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What Was It I Was Writing?

Essay, opinion piece, research report -- no matter what you are writing, you still have to present it in an appropriate way, with context and content, and some polish and flare. Let's look at a couple of examples.

Writing an opinion piece does not allow you to make things up. Opinion must be based on fact (at least, it must if you are going to write that opinion down and submit it for a grade). Suppose you are asked to write an opinion piece on "Cats: Why I Think the Government Should Protect Them".

First, you should determine just what the government is proposing to do about cats that even makes this a valid topic for discussion. For that information, you must go to the government, and government documents, publications, and policies involved; you cannot express a valid opinion on a policy you have not seen, read and thought about.

Second, if more than one government is talking about cats and their protection, you should decide which government you are going to talk about and make that clear in your report.

Third, you have to form an opinion based on fact. After reading the policy, you cannot declare that you think the government should protect cats because:

Most reports that you will be asked to write in university (particularly in third and fourth year) will not involve the government protecting cats, but many of the elements in the example above will be required.

Whether your topic is cats, or the internet, or something else entirely, you will be expected to understand the basic terminology involved with your topic. You will be expected to use sources and resources which are appropriate to your topic. You will be expected to focus your search appropriately. You will be required to offer some valid proof of any statement you make beyond a basic statement of fact. So, while you might say that Canada is a country on the North American continent bounded by the United States to its south without a reference, you may not state that a survey shows that most Canadians support censoring information on the internet, without citing the actual survey (date, controls, sample size, conducting group, etc.) and you probably should have a good hard look at how the questions were worded and the data were interpreted.

Make sure that your "throw away lines" are factual. We all have a tendency to want to give examples to illustrate the points we are trying to make or to throw in a sentence or two as filler. Make sure they are accurate. To describe the internet as a global network which can be easily accessed by almost anyone sounds good -- except -- what you really meant was if you have the facilities and the money and the equipment, and live in a populated area of North America, you can probably find a public place, such as a library, school, or commercial area, which will offer you (fee or free) access to the internet. Unless you have already made it clear that your remarks are bounded by a particular set of parameters, you can get into trouble.

All "papers", for lack of a better term, need a focus (the only exception may be the true essay). Decide what the focus is, declare it and stick to it. If you are unable to focus your paper any other way, construct a detailed outline first. Make sure your chosen focal points relate directly to the topic, the thesis statement, the research questions, and the hypotheses. Avoid the scattergun approach, throwing in everything you know about at the topic, in no particular order. Do not use single sentences to string quotes together. Your job is to analyze what you have found, not quote it all to the reader. Select and use quotes judiciously; try paraphrasing and citing the source. Incorporate a few quoted words into a sentence.

For More Information

For more on writing your paper or presenting material in class, explore: Presenting Your Findings.

Move forward to Developing Content and Context

Go back to Theses Statements and Hypotheses

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This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
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Created: 1998/01/31 Last updated: 2014/05/06
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