If youre reading this, its because youre in one of my Religious Studies classes and you will be writing papers of various lengths. There are many things to watch out for when writing your papers, and I have included five elements here for you to keep under your hat. Feel free to consult The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for tips regarding these five, and many other, specific issues while writing.
1. Strong thesis statement. Whereas your introductory paragraph will provide some general and interesting background for the paper that you are writing, your thesis statement (typically placed at the very end of this initial paragraph) concludes this introduction by clearly asserting the specific argument that you will defend throughout. A strong thesis statement will help you, the author of this essay, stay on track throughout your paper, allowing you to verify that your argument always relates back to this statement. Rather than offering a question to consider, a list of sources you will use, a negative thesis declaring what you will not argue, or an I statement that describes how you will proceed, your thesis statement will focus solely on your topic, often using that topic as the subject of your sentence. A successful thesis statement is one that another reader might strongly disagree with.
Some writers choose to write their thesis statement later once they have already composed the body of their paper. This is not cheating! Sometimes you dont always know what you will argue in your paper, but you do know your general train of thought; once you compose the body of your paper, it is easier (for some writers) to then see what they have already argued and to compose their thesis statement to reflect this argument.
2. Citations and quotations. If you are writing a paper that includes readings outside of our class reading list, then you must include citations to all of the readings you use in that paper, whether you use direct quotations from these readings or summarize material from them.
Quotations are to be used in support of the argument that you are making in each paragraph, so your topic sentence (the first sentence of each paragraph that introduces the topic of that paragraph) should be in your own words. Quotations should only be used subsequently, after your topic sentence, in support of that paragraphs argument.
Your citation style is flexible you should use whatever style you feel comfortable with. For the sake of simplicity, I prefer in-text citations rather than footnotes or endnotes. Also, I prefer the shortest possible citations: the authors last name and the page number of that quotation in parentheses at the end of the sentence in which the quotation appears, for example (Baltutis 42). There is virtually never a need to include the page number or chapter number in the body of your work (for example, Baltutis states on page 42 that).
Finally, if you copy and paste a quotation from an online source, be sure that in the final draft of your paper all of your fonts are uniform.
3. Scholars beliefs. When discussing the ideas that an author cites in his/her articles, you should avoid stating that this author believes in such-and-such an idea. For example, when Baltutis writes, Three deities feature prominently in Indras festival, the author is not stating his belief but rather a fact about this religious festival. Similarly, when this same author analyzes this festival and states, The festivals thematic emphasis on the remembrance and worship of the citys ancestors in a festival previously known for its focus on the victorious king provides a clear example of a Hindu festival that has adapted its classical and textual meanings to a local concern, he is theorizing on the festivals historical development. Neither of these statements one providing a fact, the other an analysis provides us with any insight into what the author believes. Terms such as believe and belief are words best used to describe religious people and the religious doctrines to which they adhere. (And even then, its not always the best word to use!) In describing the work that academics do work that is different from the work that religious people do verbs such as assert, theorize, or state better describe the work that the author is doing.
4. Naming your sources. The written works that scholars produce tend to go by different names than popular written sources. A full-length book written by a single scholar is often called a monograph. A book that is a collection of essays, each of which is written by a different author, is an edited volume, and the individual contributions to that volume are either essays or chapters. The general term book is acceptable in either of these cases, but the term novel, which refers to a very different type of book, is appropriate only when referring to popular works of fiction. The third type of scholarly source is an essay in an academic journal (not a magazine). When citing these sources, titles of books, journals, and films are placed in italics, and titles of articles and chapters are placed within quotation marks.
Similarly, an author that you cite should always be referred to by his/her first and last names the first time that scholar appears in your paper and by their last name throughout; authors should never be referred to simply by their first name. When you refer to the content of their writing, you should always use the present tense, even though their article was written in the past: Baltutis argues that.
5. Active vs. Passive voice and the empty it/this/that. The use of the passive voice is generally frowned upon (see what I did there?!), especially when there is a clear subject that is responsible for the action you are describing. Thus, it is better to write, Gilgamesh continued his search for immortality despite the many characters who advised him otherwise, than The search for immortality was continued by Gilgamesh despite the advice that was received.
In referring to, quoting, and citing sources, there is always a subject present: the author who wrote the book or article. Thus, you should never refer to sources in the passive voice (typically with the empty it as the subject), such as the following: In the Baltutis article, it states that. Rather, since we know the author of this work, simply restate this sentence in the active voice: Baltutis states that.