23 August 2000
Guide to Essay Writing and Research
Essay Writing Tips
- Your paper must be typewritten. Handwritten papers are not accepted
anymore. Type your paper double-spaced, on only one side of the page.
Leave good margins all around; this is so your paper will not look
cluttered and ample space will exist for your teacher to write his
comments. Number your pages consecutively. Use a good font (Ariel,
Times New Roman, Courier, Maiandra GD or Comic sans MS; an excellent
font for titles is Algerian and for quotations is Gaugy old style
Italic). Use size 12 for letters. Make sure your printer is printing
in such a manner as it will not take a toll on your readers
eyes. This is especially the case for all of you who still use dot
matrix technology. Use the equipment put at your disposal by the College
if you are not well equipped yourself.
- Always keep a copy of your Paper. If ever your paper was to be lost,
for whatever reason, by your Instructor, then you could produce another
one without problem. It is your responsibility to do so. As well,
keep all notes you may have taken as well as photocopies of the material you used; as well, keep early drafts of your Paper. Any or all of these may be required by your Instructor. Be aware that sometimes
these notes, photocopies and drafts are important to ascertain that Plagiarism
has not taken place.
- Always include a title page for your Paper (and all other work for
that matter!). Your title page should contain: the title of your Paper,
the name of the Instructor to whom it is submitted, the date of submission
(not the date when it was supposed to have been submitted!), your
name and the course number. Present a professional looking Paper!
For a sample title page, see at the end of this package.
- Always place the bibliography at the end of your Paper. List all
of your sources in alphabetical order following the accepted academic
norms as defined in the Colleges Notes on Scholarly
Style. Do not pad your bibliography in a vain attempt to seem
impressive! Remember that you are responsible for knowing all of the
information that is included in the works you listed in your bibliography.
- Never use the personal form. It is never impressive for your reader
to see I think... or it is my opinion in your Paper. Check carefully
your scholarly sources, you will see that they do not use the personal form
except perhaps in the preface. Using the personal form is a sign of
conceit and/or of a poor writing style. Avoid it completely.
- Always seek to appear reasonable, responsible and professional.
Maintain the proper academic tone. This does not mean that you should
be boring. It does mean that you avoid excesses of language, judgement
and length. You can care about an issue without resorting to emotional
appeals. Before you insult authors (the idiot never saw that...)
who have spent a lifetime studying an issue remember who you really
are... Always display respect and fairness for the views of others.
In the end, it will make you more convincing. Do not interject personal
opinions that are based solely on value judgements or ideological
grounds. Analyse and follow the evidence.
- Stop after every paragraph and ask yourself the following questions:
what was the point of this paragraph? Is it clear? Is there unity
in this paragraph? Was it necessary to my thesis or did I deviate
from the point and fail to adhere to my purpose? Was the point made
in this paragraph well linked to the preceding paragraph? Does it
prepare the reader for the following paragraph? If you cannot answer
these questions appropriately then redraft the paragraph until such
time as it serves a purpose that is acceptable.
- If you include charts, tables, graphs, pictures, maps, etc., make
sure that they actually contribute something quite clearly to your
thesis. Do not seek to merely decorate your Paper! If you provide
the type of material listed above, then analyse it. Do not let the
reader interpret these alone as the reader may see in them something
quite different from you, or fail to see that which you wish to convey.
Graphs, tables, charts, etc., should always have a subject heading or title
and the source should always be clearly identified.
- Your paper should be in the 6-8 pages range, not counting the Title
Page and the Bibliography. Long papers are often not particularly impressive. They are frequently beside the point or they show an inability to summarize
material and display judgement. Excessively short papers, on the other
hand, often show a lack of research and are a sign of superficiality. Please do
not cheat by changing font and line spacing, or use other devices well
within the grasp of even the most basic computer user.
- Footnotes (or endnotes) are an endless source of problems. Make
sure that your notes/citations are well made. Your note (citation) should always indicate
the name of the author, the title of the work cited, and the page
where the information was found. Make sure that this information is
accurate. Such information will be verified. Nothing destroys your
credibility faster than an inaccurate citation/reference. Lack of citations, or incorrect citations, are often the sign of a plagiarized paper. A citation (note) should always
be made when one of the following occurs:
- when you are quoting directly an author. In
such a case, use quotation marks and indent if the quotation is more
than three lines long. If indented, use only single space for your
- when you are directly borrowing an argument
or an idea from an author. Do not pretend that something comes from
you if you have borrowed that idea from one of your sources.
- when you provide some specific fact or information,
not commonly known, which you have found in a source in the course
of your research. If something is found in many sources, and is not challenged anywhere, assume that
it is commonly known and need not be cited.
- when you wish to add supplementary information
that is not vital to your argument but contributes something to its
- If in doubt as to whether or not to make a note,
it is better to err on the side of caution and thus provide the citation.
- Your notes/citations should be placed at the bottom of the page. Your word processing program will do this automatically for you (for Microsoft WORD
follow this sequence to make a footnote: Insert/Reference/Footnote). If making endnotes, place them before the Bibliography
on a separate sheet entitled Endnotes.
- A research paper without references is unacceptable and will automatically be given a mark of zero. A research paper where you have failed to provide some references will be assigned a failing grade.
- Consult very carefully, in the package, the Notes on Essay Editing and Plagiarism.
When you submit a Paper to me, it is understood that you know and
accept the content of the Plan détude of the course,
the Worksheet and the Essay Writing package. Ignorance is no excuse.
It is your responsibility to read the material put at your disposal.
If in doubt, come to consult with me.
- No serious research paper can be written without consulting
at least four to six relevant specialized/scholarly sources/authors. A specialized/scholarly
source is one written by a professional historian and published by
an academic house (or a scholarly journal). It is specialized in the
sense that it is written specifically, and solely, on your subject.
It is thus not a work of a general nature. It excludes encyclopedias,
general histories, magazines or newspapers. These latter sources of
information (called popular sources) are rarely substantial enough, frequently not written
by specialists of the subject, and, more often than not, have too little
of serious discussion of your issue to warrant investing your time
in reading them. Still, if you know nothing about a subject, you must
start with general works so as to acquire a basic competence before
starting the serious work.
The general sources consulted need not be put in your bibliography,
unless they were quoted or cited explicitly. In many respects, this
would be strange... It is important that you recognize specialized/scholarly sources for three reasons:
- so as to avoid wasting your time reading generalities from which
you would not learn anything of substance;
- so as to avoid reading the works of non-specialists whose theories
have not been subjected to academic scrutiny;
- so as to avoid reading the work of so-called revisionist
authors whose purpose in life is to flog some idea usually rejected
by serious academics.
- Scholarly works will have been written by an author associated
with a serious academic institution (University or College) and it
will say so on the piece of work; the work will be published by a
recognized academic printer; it will contain all of the trappings
of an academic piece of work, including serious footnoting/citations and a very
extensive academic bibliography. There often will be a discussion
of the literature (historiography) on the subjec. Check the Preface
where another expert in the field will likely discuss
the work and the list of credentials (professional associations, other
works published, scholarships and awards received etc.). Be weary
of bogus historical institutes that are never from around here and
under which holocaust deniers frequently hide (fortunately that is
not the case usually in Canadian/Quebec history).
15. In choosing your sources of information make sure that you are provided with a representative range of facts and opinions. If all of your sources are saying the same thing, it may be that there is agreement on this point; or it may reflect that you have not researched broadly enough. An honest researcher deliberately searches out conflicting views in order to assess all possibilities. Always show the greatest of fairness and respect for all of your authors. Unless there is compelling reason to do so, never show disdain for them.
16. Make sure that you know how to distinguish a fact from
an opinion. By its nature, a fact is indisputable while an opinion is a conclusion that is reached after an analysis of facts; you may
find an opinion well founded but it can always be disputed and challenged
in some fashion by somebody. Thus, if it can be disputed, that
is an opinion. The most solid evidence is always made up of facts.
17. Avoid arguments by authorities. This type of argument
is one where you rely solely on the opinion of somebody else (however
well known!) to support your point of view. The facts
are supposed to be such as you state because such and such a person said so! While it is rarely unfavorable to have the authorities
on your side (rather than against you!) remember that it is the facts
that will convince your reader.
18. Be careful with old sources of information. A frequent
misconception of students in history is that the closer the observer
(or the historian) was to the event, the more the person must know
about it and the more trustworthy, as a result, the source becomes. This
is frequently not true for a variety of reasons. History, like other
disciplines, is a science where the passage of time has led to an
accumulation of knowledge and new perspectives; nobody would think
to look into a 1920 text of physics to find answers; one would assume
that new knowledge has superseded the information provided in the
old text. The same is true in history with the added factor that hindsight
makes for 20/20 vision! As a rule, the more current the text, the
more it is likely to include all of the latest findings and to provide
useful insights; certainly, the more it is likely to approach the issue in a manner that answers the current preoccupations. However, there were sometimes brilliant, and insightful,
pieces written in the past and from which you can still profit. So,
be critical, newer does not mean necessarily better. A knowledge of
how a research question has evolved (this is called in history the
field of historiography) is often essential to the understanding of
current points of view. Still, do not use anything written before
1960 without consulting me first.
19. Carefully consult the Essay Evaluation
section appended to this text; it provides you with clues as to what
I am looking for when I correct your paper.
20. Make sure that your paper is delivered to me personally.
Do not entrust it to others. It is your responsibility to see that
it gets to me. Do not leave it under doors. If I am not there when
you bring it to me, have it signed by a Faculty member on the page
where you wrote your conclusion; the date and the time should be indicated.
Once it is signed bring it to me at the earliest opportunity; normally
this would be the next morning.
21. There is always a penalty when you are late. Consult
the course outline on this subject. At a minimum, a penalty of 1%
per day that you are late will be imposed. Furthermore, no paper will
be accepted once the papers have been returned to class. In any case,
papers may not be accepted once the period designated at the College
as dead week has arrived. If there is a cause majeure or prior arrangements
have been made with me, the penalties do not apply.
22. When writing a text in history, it is customary to keep
it in the past tense. It simply does not work well to put it in the
23. If there is any discrepancy in the rules outlined here
and those suggested by other sources (including Notes on Scholarly
Style), follow this Guide.
Works you may consult to further your understanding of the subject
of writing a history paper:
- BENJAMIN, Jules R., A Students Guide to History, New
York, St Martins Press, Sixth edition, 1994, 164p.
- CASH, Phyllis, How to Develop and Write a Research Paper,
New York, ARCO, 1988, 96p.
- LETOURNEAU, Jocelyn, Le Coffre à outils du chercheur débutant.
Guide dinitiation au travail intellectuel, Toronto, Oxford,
1989, 227p. This is one of the best texts.
- MACE, Gordon, Guide délaboration dun projet de recherche,
Québec, Presses de lUniversité Laval, 1988, 119p.
- MARIUS, Richard, A Short Guide to Writing about History,
Scott, Foresman and Company, 1989, 261p.
- These texts are available in the Library or in my office. Do
not hesitate to consult them.