Once you’ve received your writing assignment, you’ll need to determine what kind of paper you’re expected to write. Knowing this information will shape how you conduct your research and ultimately how you structure your paper. Not knowing this information will cost you time as you do unnecessary work or could lead you to writing a paper that doesn’t meet your instructor’s expectations, meaning a low grade.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of papers you could write:
• Report – In this type of paper, you describe what you learned from your readings and research. This is what was taught in elementary school: for example, the teacher might say “Write a report about cardinals” and you would read encyclopedias and some entries in scattered books about birds then collate all of that data into something sensible, making you a mini-expert on the songbird.
• Position – This perhaps is the most common type of paper for high school students and undergraduates to write: They take a position and support it with evidence. For example, they might take the position that the death penalty should be abolished and then offer three supporting points as to why it should be: it is an inhumane and barbaric form of punishment, it is an irreversible sentence that could be carried out against an innocent person, and it doesn’t deter the crime it punishes.
• Analysis – The more advanced the class, the greater the chance that students will be asked to analyze an issue. In a sense, the analysis paper begins as little more than a report, but at its end offers conclusions about this data. For example, an analysis paper might examine both sides of the gun control issue and present the data used to support those viewpoints. The challenge is to draw some conclusion about that data and hence the validity of those arguments. In that sense, an analysis often ends acting like a position paper.
Each of these types of papers can be written using a variety of structures (we’ll examine those in a future entry).
Knowing what the instructor expects will guide your research in the days ahead. If writing the position paper about the death penalty, you may not need to spend a lot of time researching the arguments for capital punishment but instead to go very in depth finding evidence and explaining the reasoning that supports your position. If you wrote an analysis paper about the same topic, you’d have to spend as much time researching one side of the argument as the other.
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