Learn how to classify your paper

September 21, 2015 0 1274


As soon as you have obtained the complete list of the requirements for your paper, you need to gain a general understanding of your assignment. To do that, you need to properly classify your paper into one of the following categories.

  • Descriptive essay
  • Analytical
  • Synthetic/Comparative
  • Summary/Book report
  • Presentation

The majority of undergraduate papers are descriptive and the most common example of such a project is a research paper. Therein, you would normally pick a topic that has already been thoroughly investigated by scholars and report their findings. Papers of this nature do not require you to display much independent thought. Instead, your responsibility is to organize their findings clearly and concisely. Separating relevant information from the irrelevant is the main task of a descriptive paper. So, you would need to research the topic thoroughly to determine which material is worthy of a placement in your paper.  Descriptive papers are common in English, Political Science and Nursing class.

In stark contrast with a descriptive paper, analytical projects tend not to require much independent research. Therein, you will read one article or a passage from a book with the purpose of critically examining it. However, before you do that, you will need to provide a thorough exposition of the author’s claims. Intellectual honesty behooves you to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the text before you support or criticize the author’s main contention. Roughly 25% of your paper should be devoted to a descriptive account of the claims you will be examining, however, the bulk of the paper should focus on the assessment portion. Your critical analysis section should either point out a factual error in the author’s argument or a flaw in their reasoning.

An argument is sound only if it is deductively valid and its premises are true (http://www.iep.utm.edu/val-snd/ embed link). In most cases, it will be difficult to find a premise that is clearly false or an obviously fallacious argument. So, you would then need to look for more subtle defects with the author’s claims. For example, you may contend that their point of view is too narrow or one sided. Alternatively, you could argue that the author should have been more thorough in considering possible objections to their claim. Additionally, you could even go so far as say that while the author’s reasoning was good, there are a few implications to his arguments that he or she overlooked. Analytical papers are common in Philosophy, Economics and Sociology.

The synthetic/comparative essay generally requires a substantially greater creative effort than the two papers we have previously discussed. In a synthetic paper, you will often be required to combine two theoretical frameworks and then build your own theory based on that. You may also be required to compare, contrast and evaluate the points of view in question. Papers of this nature are common in History, Political Science, Philosophy and Literature. As a general rule, you are more likely to encounter projects of such nature in graduate rather than undergraduate classes.

The summary is clearly the simplest and the most straight-forward of assignments. Therein, all you need to do is carefully read the assigned material and present the author’s view-point. However, you do need to be careful to ensure that you do not conflate the author’s position with your own. Avoid making claims that can be construed as your opinion, refrain from citing extraneous sources and always write in a third person narrative. Although it is obvious that the views you are summarizing belong to the author whom you were assigned to read, be sure to cite the source on the reference page and include at least a few in-text citations. As banal and arbitrary these requirements may seem, there are professors out there who will have the temerity to accuse you of plagiarism if you fail to comply with them.

In and of itself, the presentation has no original content. Instead, it merely provides an account of what you have previously accomplished. Here, concision is of utmost importance because your space will invariably be limited. As a rule of thumb, your presentation should comprise roughly one-third of your paper’s length. Make it a special point to discuss only the key themes of your project and avoid going into comprehensive factual detail. Most presentations will be delivered in Power-Point format where three slides will include approximately as much content as a double-spaced page in a paper.


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