Writing for Your Audience
Successful academic writing in graduate school does not only involve following all the grammar and style rules or picking a worthy topic. Writing includes successful understanding of the context of the assignment and writing appropriate content for your audience (your professor).
This guide gives some advice on rhetorical style and citation strategies for writing papers in our North American academic context.
Rhetoric refers to the way you make your argument and persuade your audience or reader.
Universal to local. Start BIG and go SMALL. Your introduction should summarize what your paper will cover. The first sentence of each paragraph should summarize that paragraph.
One for one. Each paragraph should be about one thing. An individual paragraph will cover one aspect of your total thesis.
Criticism, not criticizing. Professors expect students to read, think, and write critically. Critical thinking does not mean responding negatively or picking apart an argument. Critical thinking means bringing in other perspectives and ways of looking at a subject. Critical reading includes asking questions. Do not always take a writer at face value. How does your reading/writing affect all of your studies/ministry?
Personal pronouns (I, we, you, us). Some of your assignments will be personal reflections or experience papers. In these papers, you should use personal pronouns. These assignments are based on your own experience, and your writing should reflect that by using “I” or “we.” In research papers, however, do not use personal pronouns. A paper should not address the reader, so use “you” very sparingly.
Writing and Citing from Research
Most of your papers at Covenant will involve reading and incorporating other sources.
Synthesize your research. Professors ask that you synthesize, or organize, explain, and integrate your research into a clear whole. Professors want to see you interact with and think critically about a variety of viewpoints. Find sources from different academic, denominational, and religious traditions. Find sources from around the world. To interact with your sources means you will do more than just report your findings, but combine all your sources together to support your thesis.
Use few direct quotations. Show that you have understood what you read by stating an author’s argument in your own words. Be sure to give credit for the idea, but make the words yours.
Cite all work, quotes, and ideas that are not yours. Each time you refer to an idea from an author or source or use a direct quotation, provide a citation to that information. This is both to give due credit to your source and also to help your reader do further research if he wishes.
Choose the correct citation style. Follow the guidelines given by your professor or course syllabus. However, for most papers at Covenant, you will use Turabian style, with footnotes (at the end of each page) and a separate bibliography of sources at the end of the paper. Citation guides are available in the library, the Scribe, and the library website.
Some Notes on Grammar
Be sure your word processor is set for American English. Spell check and grammar check are helpful, but do not rely on them. Double-check spelling with a dictionary.
If you are not sure you have the exact word you need, or do not know if you are using a word correctly, you can try searching for it online. Look at how the word is used in various contexts. If you still are not sure of a word’s meaning or usage, pick a word you are sure of. Clarity in your writing is more important than a large English vocabulary.
English sentences usually follow “subject – verb – direct object” word order.
The is a definite article. It precedes nouns that refer to specific things: the seminary in St. Louis; the Bible, the book for Dr. Dalbey’s class.
A/An is an indefinite article. It precedes nouns that refer to any of a kind of things: a seminary; a holy book; a book for classes.
End punctuation goes inside quotation marks, followed by the footnote superscript. Even if end punctuation was not included in the original quotation, it appears inside the quotation marks in your paper: ?”1
Format of Your Paper
Unless your professor requests otherwise, the following conventions are recommended.
- The paper should be typed and double-spaced using a clear, non-ornamental, serif font. Examples of acceptable fonts include Times New Roman or Palatino. The text of the paper should be set in 12-point type with footnotes in 10-point.
- Margins are typically 1″ on all sides. All papers should be printed on standard 8 ½″ × 11″ paper.
- Page numbers should be included on all pages in a place that remains consistent throughout the paper (i.e., top right on every page, bottom center on every page, etc.).
- Only one space (not two) should be placed after the terminal punctuation of a sentence.
- Titles of books and other longer works should be italicized, not underlined. Titles of articles, essays, parts of longer works, or other shorter works should be enclosed in quotation marks.