Geology 140 - Environmental Geology
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How to Revise Your Paper

Paper due date: 11/18


Please read the points below with an open mind. Some of them directly contradict your previous writing teachers. Those teachers were not wrong; they were just teaching you a particular genre: the student research report. Now I want you to learn a different genre: the technical position paper. Even if you don't plan to be a scientist or engineer, this style of writing is very similar to many professional genres of writing, including proposals, reports to clients, and project critiques. So you will learn a style of writing that can be very useful to you in the future. Honest.

1. Using quotes: I know you all have been taught a method for writing term papers in which you quote some source in support of every point you make. We don't do this in science, where the authority rests in the evidence itself, not in the words that express it or the person talking. So there should be few, if any, quotes in your paper. Only use direct quotes when the actual words in the quote matter, and other words will not do. This is almost never the case.

Instead of quotes, you should be using the information in the quotes appropriately synthesized into theses or arguments. You can combine information from multiple sources. Suppose Mr. Smith has info on electrical power generation and Mr. Jones has info on greenhouse gases. You could say (and I made these numbers up):

Nuclear power supplies 40% of our electrical power, while contributing only 2% of our carbon emissions (Smith, 2007; Jones, 2006).

If I had tried to do this with quotes, it would have taken three times as much room with one tenth the impact. Using the information rather than quotes will let you structure the information in the best possible way for your purposes.

You should find that getting rid of the quotes makes the paper flow better. It will also reduce the repetition of information many of you had, and should free up space for more in-depth analysis. In short, it will make your paper much better.

2. Writing a good introduction: Many of you were taught the inverted triangle intro, where you start general and focus in to the specific thesis statement in the last sentence. This style is almost never used in the professional or technical world. Instead, I want you to start strong. Your very first sentence needs to convince me to read the paper. So there should be no bland, "Many factors are important in thinking about climate change" kind of openings.

Your introduction should do three things, in this order:


4. Citations and Reference lists: Please use APA style. This means that citations are embedded in the text like this (Kusnick, 2008), not listed as footnotes. Citations are (Author, year). You only need a page number if you directly quote the author, which of course you're not going to do ;-)

You must use a citation every time you use i) a piece of factual information or ii) an opinion from another author. So there should be many citations studding the text. If all of a paragraph is using information from one source, include a citation at the end of the first and last sentences of the paragraph. There is a whole handout on the Web site on citation and bibliographic formatting; you can find the link on the course schedule.

Your reference list should be alphabetical by author. If there is no personal author (as on a government Web site, for example), then the agency or organization responsible for the document or Web page is the author. The name in the citation should be the same name that the reference is alphabetized by, so the reader can easily find the reference in your list.

5. Tone: You should aim for a very direct, clear style of writing. I usually see three common problems:

6. Tightening up the paper: The best way to write a good paper is to write too much and then throw away the bad stuff. I usually see only a couple papers that can afford to do that. So my best advice for almost everyone is:

7. How your paper is being judged: Always read both the prompt and the rubric carefully so you know what you are aiming for. There is a complete grading standard on the paper assignment on the course Web site. Here's my shorthand way of thinking about the grade. If we were a company, with me the boss and you my employees:

8. Last but not least - go back and carefully read the prompt for the paper. Make sure you have done everything that is required in the assignment. The best way to succeed in a writing task (in fact, in almost anything you will do in your professional life) is to find out exactly what is expected of you, and then do it. Really simple idea, but amazingly few people actually do it.