Don’t do this in any academic paper at any level. Anytime. Ever.


Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones in action. Write like he would!

Friend Marc Cortez over at WesternThM has provided some wise and important advice for all academic writers at all levels on how not to kill your essay in the very first line. And yes, Indiana Jones figures in this sage wisdom.

A sample:

“So, I would like to try to explore the possibility of….”

Just stop.

This sentence and its ilk taint the beginnings of far too many otherwise good papers. Using a sentence like this to describe your paper is like building a solid table and then ripping one of its legs off. It may still be standing, but no one will want to use it. With one sentence, you’ve cut the legs out from under your own research paper.

Here’s why.

1. Explore (investigate, consider, etc.): Really? You’re handing in a 20-page research paper and the only thing you’ve done is “explore” something? I’m going to assume that you didn’t actually find anything interesting, otherwise you would tell me. Right? You wouldn’t keep that a secret, would you? Because if I thought that you found something cool and were just keeping it from me, I’d be pretty upset. And that wouldn’t be good. So, as your reader, I only have to options here: (1) you didn’t find anything interesting and I shouldn’t bother reading your paper; (2) you found something interesting that you’re hiding from me, and I should be angry with you. Neither option ends well for you.

So, I’d suggest that you go ahead and tell me what you found. If Indiana Jones goes on an expedition and finds some ancient and extremely valuable treasure. He doesn’t come back and tell people that he just explored for a while. He tells them what he found! So, start with that. And, by the way, not finding something is still a discovery. If you went looking for X and didn’t find it, that’s worth reporting. If nothing else, you’ve demonstrated that it’s not there.

2. Try to (attempt to, seek to, etc.): This just makes it worse. With “explore” you’re telling me that you just wandered around for a while exploring without actually finding anything. Now you’re telling me that you’re not even sure you accomplished that! . . .

Click the link below to read Marc’s whole post:

For a followup post at this blog that talks about how to fashion a strong central claim for your papers, see here.

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One response to “Don’t do this in any academic paper at any level. Anytime. Ever.

  1. Love it! It’s good to have a reminder of what NOT to do, just as I’ve been handed my syllabi (syllabuses?) for the upcoming semester. Many and various papers await.

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