You are here

Checklist for Writing a good paper

To: Students in my courses

From: Ronald Mitchell

Subject: Checklist for writing a good paper

Obviously, the crucial parts of your paper are the intellectual content - so focus on them first. That said, to make sure that your excellent intellectual work is presented in the most professional manner, I also wanted to provide the following checklist of things you should make sure to do before you hand it in. Do them in the following order and check them off as you go and it will be difficult to go wrong.

  • Re-read the assignment: Re-read the assignment and grading criteria for the paper. Make sure you understand what the goal for the paper is and what things the professor will be looking for.
  • Writing the intro and conclusion: Make sure that both your intro and conclusion entail brief summaries of the major thread of your argument, including the theory or theories you will be evaluating and your empirical findings regarding that theory’s validity for whatever cases you studied.
  • Frontmatter: Have a nice cover page with your paper title, ID # but not your name, contact information, date, etc. on it. All of this should be in a template file that you use for all your college papers.
  • Headings: You can improve the logic and readability of your paper by using headings such as Introduction, Definitions and Background, Theories of Free Trade, Evidence from NAFTA, Conclusion. Headings and subheadings should appear every three pages or so.
  • Page Numbers: Always have your computer put page numbers somewhere on the page. That ensures that you don’t hand in a paper with missing pages and allows people grading the paper to be able to reference pages when making comments.
  • In-text citations (not footnotes): See attached sheet on "Use and Formatting of In-Text Citations and References"
  • References: See attached sheet on "Use and Formatting of In-Text Citations and References"
  • Spellcheck: Always, repeat always, run spell-check as the last step before printing out the final version of a paper. In the age of computers, there is no excuse for misspelling - if you used a word processor to write it, then you can run spell-check in less than three minutes.
  • Proofread: In addition, proof your paper to avoid missing words and other errors that spell-check will not catch. Spell-check can Miss man an err or that a careful proof-reading will knot miss. (Translation: Spell-check can miss many an error that a careful proof-reading will not miss.)