Written by Patricia Sipes
This section is not so much about what to include in your paper, but how to include it. How to stylistically achieve a look and feel and conform to the current standards of scholarly work. The world is changing, and so is the way research is presented.
This section assumes you know how to write an introduction and a conclusion, how to format basic quotations, how to set up structure, and how to write in general. What it provides is ways to enhance, organize, and get the best out of what you do write so that your audience can better understand what you are trying to tell them.
When most people think of research papers, they think of a paper written about a subject. They often do not consider the person writing it, or how the research developed. It seems standard that there is no personalization, no "I" in the paper. It was certainly how I was taught to write. I was told that the paper was not about me, that people did not want to hear about what I had done, they were reading the paper to learn about what I had found.
The world of scholarly writing has changed. While some professionals and organizations still strictly adhere to papers written with some sort of detachment of author from subject, a lot more are interested in your research being framed in narratives. They want you to use "I." They want to know about your process. Do not be afraid to inject your personality into the paper and create it as a narrative.
The first research paper I had published begins with a story of my first trip to an archive, of the apprehension and fear I felt, and then, of the excitement on finding a manuscript and and a letter. I continue on to discuss the possibilities I saw, introducing the research from the point of its conception. The rest of the paper is written in the more traditional non-personal mode, but I do believe that the introduction is what makes the writing of the piece spectacular.
Do not be afraid to inject yourself into your paper.
If people reading the paper can see how excited you were in doing the research, they too will be excited about it.
Both "The Title" and "The Abstract" pages talk about the use of metaphor, instead of retreading the same subject, I want to point out that if you start with one metaphor, it is a great unifying idea to carry it throughout the entirety of your paper. It can also help you to better understand what pieces of research and information should be included. I am not sure how clear it is to imagine this without examples, so I will give you two.
In "The Title" page, I talked about two paper. One was "Anatomy of a Manuscript:..." and the other was "Following the Flight of "The Raven:"...." Both contain distinct metaphors that can help to shape the way their paper was written.
For "Anatomy..." there questions that immediately pop up to shape how the writing might go:
- If we are comparing a manuscript to a human body, the first question is to identify it. A name perhaps?
- Secondly, or barring a name, how old is it?
- What is it made up of?
"Anatomy..." focuses on two of these question and inspect the third as a way to answer the two. It spends specific focus on dating the manuscript as a way to develop its name and age in the developmental process of the book for which is a manuscript is. All while trying to use the manuscript itself as the main way of figuring it out. In a sense, the paper is a dissection, a term which was not used because of the negative and unpleasant connotation associated with the word.
"Following the Flight..." focuses on trying to look at the literary process that Edgar Allan Poe used to create "The Raven." It seems apt to have chosen the idea of flight to create the piece. Even the "Following" portion speaks volume to the way in which the paper can be organized and formed.
- "Following" almost implies migration, or at the very least, a difficulty in looking directly at the path of flight.
- The "flight" portion of the title helps set up a basic outline for a possible organizational method:
- Take off: how does Poe begin his flight? How does the idea first come to mind.
- Flight: Where does Poe go with this, what obstacles does he face, is he a lone flyer or does he travel with a flock?
- Landing: The finished piece, the end results.
Once you introduce a metaphor into your paper, a lot of readers will carry on with it, even if you do not. It is a good idea to continue with it or imply it to help contextualize your subject matter in terms they can more easily grasp. This is not to say that people reading your paper are of a lesser intelligence, it is just that the mind better interprets new information if it is contextualized with something it already accepts and understands as real.
Switching topics drastically, this section focuses on something that people often assume they know how to do. We are all taught to use quotations and most people understand blocking and imbedding quotes--if you do not, find a style guide, it is important to know. What we are often not taught is about foot/endnotes and paraphrasing.
In many writing styles, foot/endnotes are used to place citations. Under MLA, since your citations are included within the text, foot/endnotes are used like notes you would make in the margins of a book, think of them like author's notes.
- Personally, they take the place of parentheticals, which I am prone to use.
- As well, they hold places for you to expand upon a subject that perhaps is not entirely relevant inside the body of the text.
- Since I have, in the past had to work with complex translations and stylistic devices in Celtic poetry, I also often use notes to further explain translations or if there is an opposing view or thought on the subject.
- Additionally, I use them as a place for lists that are not technically needed in full in my paper, but are not commonly known.
- A bad example is talking about one of the seven deadly sins and using a footnote to list the seven deadly sins.
- A more acceptable example could be when discussing the Simeon as one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), including the other eleven in the notes.
When it comes to paraphrasing in the broadest sense, the easy answer is you should not. There are, of course exceptions:
- When you are trying to explain a large chunk of your main text or evidence without having to quote it. Always remember to cite paraphrasing, since it is not your original idea/thought.
- After you have used a block quote you should 'paraphrase' or explain the block quote since some readers see block quotes and expect that the text after will contextualize it.
Use both paraphrasing and foot/endnotes sparingly. While foot/endnotes are formulated to pull non-crucial information out of the body of the essay so that readers can continue reading, they do get distracting. Paraphrasing tends to look lazy, as does massive inclusions of block quoting. Your audience wants to read what YOU have found, what YOU think, and what YOU have concluded, not see the regurgitation of the material you used.