Strategies for Success in Written Assignments Dr. Joe Saviak Visuals by Google Images
Writing Success • In the Public Administration Program, you will have to complete several written assignments. These may be a research paper, a policy memo, a group project, a case brief or a case study. Why are written assignments important to you? • Being a strong writer is key to your academic success in our program and important should you decide to pursue a graduate degree. With knowledge of the rules governing writing and research and a commitment to the strengthening these skills, all of you can be successful researchers and writers. • Effective writing also involves successful research so there are two very valuable skills which together go hand in hand. • In public service, the words you write carry consequences. Major decisions depend on the quality of your research and writing. The reports and memos you author will later undergo scrutiny by supervisors, co-workers, employees of other agencies, citizens, reporters, or attorneys. • The research, writing, and critical thinking skills which you acquire and develop in these courses will serve you very well throughout your career. It helps you succeed in your current position and writing effectively is key to being promoted. The ability to effectively express ideas in writing is vital to success in a wide range of professions.
Writing Success What format should I utilize? • Students should follow the APA format (American Psychological Association). This is the standard governing all writing at the college level. • It is easy to learn and use. Once you learn the general rules, then consult the sites below when you have a specific question (e.g. how do I reference an interview with a subject matter expert?) • Different instructors for different assignments will specify its use and how it is to be employed for each assignment (e.g. APA from start to finish for a research paper – APA for just the internal citations and references for a policy memo) • Please access the following three websites which explain the APA format and style for paper composition. • Proctor Library APA help guide: http://libguides.flagler.edu/apa. • Here is a link to the Purdue University Owl Website which provides APA guidelines and answers to frequently asked questions: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/ • Here is a link to the APA Frequently Asked Questions website page: http://www.apastyle.org/faqs.html
Writing Success • Competence in the conduct of research is an essential skill for success throughout your studies in the Public Administration Program. • The goal is to obtain high quality & peer reviewed research for your papers, written assignments, presentations, & projects. • This is research that is capable of proving your point/convincing others/enabling your agency to support your recommendation. • The 4 major sources of research for your assignments are: 1) journal articles, 2) government reports, 3) think tanks and 4) professional associations. • Books and conference proceedings and subject matter expert interviews are solid sources too. Depending on the specific course, we may identify other resources for you too but journal articles, government reports, and think tanks will comprise much of your research.
Writing Success Rules for Success – Common Pitfalls to Avoid 1. Structure - The Introduction informs the reader that topics A, B, C, & D will be examined. The Body then covers A, B, C, & D. The Conclusion restates/re-summarizes A, B, C, & D. The Intro is a roadmap for the paper. It specifies which major aspects of the topic will be examined and then the Body of the paper follows that roadmap. The Intro should do more than hint or give a general sense or provide a partial picture - be specific in your Intro about the specific topics. Then, these topics serve to structure the Body of the paper so the reader knows “hey, we are now discussing A”. • The reader should be able to follow a logical flow between expected topics in an expected order. • The Intro, Body, and Conclusion each serve a specific function. • The topics under study should be clear & consistent throughout the paper from start to finish. • Employ lead in sentences to notify the reader of new topics being examined in new sections as well as effective transition sentences between different topics.
Writing Success 2. Proofread/Edit – Identify and remedy any grammatical, spelling, sentence structure, word choice or APA issues BEFORE I read your paper! It’s not a mistake if you catch it! 3. Sources – Source problems fall into different categories – a) Need to source all major statements (you may believe it’s true and can stand without a source but if it is not something that is accepted as common knowledge like “the Earth is round”, then it needs a source) b) Don’t have a major or controversial conclusion depending on only a single source – back it up with more than one source (Smith, 2004; Jones, 2000) c) Utilize peer-reviewed sources (it’s OK to reference an article from Newsweek as a secondary source on your reference page but if your paper calls for 6-8 peer reviewed sources then secondary or supplemental sources like magazines or newspaper stories don’t count towards the 6-8 required sources) 4. Follow the APA standards & style – for example, an internal citation is (Last Name of Author, Year of Publication) – it’s not last name only or last name, first name, year of publication – the page # is needed only when it is an internal citation following a direct quote 5. Need to develop key points – don’t just make a relatively quick mention of a key point and then dart off to the next topic - make sure the reader learns what they need to know – make sure the issue is given sufficient treatment and properly analyzed/discussed
Writing Success 6. Abstract – for a research paper, it’s a 150 word summary of the key issues, methods of research, & major findings of the paper – if required, then make sure your paper has one! 7. It’s hard to explain best practices to a reader without giving any examples – a case study or two can help. 8. Avoid monster paragraphs – if your single paragraph is crossing multiple pages, it’s too long 9. If there are competing views on a subject and there are ALWAYS competing views on topics in public policy & public administration, please present them. Your instructors tend to be aware of the major competing views on topics in Public Administration and they will wonder why they are missing. Don’t just present what the specific sources you happen to have found say – make sure you cover the major aspects of each topic & significant competing views on the topic utilizing applicable research to do so.
Writing Success 10. Define the topic and then write the paper. It takes time, thought, and initial research to properly define your paper topic. Once you have successfully defined the topic under examination, the paper becomes much easier to research and write and more valuable to the reader. Problems with topic definition will tend to keep expressing themselves throughout a paper (hard to remedy without going back and redefining the topic) – effectively defining the topic is the crucial first step to success. 11. Organize your paper around topics not sources – the paper should not read like a series of “Smith said” and “Jones said” but rather it should include the research as accompanying discussion of each major point in the paper - the paper needs to be topic-driven not source-driven - structure your paper around topics not sources - sources support topics not the other way around. 12. Deliver on what you promised the reader – for example, if you promised a discussion of the strengths & limitations of privatization of social services, then the paper needs to present all of the major strengths & limitations of the privatization of social services (all major competing arguments pro and con) – if a major aspect of that discussion is missing when it should be there, the instructor will notice.
Writing Success 13. Citations – Follow the APA format - internal citations in the body of the paper and list of references at the end of the paper. It needs to be utilized properly and adhered to throughout your paper. A problem occurs if the author is only using citations only when actual quotations are presented – this is wrong. Citations are to provide the source of the idea or research which supports any statement included in your paper. Citations apply to any idea which you are presenting if it did not originate with you regardless of whether it is a direct quote or not. Through the effective use of citations, the reader is able to identify the source behind your statement and evaluate its validity. They are able to use the citation to do their own examination of the research supporting your statement. Peer review ensures the integrity and quality of research and facilitates the advance of science and knowledge. It provides crucial “checks and balances” by enabling others to examine and test your research to see if they reach or do not reach similar conclusions. If a writer does not provide a citation for a statement (which required one), we don’t know the source for the statement, we can’t look up the research on our own, and the peer review system cannot work.
Writing Success 14. Most topics have a diversity of views and competing conclusions. You will need multiple sources for your paper to ensure that all major research on the subject is well represented. Wikipedia is never a source for any written assignment in our courses! 15. Write in the 3rd Person – there is no “I” or “We” in a Research Paper! There is “The court held…” or “Agencies have…” but there never is an “I” or a “We”. 16. Include Page Numbers and a Reference Page – Page numbers help your reader (and your grader!) and a reference page properly lists all the works cited in your paper. 17. Length of the Paper and Number of Sources – stick to the rules! These are not suggestions – they are requirements.
Writing Success One More Thought on Effective Writing • A paper must be well organized to effectively inform its readers. The Introduction should have given the reader a roadmap to follow throughout the paper – now, it is incumbent on the author to follow it! • From start to finish, all elements of the paper need to be logically connected and well integrated. The paper should smoothly transition between ideas and topics. The reader should be able to logically follow the points and thinking of the author. The paper should be a complete and coherent product which was an enjoyable experience for the reader and not a frustrating puzzle to assemble or obstacle course to navigate. • Your writing should endeavor to bring clarity not visit confusion upon your reader. It should be reader-friendly. It should illuminate the topic for the reader. • Effective writing ensures that the reader learns what you want him or her to know. • Major themes deserve to be sufficiently developed and effectively explained. Major points should not become the victims of “drive-by” writing which quickly deals with them and rapidly moves forward. Major points should not be buried in layers of verbiage so their importance, meaning, and value is not discovered or retained by the reader. Papers which jump from topic to topic or back up and start up on previous topics can confuse readers and erode the credibility of the author.
Writing Success Plagiarism • Originating from the Latin word “plagiarus” meaning abductor, plagiarism is intellectual theft. It constitutes a very serious offense within a community of scholars (that would be us!). Regardless of whether the act was intentional or unintentional, the outcome is still the same. • Today, we have technology to uncover the truth and apprehend plagiarism. An Internet-based service – Turnit.com – is employed by professors of this college to scrutinize student papers to identify instances of plagiarism. It is a highly effective tool. • Please read these two excellent resources on the topic of plagiarism – One is the web-based guide on plagiarism from Purdue University: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/ and • The other is printed below in its entirety from the DePauw University Academic Resource Center website: http://www.depauw.edu/admin/arc/W-center/plag.asp • For most students, unintentional plagiarism is the most likely form which can occur. • Rigorous review of all statements made in the paper prior to turning it in to ensure that all statements are properly sourced (internal citation accompanying statement) can generally address this issue. Simply go line by line throughout your paper before turning it in – is that my idea or someone else’s idea? If it is someone else’s idea, it needs a citation and a reference! • My policy is to give a “zero” in cases of plagiarism which can cause an “F” in the course and loss of the FRAG.
Writing Success 3 Problems Students Can Experience with the Use of Quoted Material in a Written Assignment (these 3 are easily identifiable with the Turn It In technology) Problem #1 • The passage/paragraph is a direct quote (maybe multiple paragraphs or pages) but there’s no indication that it’s a direct quote from somebody else • No citation is given & the source for the quote is not listed on the reference page for the paper (no citation/no reference) • For quoted material (identical or highly similar – student changed a word here or there), the rule is NO citation + NO reference = PLAGIARISM • Someone’s else’s work has been stolen and is being represented as the student’s work – this is a clear case of plagiarism • A serious sanction will be applied (zero for the paper – could be F in the course). Solution to Problem #1 – always cite and always reference the source for any idea or quote that did not originate with you
Writing Success Problem #2 • The passage/paragraph is actually a direct quote and the citation was provided and the source is listed on the reference page BUT it was not presented as a direct quote - direct quotes need to be clearly presented as such! • If it happened once or twice, that’s an oversight (subtract points for not following proper quote format – quotes need to be clearly identified as such) • If it is a pattern and the student did properly quote other quotes within the same paper but has a pattern of not properly quoting other quotes even though a citation accompanies them, then it may be being utilized as a shortcut to fill content using the author’s words instead of doing the harder work of paraphrasing/summarizing someone else’s thoughts in your own words • There will be a reduction in points or grade depending on the severity of the problem Solution to Problem #2 - Either the passage should have been written in the student’s own words with the source citation provided to credit the author with the idea or it should have been presented as a direct quote also crediting the author of the quote – expressing the idea in your own words is always the best solution!
Writing Success Problem #3 Overuse of direct quotes or the paper is pretty much a series of direct quotes (maybe even entire pages are simply direct quotes) They are properly cited, referenced and they appear as quotes so there’s no plagiarism or failure to present a direct quote as a direct quote BUT the student is merely filling the content of the paper with a series of lengthy quotes and therefore, is not generating any kind of original intellectual product - they have a paper consisting largely of someone else’s thoughts expressed in someone else’s words – a research paper is someone else’s ideas largely expressed in your own words A paper is not a “cut and paste” exercise where students simply line up a series of lengthy quotes to fill most of the content of the paper – students are instructed to avoid doing this! There will be a reduction in points or grade depending on the severity of the problem Solution to Problem #3 – Utilize quotes strategically – employ them to support a key point not express that key point (they are supporting actors not lead actors) – there should be maybe only 2 direct quotes per paper not 2-3-4 direct quotes per page – pay attention to avoiding looking like you are filling content and pages via quotes (it does not look good) - express the idea within the quote in your own words – do not employ the quote as a substitute for you expressing the main idea in your own words – yes, you may think that someone said it better than you can but it’s still your job to do the work of communicating that concept – moreover, the only way we improve as writers is to do the hard work of writing!
Writing Success How do we help to ensure your success? • First, we conduct a seminar each semester for all students on “Success in Research and Writing”. • Secondly, the team of professionals who manage the Proctor Library are always available to share their experience and expertise with you as you engage in research for assignments in the Public Administration Program. • Thirdly, instructors are here to answer your research and writing questions. They may also offer students the opportunity to submit a draft copy of their written assignment in advance of the due date so receive feedback and specific recommendations. Strengths are noted so they can be retained and areas for improvement are identified. Specific remedies are suggested to address those issues necessitating improvement. • Lastly, the grade is important but a grade alone does not teach us what we truly need to know going forward. Make sure that when you get your assignment back, you take the time to read the specific comments from the instructor. These comments identify specific strengths to retain and areas for improvement with specific recommendations on how to make those improvements. There’s no reward for repeating the same mistake twice. Students need to carry forward the specific lessons acquired from each assignment to increase the quality of their future written work!
Writing Success Questions? Best wishes for success!