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Cognitive Science 10  
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How to Write a Project Paper


You will write three proejct papers for this class. Each one should be a carefully constructed presentation of a coherent idea. Every skilled writer knows that g ood writing is hard work. It can also be enormously rewarding and a lot of fun.

The project writeups serve two primary purposes. First, they give you an opportunity to engage and explore the concepts presented in this class. Second, they give you an opportunity to improve your writing skills.

Here are some steps to take. As you can see, it will not be possible to write a satisfactory project report iin one sitting or in one day. You should expect to spread your effort over the time between the posting of the assignment and the due date for project paper.

Study the project instructions . Be sure you understand what you are being asked to do.

Note the length limit on the papers. You must express your ideas in a small number of words . If you can make a clear statement of your ideas in less space than it allowed, that is fine. Adding material to bring the length up to the limit will not improve your grade.

Generate the raw materials from which you can construct your paper: Writing is a form of design and construction. In creating a document, you assemble pieces into a structure in which each piece contributes to the whole. You will need pieces before you can start putting them together.
Read the assigned materials and take notes while keeping the project requirements in mind. The "Preparation for the reading pages" include questions that will help you discover the most important ideas in each reading.
Come to lectures and listen carefully. Don't just write down what the professor says. Think about what is being presented. Talk to the IAs, the TAs, the professor, your classmates and friends about the ideas presented in the course.

Take an inventory of your ideas and make a preliminary outline.

Enter a write/read/reflect loop. Try to write down what you think. Read what you have written. Reflect on what you have written. At this point you can exploit one of the transformative effects of the technology known as literacy. It is normally very difficult to be skeptical of your own thoughts. When your ideas are written down, however, it is possible to interact with them in different ways from when they are engaged as mental constructs. Get some distance from your own work and regard it critically. Are the sentences you have written true? Do they really capture what you are thinking? Continue the write/read/reflect loop until your ideas make sense and are clearly expressed. Now you have a first draft of your paper.

I find it very difficult to write a paper from beginning to end. This is because the material at the beginning of the paper must prepare the reader for what comes later, and until you know what comes later, you will not be sure what to put up front. For this reason, I usually start by writing about the main points of my essay. I then go back and write an introduction that provides the reader with what they will need to understand my main points. Finally, I reflect on the introduction and main points, and use that reflection to compose a concluding discussion section.

Consult the Plagiarism Tutorial for instructions on how to make proper citiations. Insert the appropriate citations in your paper and create a reference list. Read, reflect, and rewrite your paper. Now you have a second draft. This would be a good time to compare the length of your draft to the assigned page limit. If you are far in excess of the limit, don't worry. you should be looking for ways to tighten up the prose in your essay.

Read your essay again, this time focusing on the organization of ideas. Your essay should have a few main sections. You should clearly state what is the essay about, what have others said about this topic, what you say about it, and how you support your arguments. You might want to conclude with a brief reflection on what is known and what is still not known. You should create understandable headers for each of the major sections of your paper. You might even outline your paper again.
Check paragraph structure. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that captures or introduces the content of the paragraph. Make sure that every sentence in each paragraph belongs in that paragraph. Check for redundant text. Rewrite to produce a paper with a clear organization.

Now read your essay again, this time focusing on grammar. Grammar is not just a set of rules that you must obey, it is a set of tools that you use to control your reader's attention. You use grammatical constructions to highlight some ideas and put others in the background. Grammatical constructions specify the logical relations among the concepts in your paper. You should favor the use of the active voice over the use of the passive voice. You may use first person pronouns. Make changes as needed to produce a coherent structure of relationships among the concepts in your essay.

Now read your essay one more time. This time focus on word choice and spelling. Word choice is important. Use a good dictionary to help you understand the range of meaning of the words you are using. There is always a temptation to use highfalutin vocabulary. Resist this temptation. You may use uncommon words if they are aposite.

As you work, you will find that you are learning your own writing style. Try to be direct and clear. Eschew obfuscation. Try not to be too stiff and dry, but also don't be informal or chatty. A project paper is not a magazine article. Your primary goal is to inform the reader, not to entertain the reader.

Finally, consider the fomatting of your essay. You notice that fomatting comes last in this discussion. That is because the appearance of your paper is much less important than the ideas it contains. However, you should be sure that the formatting of your paper makes it easy for the instructional staff to read. Make a final check of the length of your paper. If your paper is too long, you can shorten it by reading the document again looking first for redundancies, then for sentences that are not needed. If you can't achieve the length limit that way, you will have to look again at the organization and the paragraph structure. Learning to write concisely is a very useful skill.

A complete essay will have a title, a body of text, a reference list, and (optional) figures. Reference list and figures do not count in the page limit.

Use font size 10 or 12 and double space the lines with normal margins. Do not try to make your paper fit the length limit by reducing the font size below 10 or by narrowing the margins. This will only make your paper more difficult to read, and will put the person who will assign your grade in a bad mood.