WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WRITTEN WORK
The Essential Assignment CHECKLIST
- Check CITATIONS! All work must be the student’s original work, and must be thoroughly and properly cited. (See “Citations, Bibliographies, and Reference Lists”.)
- Include a BIBLIOGRAPHY or REFERENCE LIST. Check with the instructor as to the acceptable formats. Chicago style is preferred. Include references for materials from the course, such as course notes or the textbook, that are used in the assignment. See “Citations, Bibliographies, and Reference Lists” for examples of how to cite these types of sources.
- MARGINS, FONTS and SPACING. Unless directed otherwise, all work must use standard margin sizes (the MS Word default of 1”-1.25” is acceptable), standard fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Helvetica), 10- 12 point. Use space and a half or double-spacing.
- Do you have PAGE NUMBERS? These need to be typed, not handwritten, and inserted in the upper-right hand or lower-right hand corner of the document.
- Do you have a THESIS STATEMENT?
- STRUCTURE. All work should include an introduction and conclusion. Conclusions should summarise the major argument(s) and evidence presented in the paper.
Thoroughly PROOFREAD. Avoid the following:
- The use of first and second person (“I”, “we”, “you”) in most research papers and reports (especially in physical geography courses). Exceptions for the use of first person may be made when including personal experiences and observations in human geography papers.
- The use of contractions.
- Missing or non-descript titles (e.g. “Research Essay”—blech!). A title should reflect the major theme/ argument of the paper or report.
- Improper spelling and punctuation. The spell-check function should be used, but so should a second reader. The spell-check misses many common spelling mistakes (e.g. their/ they’re/ there).
- Comma abuse. Commas and periods serve different functions. Do not connect sentences together with commas. Hint: most commas are used in pairs!
- Run-on and incomplete sentences. Sentences that are excessively wordy, contain redundant or repetitive phrases, or are grammatically incomplete compromise meaning and make reading difficult.
- Scary paragraphs! Page-long (or longer!) paragraphs signal to the reader that the paper writer is incapable of organising their thoughts correctly. Paragraphs should not be longer than 5-6 sentences, and should always be more than one sentence.
- Awkwardness and language that is too casual. Do not use slang or colloquial language. Read sentences aloud (this works best when reading to another person who can provide feedback). Do they make sense? Do the sentences adequately convey an idea? Sentences that are too long are often too clumsy. Shorter sentences are always best.
- Repetitiveness. How many times in an assignment can one person say the same thing over and over again repeatedly in their paper? (This is what repetitiveness reads like!) Aim for conciseness.
Check out an example of how a report comes together: Sample Report
ADVANCED SKILLS IN WRITTEN WORK AND RESEARCH PROJECTS
- SIGNIFICANCE: Does your paper or report, at some point, indicate to the reader the significance of the research project? Why should the reader take an interest in the research?
- INTERPRETATION: Do you provide a critical interpretation of the material or field observations? Often, this is the difference between a C-range mark and a higher mark. Critical interpretation requires that the researcher provide a more in-depth interpretation of the information at hand.
EXAMPLE 1: A field report on Glacial Lake Missoula might consider both the evidence for the lake and the subsequent floods, but also the long-term impacts on fluvial hydrology in the interior Northwest, or the role of the research on Glacial Lake Missoula in estimating the patterns of other glacial lakes.
EXAMPLE 2: A research paper on micro-business loans to women in Central America might also include a discussion of global factors that could serve to undermine such development efforts over time.
- VISUALS: Are your graphs, charts, and other visuals cleanly presented, labelled, captioned, and sourced? Are they cleanly integrated into the body of the paper or report, or attached as an appendix?
- REFERENCES: Do you have a thorough reference list, or did you stop researching as soon as you hit the minimum source count required? By aiming for the minimum, students often stop the research process before it is complete, and they often miss out on important sources.
- HARDER-TO-USE SOURCES: A common assumption that is made when researching for a paper or report is that a potential source is only useful if it covers the exact same (or very close to it) phenomenon that one is studying. Not so! Sometimes a source is useful for only one part—or even one point—within a paper.
For instance, using the example on Glacial Lake Missoula above, a researcher may find an article that discusses the evolution of Great Salt Lake. The lake is a remnant of a Glacial Lake Bonneville, and the article might be useful for comparing glacial processes within the paper.
In the second example above, a student may find a book that examines civil wars in Central America during the 1970s. Is it related? In all likelihood—yes! Such a book can provide needed context for the discussion of poverty and underdevelopment in places such as Guatemala and Honduras, which in turn necessitate new forms of development projects.
- VARIETY OF SOURCES: It is far too easy to be wooed by the world of on-line journal databases.
These are wonderful search tools but are far too limited. Books and journal articles (not otherwise accessible on-line) can be ordered through interlibrary loan if not available in UFV’s library. Government reports and documents (e.g. planning reports, meeting minutes), non- profit and research institute reports, and information obtained by contacting people ‘in the know’ are all potentially excellent alternative and/or supplemental sources.