Slides from this week’s class

Here’s a helpful video. Find more help on writing an academic paper read below, or look here:

FIPR 101: Writing an Academic Paper[1]

Academic writing should present the reader with an informed argument, that is, a combination of what is known about a subject (research) and what you think about it (informed argument). Essential to academic writing is the development of an argument. The guideline below outline are a few critical steps in writing an academic paper that will help you to ensure you come out on track.

Select a Topic

  • choose, if possible, a topic that interests you
  • follow directions given by your professor
  • consult with the TA or professor if you are uncertain about the assignment

Create a time schedule with deadlines for each step

  • research
  • read & take notes
  • outline/organize information
  • write the first draft
  • revise for completeness, conciseness & clarity
  • edit & proofread

Find sources

  • remember that one source can lead to other useful information
  • gather several different viewpoints to appreciate the topic’s complexity
  • search the library catalogue for books, journals and other material in the UBC Libraries’ collections and
  • search library Databases for journal citations, full-text resources, abstracts
  • make a complete reference notecard for each source while you are working, not afterwards
  • UBC offers advice on Finding Resources here:

Prepare preliminary questions to guide your reading & note-taking

  • what information is needed to develop the topic?
  • what are the important issues related to this subject?
  • who has contributed significantly to this area?
  • what conclusions can be drawn?

Formulate a working thesis statement

A thesis statement is a declarative sentence that expands your topic into a scholarly proposal, one that you will prove, defend, or expand on in your paper.

Design a system to organize and take notes

  • Identify topic headings on each note card or loose leaf.
  • indicate whether the information is a quote, a paraphrase, or a summary of the source
  • add your original thoughts about the reading on all cards or pages,
  • identify title, author, and page reference in an abbreviated form

Outline your paper

  • list, classify, group, and number all discussion points
  • Write your rough draft
  • write sections of the paper, following your outline
  • craft an introduction which includes the thesis statement and sufficient background information
  • write a brief conclusion

Develop your thesis statement to:

  • fit at the beginning or end of the introductory paragraph
  • anticipate your conclusion and set in motion the presentation of supporting points control,
  • focus, or direct the entire paper plainly state your position for the reader


  • set the paper aside for a few days
  • read the paper aloud to detect any weaknesses in reasoning and structure
  • add or delete content to strengthen arguments and make connections
  • make certain everything in the paper relates back to your thesis statement
  • have someone read and comment on your paper

Edit content & organization

  • does each paragraph have one main idea expressed in a topic sentence?
  • do succeeding paragraph sentences relate to their topic sentence?
  • does sentence structure vary?
  • have irrelevant or repeated words or phrases been deleted?
  • is word choice precise, vivid, varied?
  • grammar are appropriate verb tenses used?
  • are there any contractions e.g. ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’?
  • If so, rewrite in full ‘do not’ or cannot. have you run a spell-check?
  • Have you searched for homonyms (their/there)?
  • are prepositions and modifiers in the correct places?

Check documentation according to your particular discipline

  • ask your professor which style should be used for your paper, for example, typically:
    • humanities subjects use either MLA or the Chicago/Turabian (footnote) styles
    • social-science subjects use APA style
    • science subjects use CBE style
  • study a style manual for the appropriate system you will use
  • UBC offers guidance on Citing Sources here:

Get Support

UBC has a Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication which offers a free service to support your writing.


How do you construct an “Informed Argument”? When you sit down to write an academic paper, ask yourself these questions:


  • Can I answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how?
  • What do I know about the context of my topic?
  • What historical or cultural influences do I know about that might be important to my topic?
  • Does my topic belong to any particular genre or category of topics?
  • What do I know about this genre?


  • If I were to summarize what I know about this topic, what points would I focus on?
  • What points seem less important?
  • Why do I think so?


  • What do I know about the topic that might help my reader to understand it in new ways?


What do I need to know?

How can I find out more?


You’ll discover as you consider the questions listed above that you are moving beyond what you know about a topic and are beginning to consider what you think. In the process of really thinking about your topic, your aim is to come up with a fresh observation. After all, it’s not enough to summarize in a paper what is already known and talked about. You must also add something of your own to the conversation.

Understand, however, that “adding something of your own” is not an invitation simply to bring your own personal associations, reactions, or experiences to the reading of a text. To create an informed argument, you must first recognize that your writing should be analytical rather than personal. In other words, your writing must show that your associations, reactions, and experiences of a text have been framed in a critical, rather than a personal, way.

How does one move from personal response to analytical writing? 


First, summarize what the primary text is saying. You’ll notice that you can construct several different summaries, depending on your agenda. Returning to the example of Hitchcock’s film, you might make a plot summary, a summary of its themes, a summary of its editing, and so on. You can also summarize what you know about the film in context. In other words, you might write a summary of the difficulties Hitchcock experienced in the film’s production, or you might write a summary of how this particular movie complements or challenges other films in the Hitchcock canon. You can also summarize what others have said about the film. Film critics have written much about Hitchcock, his films, and their genre. Try to summarize all that you know.


The process of evaluation is an ongoing one. You evaluate a text the moment you encounter it, and – if you aren’t lazy – you continue to evaluate and to re-evaluate as you go along. Evaluating a text is different from simply reacting to a text. When you evaluate for an academic purpose, it is important to be able to clearly articulate and to support your own personal response. What in the text is leading you to respond a certain way? What’s not in the text that might be contributing to your response? Watching Hitchcock’s film, you are likely to have found yourself feeling anxious, caught up in the film’s suspense. What in the film is making you feel this way? The editing? The acting? Can you point to a moment in the film that is particularly successful in creating suspense? In asking these questions, you are straddling two intellectual processes: experiencing your own personal response, and analyzing the text.


Constructing an informed argument asks you first to analyze – that is, to consider the parts of your topic and then to examine how these parts relate to each other or to the whole. To analyze Hitchcock’s film, you may want to break the film down by examining particular scenes, point of view, camera movements, and so on. In short, you’ll want to ask: What are the components of Hitchcock’s film, and how do these components contribute to the film’s theme? How do they contribute to Hitchcock’s work as a whole? When you analyze, you break the whole into parts so that you might see the whole differently. In the process of analysis, you find things that you might say.


When you analyze, you break down a text into its parts. When you synthesize, you look for connections between ideas. Consider once again the Hitchcock film. In analyzing this film, you might come up with elements that seem initially disparate. You may have some observations that at first don’t seem to gel. Or you may have read various critical perspectives on the film, all of them in disagreement with one another. Now would be the time to consider whether these disparate elements or observations might be reconciled, or synthesized. This intellectual exercise requires that you create an umbrella argument – some larger argument under which several observations and perspectives might stand.

[1] Adapted from University Manitoba “Academic Learning Centre”

[2] From “What is an Academic Paper”, Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, Dartmouth. Online: