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This expert advice comes from Christine Jensen Sundstrom, PhD - Coordinator, Graduate Writing Support Program, University of Kansas 

Questions to ask your instructor before you write a research paper for a graduate class

  • Most research papers in graduate classes are similar in nature to reviews in journals. Clarify whether that is the case and whether the review needs to be as professional as those for a journal in the field. If so, are there certain journals that have better models than others? If not, can the instructor provide samples of the type of research papers s/he has in mind?
  • To what extent should your paper have your own voice and argument?
  • Should you evaluate the articles you are reviewing? If so, what criteria should you use?

Learn advanced writing strategies: sentence level

  • What is the cast of characters for writing in your field? With your advisor? Are you allowed or encouraged to use I or we or are those forbidden?
  • Is passive voice encouraged for certain purposes in your field (writing the methods section of a chemistry research article for example)? If so, find out how adept writers vary that practice to avoid awkward sentences.
  • How is sentence to sentence cohesion maintained in professional reviews in your field? Learn how authors use repetition of technical vocabulary, this + summary word, pronouns, old information-new information, and connecting devices to achieve cohesion.
  • Use a reference manager like RefWorks for developing your library of sources and for getting the format right.

Learn advanced writing strategies: text level

  • Develop your research question(s), hypothesis/es, or research statement early
  • Do a brief investigative report in which you explore your project as designed to determine whether it is feasible or whether it needs to be adapted
  • Learn how to make a concept map for the key concepts in your paper to clarify how these concepts are related and to help you determine the structure of your paper
  • Learn how to write an argument outline that has the key ideas for your paper in sentence form.
  • Use the argument to organize the literature you are reviewing


(Adapted from Writing for Graduate School, Christine Jensen Sundstrom, manuscript in preparation, Copyright 2008 ©.)


About the author: Dr. Sundstrom has over 35 years of experience teaching language, technical writing, ESL, and graduate writing and presenting in a higher education setting. She has done editing in fields ranging from humanities to sciences.