Writing tasks where students have to express their own thoughts on a subject are quite easy to do given that a person knows the basics of academic writing. However, when it comes to research-based persuasive assignments, a complex structure, search for credible sources, the collection of supporting evidence, knowledge of formatting styles, application of critical analysis skills, etc., are required. With no experience, these tasks are difficult to do. Fortunately, there is a way to cope with them, which is to complete them gradually or, in other words, in stages, which are explained below.
Stage One: Examine Instructions
- First, you need to read the instructions carefully and multiple times in order to understand what is required from you fully. Try to figure out what the professor expects of you exactly. Should you answer a set of questions? Should you compare and contrast certain concepts? Is the critical analysis of an artwork, book, poem, movie, or article required? Should you describe a complicated process? Have you been asked to persuade a reader to accept the opposing point of view? To determine the objective of the assignment, you are recommended to highlight the keywords such as “Analyze,” “Compare,” “Evaluate,” “Provide examples,” “Explain,” etc. Furthermore, underline the specific rules indicated by the professor to be sure not to violate them.
- Second, pay attention not only to content requirements but those related to formatting too. You should be ready that different professors working at the same school may have varying expectations regarding the appearance of the paper. If you want to get a high grade and ensure an impartial attitude toward your work, you should respect these seemingly insignificant rules. Therefore, when checking requirements, jot down the peculiarities that you need to remember about spacing, margins, font, and its size, headings, title, page numbers, indentation, length of the paper, etc.
- Third, mind the formatting style. Perhaps, you got used to using a certain citation style and would like to apply it in all papers. However, different disciplines, as well as professors, require different styles to be used. For instance, if the assignment is in humanities, you are likely to be asked to format the paper in Chicago Manual Style or MLA. If it is a social sciences task, you should probably resort to APA. If an essay or a research paper concerns medicine, AMA might be applicable. In other words, do not assume that you know the necessary formatting style but find out which one is needed. Then, search for a formatting style guide online or in the library. There are many free manuals available.
NOTE: If you have not been given a specific topic and need to choose it by yourself, be sure to settle down on something that interests you and is neither too broad nor too narrow. Next, focus on what is required from you and plan the paper by composing an outline. It might be useful to get approval of the topic from the professor not to rewrite the paper from scratch later on. If, however, you were given specific instructions but you find them unclear, do not waste time and consult your professor immediately. You should not be ashamed or afraid of requesting clarifications. Believe it or not, your instructor will treat your additional questions as signs of responsibility and a meticulous approach to work and will gladly provide any explanations needed.
Stage Two: Conduct Research
The next step in the writing process is the accumulation of information that may be used in the paper. To find it, you need to identify sources for further analysis. Thus, you may go to the school library or, at least, to the library’s website and look for the related books and articles there. Moreover, you should not ignore online resources. There numerous databases with high-quality academic literature that may come in handy for your research paper. You are recommended to take advantage of Google Scholar, JSTOR, WorldCat, ResearchGate, Project MUSE, etc. Please mind that some sources might be not freely available, and you might need to use your student’s ID to access them. Other places to search for relevant literature are the reading list provided by the professor and the professor him/herself. He/she will happily advise something valuable to you.
Among a variety of sources that are somehow related to the topic under discussion, select the appropriate ones only. These should be peer-reviewed, reputable, credible books, articles, reports, etc. Besides, they should be recently published, specifically within the last 5-10 years. Though not all professors are equally strict about the use of different sources, it is preferable to stick to up-to-date books, articles from professional or scholarly journals, and renowned newspapers such as New York Times, Washington Post, or the Guardian. At the same, you should avoid publications at popular websites and Wikipedia at any cost. These are sources that do not qualify as academic and may not serve as the foundation for your paper.
Then, you should critically read all the sources and evaluate the data that they present. Mind that if some information comes from a reputable source, it does not mean that it is necessarily fully correct. All claims should be assessed against the following criteria: the presence/absence of bias, degree of persuasiveness, the sufficiency, and quality of arguments and evidential support, quality of bibliography, obvious flaws in the interpretation of information, presence/absence of logical fallacies, etc. A similar assessment should be conducted for all online sources. You should definitely eliminate not credible and biased articles or books from your bibliography and steer clear of citing them in the paper.
You might also be required to use primary sources in the text. Primary sources are direct first-hand materials that were not subjected to interpretation and are not presented from someone’s perspective. These are unaltered and pure creations of initial authors. Depending on a discipline, a primary source might be a news report, a video, poem, photograph, manuscript, monument, artwork, transcribed interview with a participant of an event, raw data from a laboratory experiment, memoir, song, etc. Unlike with secondary sources, using primary sources, you will not be influenced by the ideas of others and will be able to make a personal estimation of the subject under consideration. However, mind that primary sources are not always needed in a research paper. If they are necessary, your professor will indicate that in the instructions and will explain how to retrieve them. If nothing like that is mentioned in the requirements, you are advised to clarify the matter with the instructor.
Stage Three: Write the Paper
Before the actual writing, create an outline. It is the way to organize your ideas and structure them in a logical manner. To compose the outline, you should list all ideas that you find appropriate for your persuasive paper. Then, arrange them in a way you would like to discuss them in the essay, for example, in chronological order or from the least to the most important. Decide what evidence from the sources reviewed you will use to support the claim. Your outline might look in the following way:
- Introduction with a thesis statement
- Claim 1 with supporting evidence
- Claim 2 with supporting evidence
- Claim 3 with supporting evidence
- Refutation of the counterargument
As you can see from the plan presented above, the introduction should contain a thesis statement. It is the most important part of this section, which will guide the development of the whole paper. It is, in fact, the main arguments articulated in a clear, concise, and well-structured way, allowing a reader to grasp the idea behind the paper, see the way it will be developed, and make a sort of prediction regarding the structure. The thesis statement should be limited to 1-2 sentences and be placed at the end of the introduction. It might look in the following way, “Although commonly considered to be authored by James Potter, A Mystical Story of Missis Lestrange’s Mirror seems to belong to the literary heritage of Eleonore Jackson as evidenced by stylistic peculiarities, as well as word choice, in the work, and letters that the two sent to each other.”
With the thesis statement at hand, you may write an introduction. It is a section that should set a background for the topic under consideration and explain the context in which will be discussed. It should not contain too many details or provide an exhaustive overview of the topic. On the contrary, it should have general information just to let a reader know what the paper will be about. For example, the introduction that would have been suitable for the mentioned thesis statement could have provided data on two authors, stated what relationship existed between them, briefly elaborated on the story and the related issue of authorship. To ensure that the introduction has no redundant information as well as exhibits clarity and brevity, many people prefer to write it after the body is ready. It helps to focus on the essentials only. However, you might write it before or after the body is completed.
Having composed the thesis statement and the introduction as a whole, you should proceed to the body. It is the major part of the essay that consists of several paragraphs. Most of them are supposed to provide claims and evidence to persuade a reader of the thesis statement’s correctness. One or two of the last body paragraphs should contain a counterargument and a rebuttal proving that the opponents’ ideas are weaker or erroneous. Each of the body paragraphs should start with a topic sentence that has a claim and shows the connection between the thesis statement and the paragraph. For instance, the topic sentence may be formulated in such a way: “The story is characterized by the use of a number of stylistic devices that are peculiar to other works created by Eleonore Jackson, specifically abundant metaphors, metonymy, synecdoche, and hyperboles.”
Each claim articulated in a topic sentence should be, of course, supported with evidence, which should come from the primary source, the story in this case, or secondary literature. Only with evidence and examples, a paper may be considered convincing and the one deserving a high grade in the eyes of your professor. For instance, you might write, “In the works of Jackson, there are usually numerous sea-related metaphors, which is connected with her origin and father, who was a sailor. The same feature is easily traced in A Mystical Story of Missis Lestrange’s Mirror. For instance, the author describes a woman’s eyes like ‘two seas of grief’ and a mirror that was seemingly ‘fishing for her reflection.’ At the same time, references to sea are completely absent in all Potter’s stories.”
As you end the paragraph, think of the smooth flow and connection between the ideas presented. If you do not want the paper to look choppy and the claims to be disjoint, you are recommended to use transitional sentences and phrases. These might be a concluding sentence at the end of the previous paragraph or an opening sentence of the next one. They should demonstrate clear ties between the units of the text and ensure the coherence of the work. To reach such effects, you might write something like, “In addition to numerous instances of colorful metaphors, the story is full of hyperboles that are inherent in the earlier works of Jackson while being barely present in those of Potter.”
When writing the body, you should not forget to cite the information taken either from secondary or primary sources. If concerns both cases of directly citing someone’s words and paraphrasing them. In the former case, an unaltered piece of the original text is inserted into your work and presented in quotation marks. In the latter case, you use your own words to convey someone’s idea but still give credit to the author. Citing is necessary to avoid accusations of academic dishonesty and unlawful appropriation of someone else’s intellectual property. At the same time, in-text citations or footnotes should be formatted in a way prescribed by the guidelines on the formatting style. Please, check the examples:
The author describes the woman’s eyes as “two seas of grief” and a mirror that was seemingly “fishing for her reflection” (Potter, 2001, p. 25). – It is a direct quoting of excerpts from the primary source.
Doe (2010) claims that the presence of numerous sea-related metaphors is connected with her origin and father, who was a sailor. – It is paraphrasing from the source.
Further, you should proceed to the assessment of counterarguments. As a rule, there is always a pervasive argument that contradicts and opposes your main claim. You may not just turn a blind eye to it and pretend that it does not exist. On the contrary, you should admit its existence, mention it in your research paper, and explain why this argument is less plausible or grounded than yours. These actions are called refutations. Of course, the discussion of counterarguments should not look like accusations of the opponent in foolishness or inadequacy. The rebuttal of arguments should be reasonable, polite, and based on some evidence. Otherwise, it may damage your grade substantially.
In addition, create a conclusion. It should start with the restatement of your thesis, a short summary of the principal arguments and evidence, and the final thoughts of the significance of the topic researched. You may make suggestions regarding the future research of the same or related topic, formulate a question that encourages discussion, call a reader for some actions, or just some personal reflection of the subject matter and the way your research influences the related field. Nevertheless, you must avoid repeating the introduction, going into too many details, writing too much in general, and including new information in the conclusion.
The last thing to do at this stage of writing is to compile a bibliography or, in other words, a list of sources that were consulted and cited in the course of composing the paper. All sources should be mentioned even if they were cited just once. The bibliography then should be formatted to conform to the requirements of a formatting style guide. Usually, references should contain the name of the author(s), the title of the work, its container if any, publisher, as well as the place and date of publication.
Stage Four: Edit and Proofread
Once you are done with the first draft, make a pause and let your batteries recharge. If you continue to work on the paper, you will not be able to assess it objectively and notice flaws, as well as mistakes, if there are any. In few hours or preferably a day, return to your piece of writing. Read it and try to point out the issues with the structure, development of the ideas, strength of argumentation, logical flow, transitioning, coherence and cohesion of the text, or anything else that seems to need amending and refining.
Read at least once again and this time, pay attention to the style, tone, and language. You are advised to read out loud as it helps to detect awkward sentence structures and incorrect word choice in addition to spelling mistakes. Besides, in this phase, you should eliminate all language that might seem judgmental or too emotional and hinder the impartiality of your writing. Moreover, cross out all colloquialisms, jargon, slang, i.e., ensure that the paper complies with the rules of formal English and the standards of academic writing.
Read the paper one more time and identify all grammatical flaws, spelling and punctuation mistakes, and typos. Look through the paper slowly and carefully since, at this point, you might know the paper almost by heart. So, being extremely focused is the only way to check the paper well by yourself. Yet you may also ask your friend or family member to give a fresh look at the text, provide constructive criticism, and assist in detecting mistakes. Remember to check whether formatting style rules are met. Finally, proofread the paper one last time, and your assignment is completed!
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