Notes to guide students in preparation of final seminar papers (to be updated)

This is a very personal and still quite rough guide. I have drafted it quickly this morning and share it with you because upon scanning the first round of submittals this week I was a bit surprised to see that some of the students’ papers did not respect all of these standard practices. I offer them to you for what they are worth, and if you wish to take advantage of them you have four more days in which to modify your papers as you think best. The final papers will be due no later than 18 July 2011.

– Eric Britton, Paris. 13 July 2011

0. Ex. Sum:
1. Do a proper title page
2. Prepare a brief abstract
3. Table of contents (With page numbers of sections)
4. Number all pages (and put your name and date  in the same line)
5. Write in clear simple English without unnecessary complications or flourish. Avoid slang or colloquialisms unless they are absolutely necessary to make your point.
6. Stay rigorously on target. Eschew irrelevancies and unnecessary detours.
7. Please don’t write anything you don’t understand. Don’t fake it and don’t force it. Understand first, then write.
8. Create and number section titles for clarify and to facilitate rapid reading
9. Draft a final chapter to summarize your: Findings, Conclusions, Recommendations and suggestions for Next Steps, if any
10. Follow our course guidelines for all references, foot- and end-notes, tables and graphics, and closing bibliography – ( See http://wp.me/P1zD54-fA)
11. Proof-read your paper carefully for correct spelling (spell-check) and grammar.
12. Submit in MS Word or compatible (not PDF please). Double space your text using standard fonts, and send your package to eric.britton@ecoplan.org.

And now in more detail

1. Title page
• Name of course and school at top of page, centered
• Title

o Your choice of title should make it immediately clear to the reader who was not involved in the course what you are reporting on.
o You may want to give a thought to a double title: the first half telling the reader about the general area under study. And the second half telling more about the particular approach of the author. Here’s an example:
o “A new approach to carsharing in Greece: Outline proposal for a business Plan”

• Author’s name, Place of writing, date of submittal
• “Term paper submitted for accreditation for the course: “Sustainable Development, Business & Society”, Professor, Eric Britton, course date.

2. Abstract
• 200 word max abstract of your paper. To appear immediately after the title page.
• It should be a highly succinct distillation of the paper: a concise description of the issue(s) addressed, methodology, main results and conclusions.
• An abstract must be self-contained. Usually they do not contain references. Remember: even though it appears at the beginning, an abstract is not an introduction. It is a concise résumé of your main points.
• Best written towards the end, but not at the very last minute because you will probably need several drafts.
• For those who chose to have their papers on file for future reference in the course library at http://www.scribd.com/my_document_collections/3136287 I the entire abstract is entered into the introductory section, along with the key words.

3. Keywords:
• You are invited to provide up to ten keywords so that your document can be called up.

4. Acknowledgments
• If appropriate, a concise note of thanks to those who have helped the student to be there to write the thesis.
• If any of your work is collaborative, you must make it quite clear who did which sections.

5. Table of contents
•  Introduction starts on page 1, the earlier pages should have roman numerals.
• It helps to have the subheadings of each chapter, as well as the chapter titles.

6. Introduction
• Tell the reader concisely what is your chosen topic and why is it important? State the problem(s) as simply as you can.
• please be sure not to start in the middle and do not overestimate the reader’s familiarity with your topic.
• Your introduction should open the door wide for the full report. For the first paragraph or two, tradition permits prose that is less dry than the usual academic norm. If you want to wax lyrical about your topic, here is the place to do it. ( The only place, by the way.)
• This section might go through several drafts to make it read well and logically, while keeping it short.
• I would suggest  that it is a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read it out loud to you in its entirety, and then to critique and comment. Is it an adequate introduction? Is it easy to follow?
• There is an argument for writing this section—or at least making a major revision of it– toward the end of the report drafting process.

7. Language
• Many of you are working with English as you second or third language.
• No problem because in all cases your degree of familiarity with English as a spoken and read language gives you considerable potential to write an intelligible, readable report.
• Simplicity of language will be a big help as well as the rest of the hints that you will find here.
(• If it were at all possible, I would like very much to have the paper also available in your first language. That of course is not a requirement, but it would I think be an interesting exercise for you as well to write your piece in your first language once you have finished your formal submittal for credit. And if you do, I would like very much to see it.)

8. Style
• Your text must be clear. Good grammar and thoughtful writing will make the thesis easier to read.
• Native English speakers should remember that scientific English is an international language. Slang and informal writing will be harder for a non-native speaker to understand.
• Short sentences are better than longer ones.
• Short paragraphs are better than longer ones (because they focus the reader’s eye and mind. Including by the way your own – leading, one hopes, to more thought and more clarity.)
• Short, simple phrases and words are often better than long ones.
• Sometimes it is easier to present information and arguments as a series of numbered points, rather than as one or more long and awkward paragraphs. A list of points is usually easier to write. You should be careful not to use this presentation too much: your thesis must be a connected, convincing argument, not just a list of facts and observations.
• One important stylistic choice is between the active voice and passive voice. The active voice (“She measured the impact..”) is simpler, and it makes clear what you did and what was done by others. The passive voice (“The impact was measured…”) makes it easier to write ungrammatical or awkward sentences. If you use the passive voice, be especially wary of dangling participles.
• An excellent and widely used reference for English grammar and style is A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H. W. Fowler. Another is the “little book” by Strunk and White: “The Elements of Style”. Buy a least one of them and keep it close at hand.

9. Presentation of report
• Submit in MS Word or compatible (not PDF please).
• Double space your text using standard fonts.
• Be sure that you make several backup copies.

10 Bibliography and references
• Absolutely critical for a paper submitted for credit
• Follow our course guidelines for all references, foot- and end-notes, tables, figures and graphics, and closing bibliography
• You can find our detailed guidelines at http://wp.me/P1zD54-fA. Please follow them closely.

11. Depository of course papers.
• I keep copies of papers written for all my courses in a personal e-library.
• For those who chose to have their papers on file for future reference, we have a semi-open e-library for all agreed course papers at http://www.scribd.com/my_document_collections/3136287
• If you chose not to have your paper on file and available for consultation, please let me know and it will be entered as a private document and not available to anyone other than the professor and the ISG administration.
• For those reports that are entered in the library, the entire abstract and the keywords are entered into the reference section to facilitate identification and consultation.

12. Your comments, criticism, suggestions on these guidelines
• Please do not hesitate to share them with me via eric.britton@ecopllan.org

# # #

[1] I have freely used sections of the report of the University of New South Wales entitled “How to Write a PhD Thesis” in parts of the above. Their much more detailed guidelines are oriented to graduate students in the PhD program in physics. You can see their full article at http://phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html
 
# # #
 

Closing note to class – 13 July:

Let me stress that this is optional, but I do hope you will take the time to review these points and profit from them. If you chose to do so you will notice that I have extended the deadline, giving you the same amount of time that has been earlier accorded to the several students who have asked for and been granted extensions (18 July 2011).

In closing I would like to reiterate the point that came up on several occasions over the course of our intense working sessions. And that is that,  if a necessary first step is to understand the realities and challenges of sustainable development, both in itself and as the fundamental context of business in the next decades of this twenty-first century, it is no less important that we are able to articulate and communicate what we have learned to others, whether up or down on our personal and professional food chain. On several occasions during the course as we were making oral presentations, I harassed you a bit to make sure that you were speaking slowly, clearly articulating your words, and keeping your eye on your audience (and not just one person) to make sure that they were in fact following what you were sharing with them.

It is much the same thing when it comes to written communication. Ours may be a complex subject but that does not keep us from setting out our best thoughts on it in ways which are clear and understandable. It is admittedly hard work and none of us succeeds in it all the time. But that’s the job that needs to be done.

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