Paper Writing: Tips on Style
1. State your thesis (main point) early, often in the first paragraph.
2. Try to think of something unfamiliar, intriguing, colourful, paradoxical, or provocative with which to start the introduction–catch the reader’s attention from the outset.
3. Define technical terms. If you are writing about the East Asian ‘triangle’, explain briefly what you understand it to be.
4. Use simple short words instead of difficult long words, unless you need the latter to be precise or concise.
5. Write in the active voice whenever you can: ‘France began the war’, not ‘the war was begun by France’.
6. Avoid introducing arguments with ‘I would like to argue’, ‘it is my opinion’, etc. We know it’s your opinion: state it.
7. Picture metaphors in your head. That will save you from saying things like ‘the ship of state must jump through this window of opportunity’.
8. Unless your spelling is very good, use a computer program to check it, and/or have a native English-speaker proofread your papers.
9. Avoid shopworn phrases, e.g., ‘peace and prosperity’.
10. Indent your paragraphs, and break up long ones at suitable points.
11. Number your pages.
11. Follow the guidelines for the proper use of citations provided by the School.
13. Read George Orwell’s wonderful ‘Politics and the English Language’: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm. Take its advice, and you won’t go far wrong.Tips on Substance
1. Answer the question, the whole question, and nothing but the question. Make sure that everything in the paper, directly or indirectly, supports this task. If you must make an interesting digression, put it in a footnote.
2. Make your thesis, arguments and/or recommendations as specific as possible. Be controversial. If no sane and decent person could disagree with you (‘the great powers must seek to avoid nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent’), that’s a bad sign.
3. Don’t just tell us something is important, tell us how, and in what direction a change in A produces a change in B:
‘Economic liberalization will be the decisive factor affecting Gormenghast’s human rights policy.’
‘The more Gormenghast liberalizes its economy, the more the Groan dynasty will have to observe due process, and the faster a bourgeoisie will develop that demands civil liberties.’
4. When making a causal argument, specify the mechanism. Don’t just say ‘greater military transparency will promote peace in the Middle East’: describe how.
5. Back up your arguments with as much concrete evidence or as many examples as space allows.
6. Address counterarguments and alternative explanations. Is there some other possible reason for the phenomenon you are explaining? Why do some people explain it differently, or recommend other policies? Why are they wrong?
7. Don’t just summarise an author’s views. You are writing an analytical essay, not a book report. Tell us whether she is right or wrong, and, if wrong, why.
8. Be creative. What are people overlooking?
9. Know the proper use of sources. Ideas that belong to another person, even if you put them in your own words, must be attributed. Direct quotations, even if you give the source, must be put in quotation marks (‘’).
Paper Writing: Tips on Style