One of the most important components of Jewish life is expanding one’s knowledge through education. Improving your ability to write books, articles, and essays can contribute to your success as a rabbi and educator. You may be a great professional in your area of expertise, but producing a highly researched, well-structured and clearly written article requires a special set of skills that may have nothing in common with the range of skills you have acquired from your work. Here is a shortlist of the most essential skills you need for writing great research papers:
- building up a well-defined structure;
- making complicated ideas easy-to-grasp;
- creating logically relevant content;
- making your paper free of mistakes and plagiarism; and
- providing concrete information and practical knowledge.
Here are 7 steps for you to follow to develop academic writing skills.
- Starting research. The first step for any academic work is choosing a research topic and formulating the main question you intend to answer. Try choosing a topic relevant to your interests to make your research an enjoyable process. Also, you should keep in mind whether or not you are able to meet the required deadlines, find a reasonable quantity of information, consider the length of your paper and what kind of information would interest your readers. After all these questions are answered and the research is about to begin, think of developing a system of time-management skills to work in the most efficient and time-saving ways possible.
- Determine the type of information sources you’ll need. At this stage you will need to choose sources of information to research and develop expertise in your field of study. Among the most popular types of sources are journals, books, scholarly and academic publications, and so on. All of them differ by the type of audience they reach and the range of topics they cover. Depending on your own target audience and research subject, try to make appropriate choices, excluding unreliable sources.
- Finding reliable sources. Give more preference to academic publications and books than popular magazines or newspapers. Reputable sources of information should have cited sources and dated information which are essential for compiling a bibliography list.
Among trusted sources are online encyclopedias such as jewishencyclopedia.com, britannica.com and encyclopedia.com. The materials in them are arranged in alphabetical order and are often accessible for free. Also, you can refer to different online libraries, such as library.harvard.edu to search for the freshest materials on your topic. Do not forget about free-to-use websites owned by government agencies like census.gov and science.gov. They are filled with relevant information. Furthermore, Google Books and Google Scholar will do their best to help you find numerous academic papers.
If the quantity of information found is too expansive, try to sort it out using the following criteria:
- how up-to-date the publications are (focus on more recent sources);
- how closely connected the information is to your topic; and
- how easy-to-use the sources are.
- Citing borrowed material. It does not really matter what type of information you use from certain sources, whether it is a quotation, a slide from a presentation or just an idea. As a researcher, you should properly cite all materials and thoughts that do not belong to you, even if they are paraphrased.
If you’re an educator, you should definitely be familiar with citation styles including APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association) and the Chicago Manual of Style. You can use the automatic bibliography generator in MS Word to save time and effort formatting your citations and/or works cited. To use this tool, open MS Word, click the References tab, choose an appropriate citation style and select the text you want to cite. After it is done, click the Insert Citation button and fill in the source information by clicking the Add New Source button. Tools like this one can make your life a lot easier!
- Avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism is a blatant ethical misconduct that can lead to a serious downfall in your educational career, which is definitely not your goal. Eliminate plagiarism at all costs by learning how to paraphrase and using as many of your own thoughts and ideas as you can. Avoid thinking that everyone else writes better than you do. Maybe your current paper will become the most incredible scientific discovery of all time (you never know). So do not be afraid to express original ideas in your own words and do not forget to check your paper for plagiarism before submission or publication to safeguard your academic reputation.
There are many plagiarism checkers within the Internet having both free and paid access. Some of them (e.g., Unplag) allow you to download accurate similarity reports, checks papers either against each other or the Internet, and makes sure your papers are original.
- Sticking to copyright rules. Copyright infringement is one of the most serious breaches of ethical conduct in publishing. When writing a research paper it is essential to use someone’s intellectual property in a legal way. When used for transformative purpose such as for commenting, expressing criticism or parody, you do not have to request a copyright owner permission to use his or her material. Be sure your usage falls under one of these cases.
- Final edit tips. When everything is ready and the research is done, you still need to do final editing before finishing your work. Ensure that your paper satisfies all of the following requirements:
- predetermined word limit;
- appropriate quality of writing;
- well-grounded statements and formal writing style;
- presentation of material in a logical order; and
- no mistakes in grammar, referencing and spelling.
To simplify your editing process, you’d best divide it into several stages. For example, the first one is for checking overall text structure, the second is for removing duplications and odd material, the third is for final proofreading, and the last one is for checking citations and references as well as grammar and spelling.
These 7 simple steps of creating a research paper will help you organize your writing process and focus on getting the results you want. Overcome your doubts and get the ball rolling by taking the first step mentioned above.
Michael Yarbrough is a private English tutor and writer who has a keen interest in academic writing, educational technology, American-Jewish relationships and global issues. He served as a secondary school English Teacher in San Mateo, CA. His school was international and he taught children of different nationalities. Michael used the experience gained in school to enhance his teaching style and expand the range of topics he writes about.