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Example section from a paper on German academic writing style

 What you should know about writing academic papers in linguistics

Hubert Truckenbrodt SfS Tübingen, 2004

 3. Presentation

 4. Formal issues

 3 Presentation

3.1 Form of the paper: Universal

Your paper should always have:

 • A title page. Your name, class, university, other information if you want. Date, and title.

 • An introduction. This may give some background and lay out your question. Or it may sum up what you are doing in the paper. It may have yet other content, so long as it sets the stage for what you are doing in your paper.

 • Several sections for the body of the paper. (see below)

 • A conclusion. This sums up your results. It could also remind the reader of your main arguments. It may also mention further questions.

 • References. A list of the literature you are citing in the paper.

 Important: Not only should the paper have a clear structure. You should also make sure in the text that the reader always knows what you are doing at any point in the paper.

For example, if you are presenting examples so you can argue with them against one theory, the reader should know before you present the examples, why you are introducing them. Or, if you have a section introducing an additional aspect of your topic, the reader should know why this matters in the overall context of your paper.


 3.2 Body of the paper: non-universal

American-style (caricature)

 Right after the introduction, the author makes it clear, what the claim of the paper is.

"In this paper, I present a solution to the old puzzle why eggs play no role in the

reproduction of whales. I will show that whales lay eggs, which dissolve in salt water

about one minute after they were laid. And that is the reason eggs are not used for

reproduction with whales. ..."

 After that, the arguments for the claim are presented, if possible comparing the new theory with earlier claims. State the strong arguments that you have. After that, conclusion, and shut up. You say what you have to say, and that's that.

 Traditional German-style (caricature)

 Did the Ancient Greeks have something to say about the topic? What has been written about it since? Extra credit if you find someone who has commented on it a few centuries ago, and has since been overlooked.

From there, the author builds up slowly and steadily. After about half of the paper, the specific question of the paper comes into view. First in a vague, general way, then somewhat more concretely. One starts to suspect that there may also be a claim made later on. A preference of the author becomes noticeable.

At some point, however, the paper ends. Sorry, we are out of space. More next time.

 Try to make yourself maximally clear

 There are several reasons:

 • It is reader-friendly.

 • One can think and talk about the merit of your ideas and thoughts (rather than getting lost trying to figure out what you mean).

 • It helps you yourself to become clear on what exactly it is you want to say. It may lead to clarification and development of your ideas.

 There is one piece of bad news: Writing clearly involves some amount of work on the presentation to make it clear, in fact, often a lot of work. This involves clarifying small things, specifics you are discussing. It also involves clarity in finding a good structure in which you present your material, so the reader can easily find her way through it, and can use her energies on understanding the specifics in each part. The good news: you may start enjoying the process, as you learn things in the process, as your ideas clarify, and as you work towards a nice piece of text for your reader or readers to appreciate.

It takes at least two steps to get there, which are steps in any well-written paper:

 A. Work out in detail what you want to say. Some people do this in the computer, not writing full text, but examples, claims, and summaries of what they want to say.

 (Later, they can paste this in a different order, and add text.) Others do it on paper. For many, it's easier to think about the material when they write on paper.

 B. Once you know what you want to say, you think about the best way of presenting it. Clarifying the main point at the beginning of the paper is a good idea. Structuring the presentation well helps the reader a lot to follow what you want to say. It is important to realize that the way you arrive at your results is usually different from the best way of presenting your results.

 If you manage to first do A. and then B., and then you are finished, you are exceptionally good. For most people, once they get to B. and to writing the text, they understand other aspects of their material, which may force them to change the claim/points a bit, which may force them to rethink the presentation, etc. It's a normal and productive process. Working towards clarity in the presentation leads to working towards clear points, and a clear understanding of what you are doing. Don't shy away from it. And don't overdo it.

 3.3 Be clear and be yourself

Write for someone with your level of general level of knowledge of linguistics. At the same time, write for someone who does not have your knowledge on your specific topic. So you don't have to introduce general linguistic concepts, but you should introduce specifics relevant to your topic.

 Writing an academic paper doesn't mean that you should imitate some academic style. To begin with, it's enough if you don't make jokes in the paper, and don't use swearwords.

Writing a paper is for making other people understand the results of your thinking about your topic. Feel free to use your own words, and explain in the best way you can, like you would explain to someone sitting next to you.

 3.4 Be precise

From there, you can make your work more 'academic' by increasing your substance, clarity, and understanding of things, and presenting things accordingly. If you notice that you are using a fuzzy formulation, think about what exactly you want to say. This may involve thinking more about your point. It often also involves learning to work with tools, and looking things up. That's very important to learn and to integrate with your work.

 • If you are not sure about the spelling of a word, look the word up in a dictionary, or use a spelling-checker in your computer.

 • If you are unsure what exactly a relevant word means, look it up in a dictionary. Then use it with more confidence (or use a different word).

 • If you are unsure about a linguistic term, look it up in a linguistic dictionary. Then you can use it with more confidence and precision.

[English, good for purposes of basic studies] Crystal, David. 1992. An encyclopedic dictionary of language and languages. Oxford: Blackwell. [Brecht-Bau library: GG 700.394; for buying in book-stores or on the web, go for the 2001 version A dictionary of language: € 16,50]

[English, advanced and more detail] Crystal, David. 2003. A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics. Fifth edition. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell. [Brecht-Bau library: GG 700.393b; book-stores or web­order: €28,50]

[German] Bußmann, Hadumod. 2002. Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. Third edition. Stuttgart: Kröner. [Brecht-Bau library: GG 700.333b; book-stores or web-order: €29,80]

• If you are using somebody's theory, you may often have to go back to the paper you are working from, to be sure you render its content correctly. It's important to do this, where necessary.

 3.5 Give credit where credit is due

 Another aspect of writing an 'academic' paper is that you learn to be conscientious [G. gewissenhaft] and precise about where ideas that you are using are coming from. The crudest part of this is that you should of course never present something as your own that you got from somewhere else.

However, it is more generally important that you credit the source of what you present. If you are using an example from one of your sources, say so, and cite the source. If you are using a part of a theory of someone, say so, and cite the source. Many people, even in published papers, also credit other people for ideas they received in conversations. "Richard Kayne (personal communication) suggested to me that ... ." If you find something on the internet that you are using: same thing – find out the source, and credit the source. [You don't know what 'source' means? -- be sure to use a dictionary ...! You don't know what 'dictionary' means? Ask your best friend. Academics is about understanding things and figuring things out. You don't know what 'means' means? -- Apply for president in the USA.]

 4 Formal issues

4.1 Examples

You may write your papers in German or in English. When you use an example from another language, make it your habit to give both a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss, and a translation, as in the following example from Diola Fogny (taken from my field methods class in the WS 2003/04, session from Jan.12., protocol by Miriam Germann; the gloss and the English translation are added here).

(1)  si  fay-as    yn-i 

4(PL) father-DEF  3(SG) dog-POSS.4(PL)  <gloss> 

'the dog of the fathers'  <translation> 

 The amount of detail can be adapted to the purpose. With a language that few people here know, the detailed gloss and the translation are adequate. For an English example in a German paper, you don't need a gloss or translation. For a German example in an English paper, you should at least include a translation. If an understanding of the words or their order matters, a word-by-word gloss. If the morphemes matter, accordingly.

 4.2 Citations in the text

"According to Selkirk (1995), monosyllabic function words are ..." "Monosyllabic function words are unstressed in English (Selkirk 1995)."

You can alternate in the same paper. There are other styles and different preferences, but this is a simple system that you can use. Make sure that the citations in the text and the ones in the list of references at the end of your paper are exactly the same.


 4.3 Citations in the list of references

There are different styles and different preferences. Here is one that you can use.


Last_name, first_name. Year. Title<in italics>. City: Publisher.


Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on government and binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, Noam and Morris Halle. The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row.

 Articles in journals:

Last_name, first_name. Year. Title. Journal<in italics> Volume:Pages.


Halle, Morris. 1973. The accentuation of Russian nouns. Language 49:312-348.

Book sections:

(There are often books that are edited by one person, containing papers

written by other people. If you cite a paper authored by person A in such a book edited by

person E, use this format)

 Author_last_name, Author_first_name. Year. Title_of_paper. In Title_of_book<in italics>

 ed./eds. Editor_first_name Editor_last_name (, other editors), Pages. City: Publisher. Thus: von Stechow, Arnim and Susanne Uhmann. 1986. Some remarks on focus projection. In

Topic, focus, and configurationality, eds. Werner Abraham and Sjaak de Meij, 295­320. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

 Dissertation/Master- or other thesis:

Last_name, first_name. Year. Title. University: Kind_of_thesis.


Büring, Daniel. 1995. The 59th Street bridge accent. On the meaning of topic and focus. Universität Tübingen: Doctoral dissertation.

 Notice that nothing is italicized in the dissertation. In the first three cases, what is italicized is something that makes it easy to look this up in a library: the book title, and the name of the journal.

 A standard manual on further issues of style in English is:

The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th Edition, 2003. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

[The 14th edition, which you can also use, is in the Brecht-Bau library at Allg J 50/Man 1b]



Peter MacMonagle

UNC Charlotte/PH-Ludwigsburg

Summer Teaching Assistant (SoSe 2005)

Updated Links: SoSe 2017



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