a
graduate student you are expected to demonstrate a deeper understanding of
the material. The second difference is that there is less room for
error, especially when it comes to simple issues of grammar, sentence
structure, punctuation, etc. In the following sections you will see
other differences along with a series of practical tips to insure your paper
Practical Hints for Getting Started
- When preparing to write your
paper first discuss the topic with your faculty member and seek
clarification on any questions you might have. Do NOT start the
paper until you are sure you know what you are doing.
- Show Initiative. If you
know you will write a paper for the course then show initiative early in
starting your research and study of the subject matter. The worst
thing you can do is wait to start your research.
- Show Imagination. Graduate
school is about learning, but it is also about exploration of subject.
Use your imagination and thinking skills to explore and expand both your
understanding and the topic itself.
- Draft a skeleton and then more
detailed outline of the paper. Think of it as your table of contents.
A graduate paper must be a true professional product.
- As you begin to work on your
paper and collect more information/ideas, adjust the outline so that it
better reflects the knowledge and understanding of the subject.
The outline should help you stay "on topic" and ensure a logical
organization for the paper, but do not be afraid to explore and expand a
paper as your knowledge or understanding grows.
- After you have prepared a first
draft of the paper go back and jot down the main point of each paragraph
to check on the organization and flow of your presentation.
Some General for Writing
- Be sure to identify your
assumptions and beliefs. By identifying your own beliefs or ideals you
can better understand how the ideas of others affect you. An
important part of the paper is being to show you have grown in that
understanding. A good paper will not change your ideas in each
instance, but it should expand you understanding of a topic.
- Define all your terms to ensure
reader and writer will understand each other. Do NOT assume your
reader, which is likely your professor, will completely understand in
each instance. Chances are the professor is knowledgeable, and
probably an expert, in the subject matter, but don't make that
assumption. A good rule of thumb is to write the paper as if you
were educating an undergraduate student.
- Support ALL assertions with
evidence and proof. This is where both your sources (research) and
your application collide. If you make a statement of fact or truth
then be able to prove it. Most student do not fail because they
had a bad idea but simply because they failed to support their idea.
- State your purpose at the very
beginning of the paper.
- Don't depend on headings to make
transitions between ideas. While graduate level papers generally
include multiple sections do not assume that a heading will clearly make
the transition for you.
- Use good writing skills and
- Don't depend too much on the
words of others -- i.e., direct quotations or references to other works.
Sometimes the best paper is one that challenges the status quo or at
least gives it a good examination.
- When you use quotations be sure
to a) introduce the writer and establish his/her credibility, b) explain
or interpret what has been said, and c) analyze the value of the the
other person's contribution to the discussion at hand.
- Remember one paragraph should
contain one main point. Paragraphs should have at least three sentences:
introduction, middle, and conclusion (which sends the reader logically
into the next main point).
- To avoid plagiarism, first read
your source book (or other material), then close it and make notes on
what you think is important. (Be sure to take down all details --
author, title, publisher, date of publication, page numbers of direct
quotations and/or interesting ideas.)
- The majority of the paper should
be your own words and ideas.
- Pay close attention to the dates
of your reference materials. Including references to some classic
articles or books is good, but you should be extremely cautious about
building your whole paper on dated materials. Similarily, you must be
careful not to rely on only one or two sources.
Some Things to Avoid
- Statements that do not logically
follow from each other.
- Unfounded and unsupportable
generalizations (eg., Large multinationals abuse labor in developing
- Circular arguments. (eg.,
Communication is important because organizations need leaders who can
- Arguments based on the idea that
everyone does or knows something. (eg., Bureaucracy is bad because
everyone thinks it is.)
- Attacks on perfunctory rather
than central ideas. (i.e, getting sidetracked)
- Considering only favorable
- Considering only two alternatives
and ignoring others that are equally relevant.
Writing Your Paper
- Be sure your paper has three
parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
- In your first draft focus on
putting your ideas together in a clear and logical way.
- In your second draft look at the
organization and mechanics of the paper. (Do a paragraph outline to be
sure the parts fit together logically.)
- Most graduate papers will require
no less than three drafts, and in some instances you may need more than
that. Try not to make too many substantive changes after the
second draft, though. Substance should be addressed before you
begin, and moderate changes are common for the second draft.
- When you reach the final draft
you should have a polished paper that states your position clearly,
concisely, and with authority.
Putting Together The Final Paper
Be sure to include:
- Your name
- The title of the paper
- A one paragraph abstract or
executive summary (which you will share with your colleagues)
- Body of paper
- List of References (published
works directly cited in your paper)
- Bibliography (works you used but
did not cite)
- Appendices (important