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Writing Your Paper

Common Questions about Academic Writing

Is my paper about what I think, or just about the information in the sources?


  • It’s about an idea of your own that can be supported by evidence from your sources​.


  • If you only include information from the sources, then the reader will be left asking, “so what?”​


  • If you only discuss your own ideas, the reader will ask, “why should I believe you?”​


  • With some exceptions, the introduction and conclusion of a paper are for emphasizing your main idea, while the body paragraphs directly relate the specific examples and information from sources to that idea.

How many quotes/citations are enough for an academic paper? Can you have too many?


  • This depends largely on the assignment guidelines​. Always consult the instructions you've been given and ask your instructor if you're not sure.


  • Unless otherwise specified, for an English essay, typically 2-3 quotes with citations per paragraph is a decent amount (depending on how long those quotes are)​.


  • Unless otherwise specified, for a paper in the social sciences, paraphrasing is more common than directly quoting. In any case, don’t be surprised if you end up with a citation at the end of almost every line of your body paragraphs – some instructors will actually expect this​.


  • Typically, introductions and conclusions won’t include quotes or citations (especially not conclusions)​.


  • When in doubt, better to over-cite than under-cite.

How different does a paraphrased sentence have to be from the original text?

  • The APA manual (2010) states that paraphrasing another author means you must “summarize a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words” (p. 15).​


  • When summarizing a long passage or various bits of information from across a source, a page number is not absolutely necessary (as it is with a direct quote), but a citation will still need to be there.​


  • When rephrasing a sentence, the structure and wording has to be significantly different than the original. Not changing it enough could be considered plagiarism.​


  • If you’re having a lot of difficulty paraphrasing, it may be safer to quote the information directly instead​.


  • You can also try to cite a larger amount of the text in summary, rather than just paraphrasing one sentence.


To see some examples of proper paraphrasing, check out this Purdue OWL webpage on paraphrasing.

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