So ya gotta write a paper for college. To make matters much worse, I have to grade it. To make them even worse, I have had to grade a lot of them over the years and it has made me a little cranky, although I’m nowhere near as bitter as the CSUF department chair who chainsaw- murdered the husband of his lover. But I digress. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when writing a paper that will be graded at the collegiate level:

. Does writing count? Of course it does. You are writing a paper for college; it should be up to collegiate standards. You can’t expect that you can graduate with a collegiate degree and not be writing with grammatically correct sentences.  You can't even expect that it is OK if only 1 in 5 of your sentences contains a grammatical error. Keep in mind that after you graduate you will always be judged on your correct use of English, in job interviews and promotion decisions and dates and cocktail parties. And whatever other kind of party you go to. So while this isn’t an English class, you still have to write correctly.

You may be thinking that all that matters is that you can communicate your ideas well and not that you avoid all comma splices. Mostly, I agree. I won’t be going over the paper with a fine-toothed comb to uncover every incorrect use of a semi-colon, every split infinitive, or every sentence that ends in a preposition. But almost never have I read a paper where the ideas were clear even though the writing was not. I WILL notice overt grammatical errors, mis-spellings, annoying typos, and awkward sentences. Instead of correcting every mistake I’ll just give you an overall writing grade, so be careful that you are communicating your ideas clearly.

AVOID AWKWARD SENTENCES. This is my number one beef. When people start writing academic papers they seem to get carried away and produce convoluted or unclear sentences when a simple, straightforward one would do. Here’s an example (the sentence is referring to the thesis "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"):

Bad: "While this statement is usually applied to one’s personal life more often than their professional, it is often regulated to situations such as initial job interviews."
Notice that it is no fun to read, back-tracks on itself, and uses the word "regulated" when the author meant "relegated." This sentence, by the way, was written by a graduate student.
Better: "Usually this statement only applies to a few professional situations, such as initial job interviews."

There’s no rule about when a sentence becomes "awkward," but you can probably avoid most all examples of them if you proof-read the paper and re-write any sentence that seems to get away from you or that you have trouble composing.

HOW TO USE FOOTNOTES: Here’s the hidden secret of collegiate writing: There is no single system for footnotes. But you do have to pick a system and stick with it. And there is one general rule that all systems use: If you are using an idea that isn’t your own, or an idea that you found from somewhere else, or you are citing a fact that you are not proving in your paper, you have to provide a citation. The system that you pick does have to come from an accepted style manual, and some common style manuals are APA, MLA, and Turabian. You can find one in any college book store or in the reference section at any college library. In any paper that you write in college, you need to use a footnote any time you refer to someone else’s idea or cite a fact.

PLAGIARIZE AND DIE. If you copy something directly, you need to put it in quotes and correctly footnote it. If you don’t, you are plagiarizing. If you take a mostly direct quote and change a couple of words and don’t provide a footnote, you are plagiarizing. If you are using someone else’s idea and aren’t footnoting them, you are plagiarizing. If you don’t know what plagiarism is, look it up in a style manual or the university guidelines. Proper footnoting and an honest effort on your part can eliminate all hints of plagiarism. Plagiarism is cheating and can result in you failing this class and, in extreme cases, getting kicked out of the University.  (See Norm Page's contributions below.)

BASIC APA STYLE.  In the text, refer to the article by the authors last name and year.  Here's how you cite this web-page (Bruschke, 2001).  Make sure that you put the period AFTER the in-text footnote.  Include a reference list at the back of the paper.  Here is how you cite the 3 most commonly used sources of information.  For all others, you need to consult the APA Style Manual, which can be found in the library or purchased in any bookstore.  Don't use a guide older than 3rd edition.

Journal article format:

Author's last name, first initial (Year).  Article Title.  Journal Title, Vol number, start page-end page.

Journal article example:

Lee, E. (1998).  Memoir of a Former Urban Debate League Participant. Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, 19, 93-96.

Book format:

Author's last name, first initial (Year).  Book Title.  Publisher City, State: Publisher name.

Book example:

Kozol, J. (1992).  Savage Inequalities.  New York, NY: Harper Perennial Publishers.

Internet web site format:

Author's last name, first initial (Year).  Web site/article title.  Full publication title.  Date retreived: Web site.

Note: Year of publication is applicable if listed, and full publication title is necessary only if included.

Web site example:

Burka, L. P. (1993).  A hypertext history of multi-user dungeons.  MUDex.  Retrieved January 13, 1997 from the World Wide Web:


Although you are expected to "think for yourself" in academic writing, using the ideas of others for support or clarification is a legitimate practice.  When using the ideas of others you must be careful to provide them with the proper credit.  The following are guidelines for quoting others:

         Use quotation marks if you use more than three contiguous words from another author.

         Provide cites for all quotations (i.e., author and page number).  Full citation must be provided in the reference section of your paper.

         Use quoted material sparingly (a maximum of 10% of your paper).  Quotations should be used to support a point you are making or if you are convinced that another has expressed an idea the most effective way possible.

         Quotations should never stand alone, (i.e., always set up a quotation).  Let the reader know why the quotation is being offered.  A rule of thumb is to spend as much ink setting up a quotation as the quotation is long.

         Indent quotations of five lines or more.  Do not use quotation marks in this case.

         Use ellipses (. . .) to indicate missing portions of quotations.

         Quotations must be exactly as the authors produced them.  Authors' misspellings should be followed by [sic].

         While paraphrasing (expressing another's idea in your own words), you must supply a citation (quotation marks are not required).


 1) These guidelines also apply to information from electronic sources.

 2) Violating the above guidelines lends to suspicion of plagiarism which is a serious violation of academic values and university policy. 

3) If you are further concerned with paraphrasing and its relation to plagiarism, please refer to: