Writing a Major Paper
Some university writing centers recommend Chicago Manual of Style format for
papers in Information Services and Computer Science. CMS employs footnotes and
Latin abbreviations. A useful
overview of Chicago
Manual of Style format is available on Purdue University's OWL (Online
Writing Lab) site.
If you prefer to use MLA format or APA format, they are acceptable. Purdue's OWL has good
overviews of MLA format
and APA format
as well. Just be sure to be consistent in applying whatever format you use.
The Writing Center often refers students to the
Writing Guidelines for Engineering and
Science Students written and maintained by several universities: Penn State,
Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, University of Texas, and Virginia Tech.
You will want to be aware of Bridgewater College's plagiarism policy,
Academic Work. You may find it interesting to look at the
Plagiarism Policy as well.
What to Pay Attention to:
In most college classes you
are expected to include a thesis in your papers. In papers that
explain information, the thesis may be implied through an introduction that
raises questions or that identifies a subject that can be
subdivided into categories or situated in a historical context,
- The Central Focus of your paper, often expressed as a Thesis
See the Purdue
OWL handout on outlining. You can establish an outline from an early
point in your writing process, perhaps starting with a list of questions you
know you will need to answer in your paper. Or you can start with a list of
important points or areas to cover. To develop this list into an outline, you
will want to follow the principles of dividing your information,
subordinating more specific information to more general headings, and using
parallelism in the wording of your outline, as explained in Purdue's
Alternatively, you may want to think about the nature of the information
that you are presenting and select an organizational pattern that fits your
topic. The University of Washington provides a
good overview of
Whatever approach you take, it may be useful to think in terms of a
hierarchy of parts of your paper when you create your outline, rather than
in terms of a linear path through information. For example, if you think
about what you need to say as comprised in four major sections of your
paper, you have four major points in your outline. Then break down each of
those sections, or points, into two or more subtopics for the next level in
your outline. You can break each subtopic further into two or more
sub-subtopics. In this way, you preserve the preferred pattern of outline
Information from Sources
In research-based writing, make sure to make your point in your own words. Use
research to support your point, but do not let another's words carry your
argument. You will not want to use very many quotations in technical
writing. Instead, do as much paraphrasing and summarizing as possible--but
it is essential, when you put others' information into your own words, that you
carefully avoid plagiarizing. This means using your own sentence structure
as well as your own words. For more information on paraphrasing, see
Academic Work. You may also find it useful to look at guidelines
about what to cite in
B: Documenting Sources of Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students.
You should adopt a fairly formal style in this paper. You won't want to
use "you" in your paper and you'll want to limit use of "I" to the
rare personal example of an experience with your topic. Use appropriate technical terminology.
Avoid using slang and clichéd language. Be as
direct as possible: this may mean using some long sentences and some short
sentences, but above all, be clear. See this list of
characteristics of technical writing from Georgia
Tech's Professional Communication Program. Also of interest:
on Technical Writing" on the Navy's SPAWAR [Space and Naval
Warfare Systems Command] website.
A reference work that is often endorsed by technical writers is the 100-year-old handbook
The Elements of Style by William
Approaches to Writing:
Getting Started and Keeping It Going
- Give yourself plenty of time to write your paper. Try to write early, even if
you don't have all the information yet. Most of the writing that
professors complain about as poor writing was done hastily
and/or at the last minute. So don't wait to have the perfect
plan; once you start writing, you may find that you are refining
- As you think about your paper, make lists of info or lists of questions a reader might need answers to or flow charts showing the chunks of writing that your paper will need. This is important writing activity, even if you don't see finished paragraphs coming out of it.
Jotting down the information you see as necessary to your reader can lead into
outlining. You may also use subtitling as a route into writing an outline,
or start with a bare-bones PowerPoint as an organizational tool,
which you can later fill out for your presentation.
- As you draft, if you don't know everything you need to include, skip parts. Get as much down as you can, because it's easier to revise to produce a good final product if you have plenty of material to work with
(and cut from). Schedule times for writing and make good use of them.
- If you find yourself staring at the screen, waiting for
inspiration, do something else for 10 minutes or 30 minutes--but
with a firm commitment to returning to the writing at that
point. Think of it as a doctor's appointment that you really
need to show up for.
- And you don't need to wait till you've
done all your writing before consulting a Writing Center tutor.
Come in and talk through your ideas for the paper or your
information, and a tutor can help you organize it. You can chat
with a tutor on Facebook between 7:00 p.m. and midnight Sunday
through Thursday, and even share your PowerPoint in Google Docs
to get feedback from a tutor. Go to
- When you revise, read your paper aloud. Listening to your
paper as well as looking at it helps you focus on what it
actually says instead of the ideas in your head. You'll catch
places where you've left something out or said the same thing
- Eliminate redundancy, or unnecessary repetition of the same wording,
and wordiness as you revise. You can use repetition selectively
to create emphasis and enhance clarity, but in most cases,
you'll want to avoid saying the same thing more than once--at
least in the same paragraph.
- Reading aloud will help you revise for transitional wording as well,
the words and phrases that create "flow" in your paper.
- Be sure that you have cited all the sources you use. It is
worth taking the time to insert citations as you go instead of
going back to finish them later. That delay can result in
overlooked citations. Also be sure that every source cited in
the body of your paper has a corresponding entry in your
- It is a good idea to have a Writing
Center tutor help you look at your citation of sources. A tutor
will point out any passage that needs to be cited and can help
you with the format of your bibliography. While Web-based
citation programs like EasyBib.com can be really helpful,
mistakes sometimes creep in. The fresh look that an outside
reader can bring to your paper may be well worth the time you
took to get someone to look over the paper.
- Double-check quoted material, numbers, and dates for accuracy.
- Double-check the spelling of proper names or specialized terminology.
- Double-check paraphrased material to make sure you have not plagiarized.
- Double-check information and format in your bibliography.
Updated by A. L. Trupe Feb.