Paper writing
. Avoid passive voice; lead with independent clauses, not subordinate clauses; proper terms (as in definitions) and grammar count, else one cannot be expected to properly infer the meanings you may improperly convey. That said, I have not (yet) seen a paper of less than 15 pages that actually covered its topic properly. 20 to 25 is common. with 15 a minimum of CONTENT – don’t make the mistake of thinking 2 or 3 pages of bibliography and references count as “pages.” Remember, this is a Master’s Degree program and any paper you write should be worthy of publication.
You select the topic. Make it related to the class, of course, but my reason for requesting an abstract is not to approve or disapprove. The reasons include helping you frame the question, getting you to write down where you’re going to go with the research (any paper needs a plan), and to monitor that you are making progress. If you have difficulty deciding or are void of ideas, I can also help guide your selection but it is your paper.
A short paper may not answer the topic question you pose. A long paper may babble endlessly, and still not answer the question – and remember it is your question. Cover your topic, and stick to your topic. Some interesting bits added to papers don’t belong, some are better explored as full – and different – papers. And always, ALWAYS, use citations of other peoples’ works, including any of your own previously published materials. More about that later.
For both fun and learning, read the very small book on grammar, “Eats, shoots, and leaves,” by Lynne Truss. The title stems from a mis-punctuated sign in a UK zoo at the panda enclosure. It ostensibly was informing the public of the animal’s dietary habits — it eats bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves. However, with the extra and badly placed commas it became the opening to a cute joke: “A disgruntled panda walks into a bar. He then “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Police have initiated a city wide search …” (Truss, Lynn, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Gotham Books, NY, 2004)
Essentially, any paper can be built on the following rough structure of 5 elements:
1) What is the topic & why did you pick it? 2) How do you plan do the research? What is the research methodology (data collection to answer the question posed in #1, source, method, type of data) 3) Discuss the data gathering phase, what you found (“what”, not “what it means”), where you found it, if data A led you to data B
4) Analysis – what does it all mean? (this is the meat of the paper and should address both the question AND a sort of “so what?” question… why does what you’ve found matter? and to whom? Generally, it’s the longest and should be mostly your ideas. This section is your synthesis of the information and where one goes next. 5) Conclusions – here you should also be able to tuck in such issues as 1) recommended actions (if appropriate), 2) consequences of not acting or of acting in manner Y instead of manner X, & 3) the NEXT step in the exploration or research process. Almost certainly, your paper raises new questions as much as it answers previous ones. If it doesn’t – rethink your approach and execution. Again, this section is your synthesis of the information and where one goes next.
Sections #1 & #2 are preparatory and state your plan. That is the original plan when you began.
#3 is what you did to gather data, information. If you determine as you begin the original plan that no one has ever calculated how fast ‘net worms travel in furlongs per fortnight, and are thus unable to execute the plan, this is where you lay out what you did, what happened, and what you do next – a) it’s an essential question because … and call for further research, b) you realize the question has no real relevance and shift to a new or modified question … like does the speed of any net infector in general, or worms in particular, matter?, and c) then gather data for the revised question and proceed to analysis.
#4 – now that you have data, what does it mean in real-world practice? Not conclusions, yet, but describe patterns or results.
#5 – conclusions, the “so what?” part, are why it matters and what one should do next. In other words, having discovered that generalized web worms are no longer used now that a majority or attacks are targeted at specific agencies or companies, you conclude that spreading speed is largely irrelevant given even old-style worms are ‘fast enough’ to gain entry and cause damage, especially since targeting reduces ICMP backscatter errors that used to be a primary I&W sign that an attack was happening. Ergo, attacks routinely go un-noticed well beyond any infection spreading windows and enable stealthy attacks to succeed.
A reasonably well executed paper is a B or B+ depending on levels of detail. A similarly well written paper, but on a challenging topic that requires difficult research or that looks forward to emerging issues or threats is more likely to garner an A-.
Some common errors include prose that is often grammatically incorrect and hard to understand. Second is the shortage of dates or chronology; in research or real-world event, there’s an earlier phase and a later phase, and there are distinct elements – try to show the progression of your topic, or your research and subsequent understanding. Third, papers sometimes don’t make many arguments, not as in arguing, but as in stating a case or thesis and then supporting or defending it. A good paragraph supporting a concept will often start with arguments rather than with simple narrative. The middle of
the paragraph presents elements of proof or rational; data. Then sum up at the end of a paragraph to tell the reader what they should take away from it, and the thesis could be more of a specific answer to the question. Some papers lose marks because they needed a bit more time on citation particulars. Remember to cite charts on the chart, not just somewhere in notes as this may become separated as document formatting changes.
Often a paper reads like there is very good thought in there but it doesn’t quite come together.
The key to what I’m looking for in a full A+ paper is … spark? A bright idea; an epiphany. A “Wow, So that’s what/how/why X is !” A conclusion that said, say, Because hundreds of millions of SSN’s and credit card numbers have already been stolen but not yet used, new security measures for data leaks will not stop a flood of future fraud and theft. The data are already out there and no one admits it. It will take an army of bad guys a decade just to get around to the card and account numbers that they have on a massive file stolen from a 3rd party processing group you’ve never even heard of. So – what are the political, policy, and economic consequences?
Long answer: Political – none, other than opportunities for clueless staffers and Congress Persons to posture bad acronyms as legislation that won’t actually work the issue (and the REAL issue is that there is no economic penalty for bad security: we’ve had “the big event(s)” but nothing changed – and the consumer response proves nothing actually had to). Policy – Gov – none – that will remain theater; Business – add lawyers to deny wrongdoing, cut IT sec staff to pay for lawyers & deny improvements such as crypto because they’re unnecessary expenses and ‘not common business practice.’ Economic – all losses will (continue to) be spread across consumers to hide costs; retail and card company profits continue to rise (see TJX/TJMaxx case).
Short version: No real consequences and no business or market incentive to change. There is nothing punitive for failure; you get higher fees and inconvenienced when card company sends you new cards. Status quo.
That’s 1) asking a good question, 2) finding a ‘so what’ conclusion, and 3) suggesting an interesting & plausible ‘what’s next’ or ‘what if’ near future. It’s more than simply demonstrating that you’ve learned something – which is good – it goes the next step and tells be something I don’t know or asks a really good new question. An example of that was one student’s examination of possible cyber terrorist issues regarding the 2012 London Olympics.
And a final note: use proper citations for anything previously published or used. That is, choose a format, APA (, Turabian (, or another accepted professional academic format and stick with it throughout the paper. Be consistent. I am less concerned with which format you choose than I am that you use one. Citations are required for all
others’ works, whether print or web, text or periodical. They are also required for working papers you may review in some of your research. Mostly that means other people’s work.
As an example, you may be discussing an aspect with a colleague or a co-worker, and either for work or for another class that person have hit on an important idea that is relevant to your paper. Can you use it? First, he or she must give you permission. Second, you must cite the author, “working papers” or “field notes”, subject and date. You can also cite a verbal discussion from which you draw the other person’s words. Finally, if you draw from another paper you have written, published or not, you must also cite yourself. Odd as that may seem, it is the proper way to document the growth of the body of knowledge. If it is a paper for a different class or work, use the same method you would for someone else’s work (see the guides above). If it has been published in a journal, or online, use the method that you would for any one else’s work. Yes, a ‘blog’ is ‘publishing’.
In a recent term I had to FAIL a student who merely cobbled together sections of other works into about 17 pages for a “paper.” One of the review and search tools I use discovered – and provided html links to – the 77% of the paper copied wholesale from identifiable internet sources. FIFTY-TWO percent was from a single source.
My sense is that your first section will have few citations as you are laying out your topic and process. The second and third will have the majority of references and citations. The fourth, analysis, may be a mix with perhaps citations from which you draw to then present your own ideas. The conclusion should be mostly yours. This does not mean you won’t have things to properly reference, just that if these are your analysis and your conclusions, there’s less chance for others’ works to need mention. Remember to place citations for tables and graphics at the table or graphic. Noting a table in text with a citation is appropriate, but is disconnected from the table itself and makes the citation less clear.
If you do not cite, it’s actually rather easy to notice that it is not yours. It will stand out. It is then trivial to discover the original source – remember the web?
Failing to cite is poor form and intellectually dishonest. While one or two instances may be a simple error, significant omissions clearly constitute plagiarism. That is a clear violation of College and University policy and may result in a ‘0’ for the paper, and likely an ‘F’ for the course. It may also be sufficient for the University to drop you from the program.
Don’t do it. If something is someone else’s idea, just say so. Besides, some of the wackier ideas you’ll encounter should be blamed on someone else.