Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

  1. Statement of Purpose. At the outset (``The Beginning") state the goals you wish to accomplish in your paper (``My goal is to describe how language is depicted in the genre of movies that we might call `Planet of the Ape' movies, i.e. films that depict apes having language akin to our own....").

  2. Methodology. Then state the method(s) by which you hope to accomplish this goal: ``I shall demonstrate that this tradition goes back to early work rooted in the `Tarzan' books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and first incorporated into talking movies of the [ ] period ..." or ``I shall compare films made in French with films made in English to see how these differ... "

  3. In the Middle or Body of your paper, build your case. Review the literature (see sample below) on the subject; do not reinvent the wheel. Show that you are familiar with what others have said about this situation. (This is a form of academic courtesy, and helps establish your credibility. If you do not do this, people may think you are talking off the top of your head, or have no respect for the work of other scholars, and may lose interest in your project, and stop reading.) Describe, analyze, and evaluate the previous work, and give those authors credit by citing their work (see below for format). Then show how previous work could be improved, or how others admit the existence of a problem but have not solved it, or whatever it is you wish to show. If you find you are deadlocked, and don't know what to say that is new, try asking yourself the following questions:

  4. When you have said all you would like to say, summarize what you have done. One paragraph may be sufficient. You do not have to show that you have done something revolutionary or earth-shaking; merely reviewing the literature on the subject may be the most useful thing you could do, if you do it systematically and present your review clearly.

  5. If you have more than one point to make, summarize and wrap up the first before going on to the next. Try to stand back from your writing and see that the ideas flow smoothly, and that when there is a transition, that it is evident that you are shifting gears. Tell us that you are now going to shift gears, or now going to contrast and compare, etc. Use "transitional" words like hence, therefore, nevertheless, moreover, however, be that as it may, etc.

  6. If it would make things clearer to your reader, sectionalize your paper, with subheadings of various sorts that make it clear what you are doing, just as I have sectionalized this and other documents.

  7. Remember that the focus of this course is on the popular conceptions of language, and that we assume that there is no such thing as no conception: that is, we always assume that there is a conception of language , even if it is not stated, and only assumed tacitly, i.e. perhaps buried in linguistic culture. So instead of saying things like
    'There is no conception of language underlying this film...'

    we say something like...

    ``The conception of Language in this film is that English is the obvious default language for all creatures in the universe, and all humans and all sentient creatures either speak English, or by their failure to do so, can be treated as a stupid, subhuman monster, worthy only to be blasted away with a ray-gun."

  8. Final rules of thumb:

    1. Do not reinvent the wheel.
    2. Build on the work of others, and give credit where credit is due.
    3. Ask for help, even if you don't think you need it.
    4. Show your work to someone else to read; check for clarity, transitions, whether you are making your points.
    5. Try to think of who your audience is, and write to that audience.
    6. If you are better at oral presentations than written, tape-record what you have to say and then transcribe it onto paper.
    7. Give credit by citations and attributions to ideas that are not yours. I prefer the form ``As Smith points out (Smith 1991:354)", with Smith 1991 spelled out in full only in the bibliography.

Next: Review of the Up: Helpful Hints for Writing Previous: Writing Research Papers

Harold Schiffman
Wed Mar 20 14:28:15 EST 1996