I’ve given an in-class presentation on “The Shape of an Academic Paper” enough times that I’m ready to turn it into a stand-alone web page, which I’ll ask my students to read for homework, in order to save more class time for writing workshops. Musical friends, I’d welcome your feedback on point #5, “Think of your introduction like an overture.”
If you are used to writing personal essays, or churning out paragraph-long responses to each assigned reading, those writing skills probably helped you do well in high school. However, a college research paper calls for a different kind of writing.
This page presents the shape of an academic paper, using color-coded images to highlight how the different components of a well-crafted composition might interact. (If you aren’t a visual learner, there’s also a section that makes the same point using the analogy of a musical overture.)
- For the moment, ignore the content (let’s talk structure).
- Guide your paper with a controlling idea.
- Cite evidence to develop your argument.
- Avoid daisy chains of stand-alone paragraphs.
- Think of your introduction like an overture.
- Introduce your reader to the points your paper will make.
- Cut the filler. Replace it with better stuff.
- Trust the process.
- Breathe. (This stuff isn’t easy. But with planning, you can do it.)
- Recap: Shape of a Weak Academic Paper vs. a Strong One