Academic Research Writing Tips

When conducting your graduate research and writing your thesis or dissertation, keep these tips on data collection, grammar, organization, and plagiarism in mind. 

A Few Things to Avoid in Research Writing

 

Plagiarism: Taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Academic writing requires that researchers carefully cite other's words, pictures, etc., in all forms of communication. When you use other people's ideas, words, or images you must provide full information of the source, following the format of your selected style guide (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.) This is true even when you paraphrase or summarize in your own words. The goal is to provide enough information that the reader can find the same reference you used. The format for citations and reference information varies by discipline. 

Keep in mind that intentional plagiarism is a serious offense and can result in dismissal from the University. To learn more about this topic, view this short video on "Citation," as well as these documentation guidelines provided by the University Writing Center.

 

Unapproved Data Collection or Use: Using someone else's data or gathering data from people or animals without having approval

  • Are you using or collecting data from human subjects (people) for your research? Get approval (or an exemption) from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Appalachian. Approval or exemption must be in place before any data collection starts.
  • Are you using animals in your research by more than just observing them in nature? Get approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at Appalachian. Approval is necessary before any data collection starts.
  • Are you using data that have already been gathered by someone else? Even if you are going to look at the data in a completely different way, you must either get permission to use the data by contacting the source, or you must carefully cite the source if the data were previously published in a book, website, or journal. Do not assume that the data are in the public domain unless that is specifically stated.

 

Lack of Organization

Most academic research writing in the United States is "thesis driven," meaning that the main point is stated early in the document, followed by the supporting information. Here is a general outline you can follow when writing, but be sure to understand what your instructor or mentor is expecting!

  • State your main points explicitly in an introductory section.
  • After the introductory section, you may need to include a discussion of the history or background needed to put your points in context; this is often where you will present other people's work with appropriate citations (being careful to avoid plagiarism!).
  • Next provide the evidence, information, data, or argument to support your main points, and be sure that you connect back to your main points.
  • Last, provide a conclusion that recaps your main points; you might also address the shortcomings in your argument and ideas for future research.

There is a wealth of information available at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.  Also be sure to take advantage of Appalachian's University Writing Center, located on the second floor of Belk Library and Information Commons. Remote or in-person appointments can be made online or by phone.

 

Common Grammatical Errors for ESL Learners

English has an interesting history as a language; it was heavily influenced by invasion, colonization, and innovation over many centuries. Many different cultures' words and expressions were incorporated into the English language, yielding a rich language with a huge vocabulary.  There are also differences caused by the divergence of British English and American English, resulting in words that are spelled slightly differently, different idioms, and variations in acceptable writing styles. This leads to a conundrum for non-native speakers: The way that nouns, verbs, pronouns, and modifiers are used in American English can differ depending on the origins of the particular words. Patterns that are always the same in another language (how to create plurals, placement of adjectives and adverbs, etc.) may depend upon what words are being used and how in English.

There are several errors that are common to non-native speakers of English, and most can be traced to the differences between sentence construction, subject and verb agreement, and pluralizing in the two languages. Here is a site that lists common errors that second language (ESL) learners often make: http://college.cengage.com/devenglish/fawcett/evergreen/7e/students/esl_errors.html

With such a complex language, there are also many words and idioms that are commonly misused by native and non-native English speakers alike: http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html