Standards for Graduate Writing

As you may have noticed, your graduate-level writing is held to a higher standard than was your undergraduate writing. Not only do you now have to demonstrate that you understand an issue, but you must also articulate a position on that issue. Each step of the writing process requires tremendous thought and planning, and your sources must be appropriate to your research agenda. Naturally, your grammar and diction must be superior to those of an undergraduate student.

The list below contains descriptions of the standards expected from quality scholarly writing. It may prove helpful in keeping you on track during your research as well as in revising and proofreading your drafts. Please note, these are GENERAL characteristics and standards; your instructors will no doubt have their own specifications for assignments.

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Characteristics of an excellent research paper

  • Topic is appropriate for the assignment
  • Topic is narrow enough to be thoroughly explored within the length of the assignment


  • Number of sources consulted meet or exceed the requirements of the assignment
  • Sources chosen are the best and most relevant for the topic and are credible and applicable
  • Most of available sources have been examined; no significant gaps in research
  • Includes examination of sources that are contradictory to the argument presented in the paper
  • Includes appropriate primary sources
  • Bibliography is accurate and complete

Citations and Quotes

  • Volume of direct quotes is appropriate for the assignment; footnotes/endnotes are accurate and complete
  • Citations are primarily paraphrases
  • Paraphrases are your own wording completely
  • Paraphrases correctly interpret the source
  • Paper includes few quotations; material is appropriate for quotation; quotations are exact


  • Thesis is clearly articulated - the position taken is readily apparent to readers
  • The thesis is an argument that analyzes, interprets, or explains the topic in a new light, not just reports on it
  • The thesis is not a summary statement or announcement


  • Each paragraph makes a point which supports the thesis
  • Sources cited support the point of the paragraph and of the paper and contribute toward the overall development of the argument
  • Sources that disagree with or contradict the thesis are addressed appropriately
  • Paraphrases, not quotations, predominate
  • Source material is clearly distinguished from your own ideas
  • Quotations serve a purpose; you absolutely couldn’t have said it better yourself
  • Quotations are introduced and clearly contextualized
  • Long quotations are correctly set off with block indentation, according to style manual guidelines
  • Language is clear, concise, and scholarly


  • Are in correct and appropriate format for citations (Turabian for MALS courses), including correct punctuation (colons vs. periods,etc.)
  • All source material is documented; no plagiarism, either unintentional or otherwise
  • All references are accurate (source and page number)

Works Cited

  • Employs correct and appropriate style (such as Turabian) for bibliography
  • Includes all sources used in the paper, including primary sources
  • Includes complete and accurate information
  • Are alphabetized by author’s last name or appropriate substitute, according to style guidelines
  • Indents second and subsequent lines
  • Uses appropriate format for each type of source: books, periodicals, reference works, etc.
  • Provides stable URL or DOI for each electronic source (e.g., Web sites, e-journals, listservs)


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