RULES AND TIPS FOR STUDENT RESEARCH PAPERS
Prof. W. Paul Vogt
Some colleagues have asked for an electronic copy of this document, one that their students could access online. Here it is.
1. The Three-Word Rule.
You must not copy more than three words in a row from one of your sources without (a) putting those words between quotation marks and (b) citing the source of the quotation.
Failing to abide by this rule is by far the most common form of plagiarism on student papers. The penalties can be severe, especially for repeat offenders.
2. The 20% Rule.
No more than 20% of you paper should be composed of quotations. When grading your papers, I am not interested in how accurately you can copy another’s words, rather I am interested in how well you can present evidence and how clearly you can think about it and express it in your words.
Quotations should be resorted to only in special circumstances, for example: (a) when the author has said something in a distinctive way that can only be preserved by retaining his/her original words; or (b) when you intend to analyze extensively a particular passage.
3. YOU must write your paper.
This is a logical consequence of following Rules 1 and 2. Also, and more obvious, you may not turn in the work of another as your own.
4. A Separate Paper for Each Assignment.
While you may build upon work you have done in other courses-—indeed you are encouraged to do so—it is a violation of university rules (and ordinary norms of honesty) to hand in the same work for two different assignments. (The faculty does occasionally cross-check.)
5. The ONLY Criterion for a Citation System.
The criterion: If your reader can easily check your sources for accuracy, the system is good. If your reader cannot do so, the system is bad. Specific format matters little if it meets this criterion.
Suggestions about picking a format:
Suggestions about picking a format:
(a) Follow the format used by an author you like.
(b) Or, use the format insisted upon by one of your other professors (I hear tell that some believe it is very important to capitalize only the first word in a title, while others say all words in a title should be capitalized; and apparently many think it is crucial to give an author’s full name while others, with equal passion, argue for last name and initials only.)
(c) Or buy a manual. Among the better known manuals the two most widely used (and available in bookstores) are probably Kate Turabian’s and the American Psychological Association’s.
In short, pick a convenient citation style and use it consistently.
To meet the criterion, (your reader can easily check) citations need to include:
(a) the name of the author
(b) the title of the publication
(c) the place published (for a periodical this means: name, volume, and page numbers)
(d) for a book the name and place of the publisher
(e) the date of the publication.
The same information must be included for sources obtained on the internet. In addition, for internet/www sources, you need to provide the “web address,” i.e., the URL. Giving the URL only is not enough; you need to include the author, title, etc. Including only the URL would be like responding to the question, “What book did you read?” by saying, “it’s on the third floor of the library, northeast corner, second shelf from the top, 8th book from the right.” You have to tell your reader what it is not just where it is.
6. When to Cite Page Numbers.
Always give page numbers (as well as author, title, etc.) when citing a quotation. Cite page numbers whenever your information comes from specific pages of a source. When in doubt, it is safest to include the page numbers. On the other hand, if you are referring to a general idea found throughout the source, page numbers may be omitted.
7. Complete Citations.
Give full information for a source you cite. The most common form of incomplete citation occurs when the paper refers to a work, such as (Smith, 2009), but Smith does not appear in the Bibliography or Reference List. Such errors seem most often to be a result of students mindlessly copying (i.e., plagiarizing, see Rule 1) from some source that does list Smith in its reference list.
8. Justification of Sources.
You should use not only some sources, but they should be good sources. You will often need to explain (briefly) why these sources are good ones. Also, if you decide not to use some obvious, well-known source on your subject (such as a classic in the field or such as one of our course texts), you need a reason for this omission.
If your paper is a review of literature on a subject, or contains such a review, as it almost inevitably will, be sure to indicate how you selected the particular groups of works you are analyzing. If you use a standard index such as SOCIOFILE or PsychINFO or Google Scholar, it is important to say (briefly) how you used it. What key words did you use in your search, how many sources did you find, and what criteria did you use for selecting among those sources?
Widely used, but inappropriate criteria for selecting sources include:
(a) the first ten I found,
(b) all those that agreed with me
(c) the ones that were easiest to read.
TIPS FOR HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR FIRST DRAFT
Not many people can write a good paper in one draft. For most writers, rewriting is the key to good quality. Here are some suggestions for deciding how to revise drafts.
1. Imagine that you believe the opposite of what you are arguing in your paper. Read it from that critical standpoint to spot weaknesses so you can fix them. This form of “role playing” is an indispensable intellectual tool. (Note: if you cannot imagine what the opposite of your argument would be, this is a sure sign that you are in one of several kinds of trouble and need help with your topic.)
2. Have a friend read your paper. Quiz him/her about what it says. What s/he does not understand is almost certainly your fault. Fix it. Pick a smart friend and be very appreciative of his/her criticism. If your friend only says nice things about your paper to make you feel good, s/he is not taking your or your paper seriously.
3. Read your paper to yourself, aloud. Reading aloud often help authors hear problems that otherwise would have slipped by unnoticed.