A Checklist for Preparing Academic Papers

Coe instructors will each have their own expectations for how students should complete writing assignments. This set of 20 questions, however, should provide a process checklist applicable to most assignments that require drafting, revising, and editing a text.

______ 1. Be sure you understand the assignment and the kind of paper that will be your final product. Do you need to present data, analyze facts, summarize information, explain relationships, compare texts?

______ 2. Are you to use outside sources? Or are you to work only from an assigned text?

______ 3. Do you know the kinds of evidence appropriate for this assignment? Must you provide quantitative data? Should you include opinions from scholars who have written on this subject?

______ 4. Who is the primary audience for your paper? How much knowledge should you expect your readers to have of your topic? Can you assume that your readers have read the same texts you have? Are you writing to inform? to argue? to explain? to mediate? Have you considered how much background information you need to provide so your readers will understand your paper?

______ 5. What documentation style does your professor expect when you are citing courses? MLA? APA? CBE? Chicago Manual of Style? End notes or foot notes or parenthetical citations? Do you need a Works Cited or Works Consulted bibliography?

______ 6. Have you given yourself enough time to give this paper the commitment it deserves? Don't allow procrastination to postpone the work until the last minute. Occasionally we do our best writing under the pressure of an impending deadline, but it should not be necessary to rely on such perilous heroics for producing a paper. Better to rely on craft and discipline and careful attention to detail rather than the magic of last-minute inspirations.

______ 7. Have you used quotations to buttress your points, not to make your points? [Simple way to check this: read your paper without quotes and locate passages where the paper does not communicate effectively.] Is it clear how each quote fits in your paper? If you have quoted at length, have you discussed at length? If you have long quotes, can you summarize or paraphrase the passage so the paper becomes more coherent and efficient?

______ 8. Are your quotes accurate, exactly matching the original text? If you have amended the quotes, does your use of ellipsis dots or brackets make it clear where and how the text has been modified?

______ 9. Decide which sentence or sentences make the clearest statement of your most important point. Then make sure the sentence or sentences are in the most effective place in the paper. Note: In first drafts, it is common for thesis statements to emerge in the concluding paragraphs. Thus, many papers can be improved by moving conclusions from the end to the beginning.

______ 10. Have you provided sufficient examples and evidence to develop and support your argument? Have you played the role of a devil's advocate, considering significant counter-arguments? Does your paper deal justly and fairly with those counter-arguments?

______ 11. Can a reader tell from the first paragraph or two what is the purpose of your paper? Even if you have decided to save your conclusion for the end (usually a risky choice), it is important that your reader understand from the beginning exactly what issues you are exploring, what questions you are trying to answer.

______ 12. Have you examined the paper's structure organization? Are your supporting paragraphs in the best order to make your overall point? Will it be clear to the reader how each paragraph contributes to the development of the paper's main points?

______ 13. Paragraph organization. Are your paragraphs focused, unified, and cohesive? Do they move from clearly stated points to particulars that support and elaborate upon those points? Do you use paragraph breaks effectively? Do you have a series of short, choppy paragraphs that make the writing appear choppy and disjointed? Do you have any pages with no paragraph break?

______ 14. Transitions and flow. Are there any passages where an additional sentence or a different transition would clarify the connections between ideas, paragraphs, or even sentences? Is this a paper that would be helped by using sub-headings or graphics to assist readers in understanding your points?

______ 15. Spelling. Have you run a spell?checker? Used a dictionary for words it flagged? Read the text to check for spelling errors that the spell-checker would never catch? [Note: according to the spell-checker, all the words in the following sentence would be spelled correctly: "If ewe wont two sea if hour spelling in this sentence is write yew knead only sum thyme and a "spell checker."]

______ 16. Mechanics. Have you proofread carefully reading from a paper copy? Be especially alert for the kinds of usage, phrasing, or punctuation errors you have made in the past.

______ 17. Accuracy. Have you double-checked your citations for correct format and accurate information?

______ 18. Read the paper aloud. Writing can look wonderful when we just look at it on the paper, but the ear is often a better reader than the eye. What does your writing sound like when you read it aloud or when a friend or Writing Center Consultant reads it to you? If the wording does not sound quite right to your ear, that often means the passage deserves one more revision.

______ 19. At some stage of writing the paper, did you meet with a consultant in the Writing Center? A conversation with another student writer probably won't result in a perfect paper, but you never know what insights are to be gained by talking about your text, whether discussing ideas or deciding where a comma goes.

______ 20. In preparing your final copy, did you provide full information about your paper, including your name, course title, date of submission, title of paper, and other information requested by instructor? Are pages numbered in appropriate format?

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E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.