Skip to main content

SPAN 7691: Seminar on Spanish American Literature: Writing a Research Paper

Writing Resources

U of Memphis LibGuides 

Other Resources

  • The Craft of Research (Booth, Colomb, Williams) (In Reference)  An excellent guide to the research and writing process, with good hints for things like skimming as well as building arguments.
  • U of Virginia Resources The Little Red Schoolhouse materials were developed by at least two of the authors of the above at the U of Chicago (I don't know how much Wayne Booth contributed to LRS) for teaching writing: for thinking about how to build arguments and write an effective and convincing paper.  These are also very useful resources for teaching writing and evaluating one's own writing.
  • The most recent edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers  is kept at the Reference Desk. (See the page on Style Manuals and Citation). Other editions are available to check out (LB2369 .G53), but are not up-to-date.

Research and Writing: Basic Issues

LibGuide on Research Basics (undergrad):

Basics of Academic Writing

The emphasis is on ACADEMIC.

This is one particular style of writing for one particular community of discourse.  Each discourse community has its own style, requirements, register, acceptable tone, and expectations.

In the academic community, for which you write while in school, there are some basic parameters and expectations.  Most of them are visible when you read articles in your field of study.  These are not arbitrary and whimsical; at the same time they do not constitute the end-all and be-all of every kind of writing. They do, however constitute a basic form of persuasive, reasoned writing, useful beyond the academy, with certain shifts.

The basic parameters for academic writing include:

  • having a point or claim to make, to which you want to persuade your readers by providing sufficient evidence, and an argument that rests on the evidence (and you must address the evidence that does not support your claim)
  • participating in the ongoing (scholarly/intellectual) dialog on the topic (sources or bibliography) about which you're making a point/claim -- both the scholarship supporting your claim and the scholarship opposing or qualifying your claim
  • using a structure, style, and terminology that fit within the domain and discourse community in which you are working -- which may differ from discipline to discipline

Another parameter has to do with the presentation of your work.  The default styles in Word essentially serve the marketing community (and the same is true for PowerPoint).  They do NOT serve the academic community.  This means that you will need to set up default formatting (style) that follows the styles set forth in the style manual you choose to follow (see the pages on Style Manuals).

Basic formatting for academic papers, no matter the style manual, aims at maximum readability:

  • Font: Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt.
  • Spacing: Double
  • Justification: LEFT, rather than FULL, which makes irregular spaces between words
  • Margins: 1" on all sides
  • Paragraphing: Each new paragraph indented 5 spaces -- see your style manual for how to handle quotations, but quoted passages of more than 3 lines should generally be in a block quote, which is formatted differently.  The remainder of the paragraph begins without indentation, to signal that it's part of the same paragraph.
  • At the beginning of your paper/assignment: an initial block FULLY identifying yourself, the course and instructor, and the assignment. It is wise to remember that your instructor is generally not engaged in a one-on-one seminar with you, and that s/he is seriously outnumbered by students.  This suggests that you should not only include initial self-identification, but also a header on each page after the first with your name, identification of the paper by assignment or title, and page number.

While many instructors are flexible, note that many academics who may see (and judge) your work -- and, by extension, you -- ARE NOT, nor are journals to which you may eventually submit your work.  Perfectionism may be the voice of the oppressor (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird), but it is useful to take care of the lower-order issues in order to minimize distraction from the substance of your work. See the page on basic formatting in these writing resources for an example.

Questions of Language

Writing for your courses (and for publication) must be grammatically correct, lexically appropriate, standard formal American English. Many but not all professors will give you feedback on all these levels (grammar, word choice, register) as well as on the quality of your research and thinking (evidence and argument).  When you submit work for publication, sloppiness at any level (grammar, language, research, argument) will keep your work from being accepted.

Your work will always be judged by the quality of the language you use -- some folks can see past the typographical and linguistic issues, but many cannot.

Academic writing is always in the standard formal register of the language in question.