Intro to Basics



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For all graduate-level writing assignments you may encounter, always:

  • Read the instructions when you receive an assignment and make sure you understand them.
  • Ask questions of your instructors as soon as possible if you do not.
  • Make sure that you are responding appropriately by comparing the sections of what you have written with the structure of the assignment.

Aspects of Clear and Coherent Writing:

Clear, coherent writing is not necessarily characterized by the use of simple words and short sentences, but by the clear expression of the subject under discussion through well-structured arguments and the explicit signaling of relationships between the various elements of each sentence, paragraph, and segment of what is being written. 

Generally speaking, a clear and coherent argument is structured to move from old information (what has already been presented or exists in the literature) to new information (never before introduced or unique insights or suggestions). This is particularly important if your work claims to lead to a completely new understanding of your topic, and even more so if it’s a topic of discussion in a specialist domain (academic or research discipline) or community of practice.

Graduate-program Writing:

iSchool students produce writing that is meant to communicate with a group of related, academic communities of discourse. Each discourse community may have its own style and expectations. These can be discerned from a perusal of published research (journal articles, white papers, book reviews, monographs, etc.) by members of a given discourse community within our field.

Graduate-level, academic writing is a primary means that scholars use to engage in an ongoing dialogue regarding a specialized topic. Each discipline attends to some broad phenomenon in this way, and sub-disciplines attend to narrower areas of these phenomena. In the overlapping and sometimes contradictory cross-disciplinary fields that constitute LIS/IS, the emphasis is on libraries, books, documents, and information, multifariously conceived and variously parsed.

Writing you do for your coursework as a graduate student will inevitably involve the construction of a thesis statement ( You will want to provide an introduction that provides the immediate context for your argument and the intended audience or existing conversation that your writing is attempting to address. A clear statement regarding your overall point or claim should be the very last part or sentence of your introduction.

The basic parameters for academic writing generally include:

  • A claim: persuasion through the presentation and synthesis of evidence, argumentation that rests on the evidence presented, and acknowledgment of the ways in which the presented evidence may not be supportive.
  • An acknowledgment: participation in the ongoing scholarly and intellectual dialogue on the topic presented via a discussion of the existing literature relevant to one’s claim.
  • A style: use of the format, citation method, and terminology conventional to the domain and audience to which one’s claim is addressed.


The basic formatting for academic papers typically is geared toward maximum readability such as font type–Times New Roman, 10 or 12 pt. font, single- or double-spaced lines.

Other issues addressed by style or citation guides include whether to:

  • Format the page into columns
  • Justify the text to the left or center it (which causes uneven spacing/gaps between words)
  • Use of 1” margins on all sides of each page
  • Indent each paragraph
  • Indicate different sections

Style manuals (such as APA, which is used most often in social science fields) specify these and such other details for how one’s work should be formatted, such as, very importantly, how to specify that one has quoted an idea, phrase, sentence, or passage of another work. It is generally the case that quoted passages of more than 3 lines should be formatted as an indented block, for example. Always follow your chosen style manual consistently.

Unless the instructor specifies headers, footers or identification blocks, your academic coursework should include the following in an introductory block:

  • Your name
  • Course
  • Instructor’s name
  • Date or Term

In addition, remember that your instructors are generally reading writing by many students. So include a header on each page after the first that indicates:

  • Your name
  • Name of the paper by assignment or title
  • Page number

While many instructors are flexible, note that many academics who may see and evaluate your work often require a more strict set of standards. Journals, conferences, and many application processes specify items such as word count, font selection, illustration formats and more.

Remain mindful and be careful with formatting your work appropriate to the occasion, requirements, and audience to minimize distraction from the substance of your work.


Your work as a graduate student or professional scholar in the United States will always be judged by the quality of the language you used. Writing for both graduate-level courses and for scholarly publication must be grammatically correct, lexically appropriate, and constructed using standard, formal, American English.

Some instructors will give feedback regarding such elemental aspects of writing as grammar and word choice in addition to the quality of the evidence and argument presented, but it is generally expected that graduate students do not come to graduate school with any considerable or insurmountable deficits in basic, academic writing.

When you submit work for publication, on the other hand, sloppiness at any level, whether grammatical or logical, will keep your work from being accepted or respected.

If one is a native speaker of British English, some exceptions may be made, though publishing in the U.S. will generally require the use of American English no matter which English is your native language. If your native language is not American English, then you may well be in classes for English as a Second Language (ESL). You are, of course, still responsible for writing correctly and appropriately, regardless of how well you can do so.

More resources for ESL students can be found here.

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