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Writing in the Health Sciences: A resource for faculty and students: Writing Papers: Tips

Focuses on resources for master's and professional doctorate students and their teachers.

Created by Health Science Librarians

Writing Tips for Professional Students in the Health Sciences

Here are some tips to help you clarify the details of your writing assignment and what is expected by your instructor at this level of your academic career.  When in doubt, ask!

  • Start in plenty of time to understand and clarify your assignment, get help as needed, consult resources, learn to use a citation manager. 
    • This is in addition to the time you will need to spend getting an overview of your topic, searching the literature and organizing your articles/citations, reading the literature, organizing your thoughts, drafting and editing your paper (may require multiple iterations), proof-reading and making final edits. 
  • First, read the assignment.
    • Review the specifics of your assignment in your syllabus, course website, and/or other materials provided by your instructor. 
      • Consult with the instructor if you are not clear on the purpose, type, structure, or other aspects of your assignment. 
    • Do you understand the the heart of the assignment? Is this an issues paper in which you are expected to form a thesis and defend it?  Is it primarily a paper in which you need to cover the relevant, current literature on a research topic?  Is it expected to take the form of a literature review or annotated bibliography? Other? 
    • You may find this Understanding Assignments video or handout from the Writing Center useful. 
    • Clarify any details you don't understand or you're not sure of. 
    • Make sure you understand the terminology your instructor is using to explain the assignment. 
    • Make sure you are clear about avoiding plagiarism and citing sources
  • Is there an expected length?
  • Is there an expected or typical structure/format?
    • For example, do you know the usual structure and elements of a scientific/scholarly article? of a literature review?  of an annotated bibliography?  It may help you to look at several examples of the type of paper you are expected to write.  Do not just copy the chapter headings/subheadings of a book on the subject. 
  • What and how many literature sources are appropriate for you to consult and cite?
    • For graduate/professional student papers, this generally will be peer-reviewed articles from the academic/scholarly (scientific) literature in your field and/or related fields.  
    • Most often, you will be focusing on and citing primary sources, although you may begin your research by consulting some review articles.
    • At this level (master's and professional doctorate), you will not generally be citing private individuals' websites or blogs, or Wikipedia as sources for your papers.  
    • You will be expected to consult and cite multiple primary, scholarly, peer-reviewed, scientific resources.  The number will depend upon your topic, the nature of the assignment, and how many resources it takes to cover your topic adequately.  When in doubt, consult with your instructor. 
      • Most students find that they save time in the long run and have an easier time citing sources in the format required, if they learn to use a bibliographic citation manager (such as F1000Workspace or Mendeley). 
  • Are there other expectations? tips? logistics? 
    • When is the final paper due? 
      • Are drafts or segments (e.g., the literature review) due prior to the due date for the final paper? 
    • How are you expected to submit the paper (email, via Sakai or course website, other?)? 
    • Must you sign an Honor pledge? 
    • Is there a particular format you are expected to follow for your in-text citations and reference list/bibliography? 
    • Other?
  • If you're not clear on any aspect of the assignment, consult your syllabus, course site, and other course materials...
    • and ASK your instructor if you are still not clear!
    • leave time to attend office hours, consult writing resources, get help