Check List for Research Papers
This is a document you can use as a `check list' to see whether your
research paper meets certain requirements. I will also use it as an
evaluation form, returning a truncated version of this with your paper to
point out where it needs more
Statement of Purpose
The Statement of Purpose informs us why you have chosen to write about
something. It tells us why you are interested in the topic, and why we
be interested in the topic. It tells us that you have a
hypothesis of some sort, and that you are going to test it. It tells
us what you are going to do, and how you
are going to go about
it---whether this is to inform us,
persuade us to
some action, convince us of your position, or
some other goal
you may have in mind. If you do this clearly and succinctly, your
reader will not have to guess what you have in mind.
- This paper has one, stated clearly and succinctly, near the
- It has one, but it's sort of vague, or hesitant.
- It has one, but it's buried deep inside the paper.
- Currently lacking: the hypothesis is not stated.
Review of Literature The
purpose of a review of the literature is to
show your reader that you
know something about the topic you have chosen, and
that you are not
just blathering off the top of your head. You have
topic; you have found what others have said, and you contrast
think with what they say. You may agree with them, in which case you
are primarily reporting to us. You may disagree with them, in which case
have to show why they are wrong and you are right. This means you
convince us of the rightness of your position, and the error of
any event, we want to know that you have done your
you have done the courteous thing of looking at other peoples' opinions,
and you give them the credit that is due. Here's an
example of a review of the literature I wrote for a chapter in a
- My paper has
one, located somewhere near the beginning of the paper:
- My paper
currently lacks one.
- My paper has a vague or poorly-defined
review, or it is located in an
inconvenient place, or is
spread out all over the place.
research papers suffer from rough
transitions; they shift from one topic
to another abruptly, without
adequately warning the reader that a
transition is about to take place. Or, a
transition takes place, but
the reader is not informed why it is
happening, or how it
fits into the general scheme of things.
For examples of smooth
transitions, consider the following:
We have discussed
the topic of code-switching in Swahili from what
might be termed the point of view of the mechanics of code-switching;
i.e. how it operates in Swahili; let us now examine its function in
Swahili linguistic culture, i.e. why Swahili speakers choose to
code-switch, and when. We will then show how code-switching is used in
popular media, print advertising, and other genres.
No discussion of print-medium advertising in
Swahili would be complete without a discussion of another, related
phenomenon, which is the use of language(s) and varieties in comic
books. Particularly instructive are Swahili renditions of Tarzan comics,
which depict Tarzan as fluent in Swahili and English, while other
characters are depicted only as speaking English inadequately.
- My paper makes smooth transitions.
- There are a few places where transitions should be smoother, marked
in the paper:
- Transitions in this paper are jerky; they give the impression that
paragraphs have been moved around or inserted without regard for how
they fit with what precedes them and what follows them. (Word
processors allow us to do this easily, but we must not forget that this
disturbs the orderly flow of the structure of ideas in the paper.)
- Do you use a format that
cites a minimum of information, e.g. Authorname,
date (year), and page
"The work of Ferguson (Ferguson
for our understanding of the concept of diglossia."
of language maintenance would be complete without the work of
(1959, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1972, [...])"
- Does your paper
rely rather heavily on one author/one source only? If it
does, it is in
effect a review of that work, and should be explicitly stated
such. Does your paper ignore sources that are in fact crucial to your
topic? Does your paper use only sources found on the Internet, ignoring
resources published before 1968?
- . How does your paper deal with things that are common knowledge? This
does not need to be cited, but it does need to be made clear that you think it
is common knowledge, and therefore does not need to be proven. One way you
can state this would be as follows:
Most researchers on the subject of bilingualism accept the notion that one
language or code will be dominant, i.e. they assume that individual speakers
have more facility, or higher proficiency, in one language than in another;
that is, the so-called balanced bilingual is a rare phenomenon. I will
follow this practice, but will also point out examples where this has been
shown to be problematical.
- My paper mentions sources in the text that are not spelled out in the
- My paper tends to rely rather heavily on one author, and/or one work.
My paper also accepts this source uncritically.
- My citations list authors, but no year; or no page numbers.
- I have chosen a not very credible source against which I am forcefully
arguing; this is known as a `straw man', and is not particularly
convincing if we can see how foolish or extreme this position
- I tend to accept/portray as common knowledge things that are not
necessarily so accepted.
- My paper ignores the work of:
Style. Occasionally I have marked areas where what we call
style is problematical. This could be the choice of a particular word, the use
of a term that is not justified; the overuse of a particular phrase or
locution, or words that seem to come from another register of
English, and their use changes the tone of the sentence. An
example of this would be to say, e.g. Germany's treatment of the immigrant
guest-worker rather than the treatment of the immigrant guest-worker by
Germany or the German government/nation. This is both a stylistic problem
and also masks a tendency to anthropomorphize, i.e. blame the bad treatment
guest-workers on the whole country, rather than on some other factor.
sounds better, `English's worldwide spread' or `the worldwide spread of
English'? `The Queen of England's unruly children' vs. the unruly
children of the Q of England'?
- Spelling problems are marked in margins etc. with "sp"
- Stylistic problems are given alternative suggestions. (sometimes marked
in margin "awk" for awkward.)
- If some words or phrases are repeated or overused, the mark
repet for `repetitious' may appear in the margin.
- If the symbol PP appears, it means "start a new paragraph".
Content I stated at the beginning of the course ("Helpful
Hints...") that I would like your paper to reflect issues and problems we have
discussed in various ways during the class. I will not try to summarize these
here, but I would like to see evidence that these ideas have been considered,
and brought to bear on the material you are discussing. I do not expect you
to parrot what others say, or what I have said; I expect you to contrast
different ideas and weigh them; or bring two disparate opinions or approaches
together and show how the conjunction of these ideas throws new light on the
Example: Much has been written about the status of French in France, and much
has also been written about French attempts to control the corpus of
Standard French. What has not often been made clear is how the French
themselves do not usually distinguish between corpus and
and that is what I wish to focus on in this paper. As such I introduce no
new facts into the situation, but I do introduce a new interpretation
of existing facts.
The content portion of the paper is the main part. If your form is
your content section will be able to concentrate on convincing the reader of
your position. If other things are not clear, it will be hard to see what it
is you are trying to do.
- My paper shows evidence of my having thought about the kinds of
issues we discussed in class, i.e. language and gender, language and
class, lg. and sexuality, lg. and demonization, standard vs. non-standard,
- My paper vaguely touches on these issues, but doesn't give them much
- My paper shows very little evidence of my having absorbed anything we
discussed in class, or read for class.
Summary Summarizing what you have done in your paper is one
of the most difficult things to do, and many research papers that are well-
organized and excellent in other respects fall apart when it comes to the
summary. The summary should do a number of things:
- Review what you have done:
I have discussed in this paper how such issues as code-switching,
code-shifting, and bilingualism in Swahili linguistic culture are
manifested in print-medium advertising in East Africa. I have attempted to
describe in a general way both the mechanics of these phenomena, as well
as the social motivation for them, and how advertisers use these
techniques for their own means in advertising.
- Repeat the main conclusions of the paper, such as the following:
In the process I have attempted to demonstrate
that these phenomena are intricately interwoven with social forces
identified by various writers as modernization, power-relations, and
gender relations in East African society. They do not constitute in any
way a failure of the linguistic code, but are in fact a manifestation of
shifting identities in the culture.
My own contribution, if any, has been to bring in
the work of A, B, and
C, and relate their research to the ideas presented by X, Y, and Z, who are
the acknowledged primary researchers in this field.
- State what inadequacies remain that you could not handle as
satisfactorily as you would have liked. (This is far preferable to claiming
that you have solved many problems.) State, for example, that more
work/research may be needed, or that space or time did not allow for anything
but a cursory review. Do not claim too much!
Example: In the process of this review, an attempt to
define the role
of language in the definition of ethnicity, I have to conclude that many
researchers seem to define ethnicity in a circular or tautological way, i.e.,
as a constellation of factors involving language, race, descent, culture,
history, etc. but often with one or more of these factors missing. Some
researchers act as if ethnicity were a given, something that must be
present in society, rather than a construct they themselves have invented.
And, they often act as if all languages are equal in their impact on
ethnicity, or as if any `language' at all would do for their definition of
ethnicity , with no sense of the complexity of any one language.
My conclusion, therefore, is that ethnicity is a problematical construct,
and that in the society I examined, Eastern Rumelia, ethnicity indeed
seems to involve a language factor, but having said this, I am unable to
state what ethnicity actually means to the Rumelians. Perhaps this is a
factor of the recent political shift in eastern Europe, but in any event,
the concept of ethnicity seems to be in a very fluid state. Much more
work, beyond the scope of this paper, is obviously required.
- My conclusion needs more work.
- My conclusion claims more than has in fact been demonstrated.
- My conclusion flounders around and misses a number of
Entertainment Value I raise this topic last, because
entertaining or amusing the reader (a goal of certain kinds of
writing) is usually not the goal of expository writing, though
occasional moments of humor or irony are not out of place, and keeping the
writing interesting will keep your reader involved. Remember: your reader
does not have to read your paper. You must engage your reader,
and make him/her interested enough so that your he/she will continue
reading. Many of the suggestions made above, which enhance the clarity of
the paper, are intended to help you keep your reader engaged and
interested all the way through your paper. Otherwise you lose your
reader, and the goal of your paper (persuasion, convincement,
whatever) is lost.
- Abbreviated Checklist
This abbreviated checklist incorporates the detailed items in the above
list, and is what I will hand back to you with your various writing
samples, to give point-by-point critiques of weaknesses and strengths.