CHAPTER 1: Writing in General

A. Introduction
One of the more important aspects of both our academic and professional lives is the ability to communicate effectively. This will take the form of either oral or written communication. This handbook is designed to assist students in improving aspects of their written communication by discussing basic writing mechanics and techniques and, specifically, the use of a variety of computer programs to significantly improve your communication skills.
The effective use of computers, as discussed in I. I. below, is becoming one of the most important means of improving written communication as it encourages and allows greater ability to edit the paper, provides spell checking tools and produces a paper that is freer from error and looks more professional. When a typical word processor is augmented by graphical, statistical and photographic computer programs, students are able to create true multimedia presentations that raises the concept of "written" communication to new levels.
This handbook is designed to provide students with the basic tools to improve their writing and to create basic multimedia presentations. However, the most important ingredient in writing, with or without computers, is TIME. Good writing requires time and it is usually very evident to a professor, or boss, when little time has been spent on a paper. This is even more important when you are using a computer because even the best programs take time to learn and even more time to use them effectively. Therefore, plan accordingly. Allow sufficient time to write the paper and to use the computer programs you need.
In order to do this, in light of all the other events and requirements going on in your life, learn to keep a semester date book listing all due dates, tests, etc. If you put such things down as soon as you know when they are, you should be able to predict which periods of the semester will be very busy and which ones will be less busy. It is these "quiet" periods in your semester that should be used to organize, research and write your paper.
B. Grading and Expectations
There is no way to give a "cook book recipe" for an "A" quality paper. However, the following criteria will provide guidelines for what professors are looking for in a quality paper of any kind.
A Superior Paper:
• Addresses a well-defined, significant, thoughtfully selected topic or question
• Addresses the question fully and explores the issues thoughtfully
• Shows substantial depth, fullness, and complexity of thought. Goes beyond the obvious.
Offers illuminating insights.
• Demonstrates clear, focused, unified and coherent organization.
• Is fully developed and detailed.
• Evidences superior control of diction, syntactic variety and transition.
A Strong Paper:
• Addresses a well-defined, significant topic or question.
• Clearly addresses the question and explores the issue.
• Shows some depth and complexity of thought. Demonstrates recognition of important ideas.
• Is effectively organized.
• Is well-developed, with supporting detail.
• Demonstrates control of diction, syntactic variety, and transition; may have a few flaws.
A Competent Paper:
• Addresses a clearly defined topic or question.
• Adequately addresses the question and explores the issues.
• Shows clarity of thought but may lack complexity. May tend to rely on the obvious and the
• Is organized.
• Is adequately developed, with some detail.
• Demonstrates competent writing; may have some flaws.
A Weak Paper:
• Addresses an ill-defined or ill-chosen topic or question.
• May distort or neglect parts of the question.
• May be simplistic or stereotyped in thought. May be essentially uninformative.
• May demonstrate problems in organization. May be aimless.
• May have generalizations without supporting detail or detail without generalizations; may
be undeveloped.
• May show patterns of flaws in language, syntax, or mechanics.
An Inadequate Paper:
• Will demonstrate serious inadequacy in one or more of the areas specified for the weak
• Failed attempts to begin discussing the topic.
• Deliberately off-topic paper. Failure to understand the topic.
• Paper so incompletely developed as to suggest or demonstrate incompetence.
• Paper wholly incompetent mechanically.
As you read these criteria you may notice that, in many areas, there are little differences between the categories. It is these subtleties that make the difference between a "superior" and a "strong" paper. Also, while it is not possible to hold each of these categories to fixed grades, there is a strong correlation between "Superior" and "A", Competent" and "C", etc.
There is also a time expectation for writing quality papers. Again, this is even harder to quantify than the above criteria but it is evident in the quality of the paper. Just as professors expect students to spend a minimum of two hours of study outside of class for every one hour in class, so they expect a minimum amount of work per page of a paper. At a minimum, for a simple book report or short paper, you should plan on two to three hours per page. A research paper for an upper division class, however, or a paper that is a significant part of your grade, should be given a minimum of four or five hours per page.
One of the most common and vexing problems students encounter in writing papers is that of plagiarism. The concept of plagiarism is one of the broadest and most far reaching problem areas in academia and the science profession. As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, plagiarism is "to steal and use the ideas or writing of another as one's own; to appropriate passages or ideas from and use them as one's own; to take and use as one's own the writings or ideas of another." In academics this traditionally applies to the improper use of material from any other source in your papers and lab reports, including other students, without properly referencing them. In addition, it applies to the use of someone else's answers on a test or quiz, someone else's results or work in a lab project or write-up, etc. It is imperative that students keep this concept in mind when they are writing a paper. See also section I. G. Citations.
C. Priorities
Students frequently follow a set process in writing their papers that illustrates their priorities in pursuing their project, as expressed by Dr. Glyer of APU:
a. Prompt: someone makes them write something
b. Panic: they think about the work involved and what a poor grade means
c. Procrastinate: they put it off until the pain of procrastinating is greater than the pain of writing.
d. Write with their eyes closed: write but don't read the papers they turn in.
e. Hand it in
f. Let's make a deal- prayer: "If you just let me get a "B" , I'll..."
Therefore, students do expend a great deal of energy in the writing of their papers but in the wrong places- at b, c and f. Students need to reorient where they invest their time, effort and energy. They need to establish a new and more effective list of priorities such as the following, developed by Nold and Bracy:
a. Thesis: Does the paper have a point? Is it a point worth making? Is the point clearly conveyed? Are there sections of the paper that do not contribute to the point?
b. Audience: Are the needs and expectations of the audience adequately addressed? Is the writer's style and tone appropriate to the audience?
c. Type of Writing: Does the paper satisfy the conventions of its kind? Does the paper adequately address all dimensions of the given assignment?
d. Use of support: Are generalizations adequately developed with details, examples, facts, comparisons, descriptions, etc. Are a variety of development strategies used? Are sources carefully documented and fully integrated as per the criteria of the discipline?
e. Structure: Does the paper have an interesting introduction and a satisfying conclusion? Is each body paragraph clearly focused and purposeful? Is the sequence of the paragraphs clear and deliberate? Are paragraphs joined by logical transitions? Is attention paid to balance and emphasis?
f. Syntax: Does the writer avoid sentence-level problems such as fragments, run-ons, lack of parallelism, choppiness, overuse of passive voice? Are the sentences direct, clear, active, varied, economical, effective, and mature in structure?
g. Diction: Does the writer avoid word-level problems such as vagueness, sexism, unintended connotations, frequently confused words? Is word choice exact, concise and varied?
h. Mechanics: Does the writer use punctuation, abbreviations and other graphic devices correctly?
i. Spelling/typing: Is the paper free from careless errors in spelling and typing?
j. Presentation: Is there careful attention to the appearance of the paper, including correct margins, quality paper, and, if appropriate, a cover page, page numbering, and a folder?
Following this set of priorities and being sure that your paper adequately addresses the questions expressed in each priority, will increase the effectiveness of your paper.
D. Process
1. Basic Overall Process: Please keep in mind that the following process is not strictly linear and will vary depending on the writer and on the task.
Step One: Prompt- What are you being asked to do and who is asking you to do it?
External: Usually from your professor or whoever is requiring you to do the paper
Internal: From yourself, your own desire to succeed and receive a good grade
Step Two: Prewrite- Begin getting organized!
Task Representation: What is the reason and purpose for writing the paper? Who is the
audience? What is the format under which the paper must be written?
Planning: Organize your time into what needs to be done and approximately how much
time it will take. Take into account other things that will occupy your time such as papers for other classes, tests, work schedules, etc. By planning sufficiently ahead, you can usually find time when you have a "slow" time in your schedule that will allow sufficient time to effectively write the paper. Organize your paper in an outline format that takes into account the requirements of the paper and your knowledge of the subject at the start. Keep it flexible so you can improve the paper by changing things as new ideas come.
Gathering: Begin to identify and gather the resources needed to write the paper. Conduct
your library and on-line research.
Step Three: Write- Begin writing quickly and recklessly, just letting the words flow. Do not
worry about grammar, spellings, etc. Just let it go, quick and dirty! This can be done either section by section or by starting anywhere. Work on areas where you have knowledge and material.
Step Four: Time Out- Take a period of time to let it sit. This should be several days. Of course,
this implies that you have begun it far enough in advance to have this time available.
Step Five: Revise- Reread the paper and make massive changes such as adding, deleting and
moving large blocks of material. This is where writing the paper on a computer makes it much easier (see II. C. below). Reread the original premise and requirements for the paper. Be sure you are meeting these and following your original ideas unless new and better ones have occurred to you.
Step Six: Edit- Now spend time looking at basic grammar such as paragraph and sentence
structure, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, proper tense, etc.
Step Seven: Proofread- Look at the entire paper, make spelling changes, have someone else read it for you. Make sure it all makes sense and meets the requirements.
a. Begin by finding a few general books, articles or encyclopedia references to provide you with basic knowledge on the topic to be studied.
b. Based on your knowledge of the topic, create a list of key words that apply to your topic. List all words that "mean" the same thing together (i.e., fish, minnow, blue gill, scientific names, etc.).
c. Do initial detailed research using "Academic Abstracts", "First Search", etc. Try to find review articles in the "Annual Review" series. Look through the Table of Contents of recent issues of appropriate journals.
d. Based on increased knowledge, revise your key words list and do a DIALOG search or other type of computerized search system and begin using various abstract indexes.
e. Throughout this, keep all references on index cards using correct, complete formatting.
f. Remember to use the bibliographies accompanying your articles and books as sources of new references.
g. Check the bibliography and reserve articles if provided.
a. Listen to and follow instructions.
b. Write down everything! Keep two copies of your data (i.e., your lab journal and the class log sheets.).
c. Check your experiment regularly.
d. Do not change any procedure unless you have personally heard the professor change it.
a. Gather data.
b. Arrange data logically, keeping in mind what you need to find out.
c. Enter it into the computer according to "Statview SE +" instructions.
d. Perform and record basic descriptive stats to gather means, standard deviations, etc.
e. Perform and record ANOVAs between relevant data.
f. Create graphs and tables of your choice to illustrate both data and its analysis.
g. Perform any additional analysis you think relevant--be sure to check basic stats books for suggestions and correct usage.
h. REMEMBER - Just because two numbers (i.e., means of various treatments) are different does not mean anything scientifically unless you can show that those two numbers are statistically different.
E. Resources
The following are simply resources to assist you in improving your writing, in the sciences or any other discipline. They are available in libraries or bookstores.
Ambrose, H. and K. P. Ambrose. 1995. A Handbook of Biological Investigation 5th ed. Knoxville. Hunter Textbooks, Inc.
Barrass, R. 1993. Scientists Must Write. London. Chapman and Hall.
Cook, C. 1986. Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co.
Cutts, M. 1995. The Plain English Guide: How to Write Clearly and Communicate Better. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Day, R. 1983. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. 2nd ed. Philadelphia. ISI Press.
Hacker, D. 1995. A Writer's Reference 3rd ed. Boston. Bedford Books.
McMillian, V. 1988. Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences. New York. Bedford Books.
Pechenik, J. 1993. A Short Guide to Writing About Biology. 2nd ed. New York. Harpers Collins.
Weidenborner, S. and D. Caruso. 1996. Writing Research Papers: A Guide to the Process. New York. St. Marten's Press.
Weiner, E. and A. Delahunty. 1994. The Oxford Guide to English Usage. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
F. Format
The format of a paper will vary from discipline to discipline, from class to class and from one type of paper to another. The resources mentioned in section "E" above are good places to begin looking for the correct format that is to be used. In the sciences, however, there is a standard format for a paper written to report the results of an experiment, whether or not you are the one who conducted the experiment. The following is a brief explanation of that format.
NOTE: See section I. G. "Citations" for information regarding the proper citing of any material throughout the paper, regardless of which section it is in.
Some times there may be a requirement to create an "Abstract" that will be at the beginning of the paper. If required, this is to be a short, very concise, version of the paper that hits the high points of each of the sections to follow. It will usually have a stated and very specific length that will be expressed in number of words or the size it must fit into. In professional journals and presentations this is what will be printed in indexes for others to know what the paper is on.
1. Introduction-
a. Background information on all areas of project, i.e., pollutants; abiotics; your organisms.
b. Reports on similar projects, especially those that involve interactions of all the areas you are studying in your paper. .
c. Introduction to your project showing why it is necessary, worthwhile, etc.; state your hypothesis but do not write "My hypothesis is..."!
2. Materials and Methods-
a. A narrative description of exactly what you used and how you did your experiment.
b. Must allow someone else to duplicate your work.
c. Must not include any lists or step-by-step directions, it is not a lab manual.
d. While this will vary from professor to professor, this is usually to be done in the third person passive such as: "A test tube was filled with 2% NaCl and placed in an incubator." rather than "I took a test tube and filled it with 2% NaCl. Then I placed it in an incubator."
3. Results-
a. General account of how project went, including any problems, in a narrative form.
b. Specific account of your data in either written, tabular or graphical form.
c. Specific account of statistical analysis.
d. All tables, graphs, figures, etc. must be referred to in the narrative portion of the section.
e. All tables, graphs, figures, etc. must have sequential numbers and true captions.
f. There should be no discussion of your results, what they mean, why they occurred, etc.
4. Discussion-
a. Discussion of what happened in your project.
b. Discussion of why you got your results and what they might mean.
c. Tie-in to your introduction, particularly similar projects.
d. Explanation of why your hypothesis was or was not proven correct.
REMEMBER: Just because your hypothesis was not proven correct or the results were
not what you expected does not mean the experiment was a failure!
5. Literature Cited-
a. Alphabetical list of all the references you actually cited in your paper.
b. Must conform to the standards for the type of paper you are writing or the discipline
you are writing for. See section I. G. Citations.
G. Citations
As was stated in section I. B. Grading and Expectations in the portion on plagiarism, it is imperative that students properly recognize, or cite, those who have helped them in the writing of the paper. The list of texts mentioned in section E. Resources includes a number of books that give a number of methods for citing material used in the writing of the paper. However, the majority of science papers make use of the "Harvard Method" which is what will be discussed here.
1. Citations in text of paper:
One author: (Smith, 1996)
Two authors: (Smith and Jones, 1995)
More than two authors: (Smith et al., 1990)
Unknown author: (Anon., 1994)
2. Citations in "Literature Cited" sections:
Smith, J. 1992. Acid Rain in North America. New York. J. Wiley and Sons, Publishers.
Smith, J. and Jones, T. 1995. Acid Rain in the Northern Hemisphere. New York. J. Wiley and Sons, Publishers.
Smith, J., T. Jones, S. Doe and M. Murray. 1990. Acid Rain. New York. J. Wiley and Sons, Publishers.
Chapter in Edited Text:
Smith, J. 1992. "Acid Rain and its Effects on Vegetation Brazil". pgs. 55-75. IN Acid Rain in South America. G. Martins (ed.) Chicago. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Smith, J. 1996. Acid Rain and its Effects on Cattails in Northern Michigan. Science 12 (6): 224-335. (Where 12= the volume, 6= the issue in that volume and 224-335= pages of the article)
On-line and Electronic Sources
Book, General Form:
Lastname, Firstname Book Title. City: Publisher, Date. Publication medium. Repository. Network name Date of access.
Books, Examples:
United State General Accounting Office. Drug-Exposed Infants: Report to the Chairman. Committee on Finance US Senate. 6 Nov. 1992. Online U of Minnesota Lib. Internet l May 1993.
Harris, Robert. Stories from the Old Attic. Costa Mesa. 1992. Online Project Gutenberg. Internet. S Oct.. 199S. Available FTP: uiarchive.cso.uuc.edu.
Article General Form:
Lastname, Firstname Title of Article." Journal Name date: page Database. Publication medium. Service or network. Repository. Date of access. Available electronic address
Article, Examples:
Austin, Mary. "The Little Coyote. Atlantic Monthly 89 (1902): 249~54. Online. U of Virginia Electronic Text Center. Internet. 3 May l995. Available WWW: http://ctext.lib.virginia. cdu/coglish.huml.
Nachman, Tony, and Kevin Lenkins. "What's Wrong with Education in America?. Trincoll Journal Dec. 1994: n. page. Online. Internet. 22 Apr. 1995. Available WWW: http://www.trincoll.edu/tj/trincolljournal.html.
Kim, Albert. "FriscoTech.- Entertainment Weekly 4 Apr. 1995. Pathfinder. Online Internet. 10 May 1995. Available WWW: http:llwww.pathfinder.com.
CD-ROM Examples:
Alva A. Sylvia Alatore. "Differential Patterns of Achievement Among Asian-American Adolescents." Journal of Youth & Adolescence 22(1993):407-23. Proquest General Periodicals. CD-ROM. UMI-Proquest June 1994.
"U.S. Population by Age: Urban and Urbanized Areas." 1990 US. Census of Population and Housing. CD-ROM US Bureau of the Census. 1990.
"Bronte, Emily. Discovering Authors. Vers. 1.0. CD-ROM. Detroit Gale, 1992.
Boltos', Joy. "Volcanoes." Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia. 1995 ed. CD-ROM
Usenet Example:
Remner, P. I. "Re: Toe Clips v. Clipless Pedals." 21 Apr. 1995. Online posting. Newsgroup rec.bicycles.off-road. Usenet. 24 Apr. 1995.
E-mail Example:
Newton, Albert. E-mail to Andrew Jergens. 14 Apr. 1995.


See discipline specific writing manuals listed in section I. D. Resources for details on more specific examples.
H. Writing with a computer
Writing with a computer can be a very effective method for improving your written communications. However, like all other tools it requires practice and is not something that can be picked up in a few minutes. Therefore, if you have never written extensively using a computer you should set aside time to practice basic use of the computer. This is best done on short papers, letters home, etc.
Many writers who use computers use them only after having written, revised and edited the complete paper with old fashioned paper and pen. Others write the first draft on paper and then do all their revising and editing on the computer. The ultimate efficiency, however, is to be able to do all the writing, from start to finish, on the computer. This is particularly helpful, if your typing skills are adequate, in light of the suggestion in section D. Process to do the first draft "quickly and recklessly".
Those with little computer experience are probably best off beginning with the first method mentioned and, hopefully, slowly proceeding to the point where they are comfortable doing everything on the computer. Again, practice is of the utmost importance here.