WR 121: Week 8 Organization, Structure, and Peer Reviewed Articles


  • Organization from paragraph to global structure
  • Crafting an introduction
  • MLA citations again...
  • Finding, interpreting, and effectively using peer reviewed sources

Organization & Structure

In terms of each individual paragraphs, the Portland State Writing Center puts it nicely: "The easiest way to make sure your paragraph has a clear, single focus is to include a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph that states the main idea. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph should develop, support, or elaborate upon the main idea stated in the topic sentence. This might involve: discussing examples, details, facts, or statistics; using quotes and paraphrased material from sources; examining and evaluating causes and effects; defining or describing terms." Simply put, each paragraph should incorporate the following:

  • A claim
  • Evidence
  • Interpretation and application of evidence to your topic
  • Transition to further exploration of this area or the next idea/concept/analysis needed to fully explore your thesis.

First and foremost, each paragraph you include in your paper should tackle one specific thing. As you build you paper, you will stack well-constructed paragraphs on top of each other to form a logical piece of writing that makes sense and expresses your ideas clearly.

  • First, introduce the topic and convince a reader to read on by answering the most important question you can answer for a reader: so what?
  • Then, your next paragraph should provide a road map of what is to come. This will help a reader feel anchored and build trust as you deliver what you promise. (Highly skilled, published writers can sometimes evade this step, but for most college papers it will be important to include this information.)
  • Then, before you launch into the main body of your paper, you will also want to spend some time defining key concepts and terms a reader needs to understand to follow your paper, reasoning, and claims. If you are writing a paper about James Baldwin and racism, you may want to include historical perspective that helps situate your author's text in a timeline that will make sense to all readers, even if they aren't history majors. If you are writing a paper on a particular theory, such as media framing, you will want to provide the definitions for the key concepts will be discussing in this paper. In communications studies, media framing is one of the most studied topics and key scholars have developed often conflicting definitions of what they are looking at. If you don't share the definition you are using with a citation, a reader won't understand your analysis.
  • Your body paragraphs are the meat of your paper. Here is where you get down to what you really have to say or explore.
  • After you have presented the main points of your paper, you may need to address obvious counterarguments or problems with the topic. For example, if you are writing are analyzing an important research study that examined race, you will need to include any flaws you may have found in the research thus far. Often research studies rely on college students as participants and this can influence the results in specific ways. You should state this in your paper clearly and make suggestions for future research that could address that flaw. Or if you are writing about a topic for which there vocal and outspoken opponents, this is where you would describe their criticisms and answer them to the best of your ability.
  • Finally, your conclusion should provide a concise summary of the paper with a thorough analysis. This is where you get to insert your view, because this is where you are interpreting all you've found and put together so far. It may be worth including a call to action, depending on your topic.

Remember, while you may be covering a wide range of concepts, everything you write and include in your paper should serve your larger purpose by supporting your thesis. If you are including something that doesn't support your thesis, you've been distracted and the information needs to be cut or clarified. Once your paper is complete, you should be able to summarize each paragraph in one sentence that describes the paragraph's purpose like introduces topic, provides evidence, addresses problem our counter argument, suggests future action, etc. If you can't provide this summary, then you may need to cut that section.


Crafting an Introduction

As a writer, I can think of few things as important as how you open a piece. It needs to draw the reader in, give them something to be interested in, and make them want to stay with you until the end. This is something that is often not explored in academic writing, but I think it is really important. Just because you are writing for a college class, does not mean you should abandon all the things that make a work compelling to read. It also makes it more interesting for you to write!

Here are several options for how to begin an article, essay, or paper:

Anecdote: A story that will draw your reader into the paper. Here is an example from a story I wrote about a Google engineer who is trying to help indigenous communities.Scene: Open in situ. Is there a way to recreate a scene based on what you read? For example, Daniel Kahneman writes about decision-making and all the ways that this can go wrong. Here’s what I would do if I were writing about one of his more famous concepts, the availability bias, which suggests that we are more likely to think something is going to happen based on our experiences. I might open with this:

  • It’s been almost ten years since the fire. My then-future husband’s house burned down on our very first date. As we stood there in the pre-dawn hours while the firemen packed up their gear, we wondered what to do. The sound of water dripping from everything made is seem as if it was raining and the smell of smoke was thick in the air. Since that day, we’ve both developed a habit if triple checking to make sure everything is off. Once you’ve lost everything once, you tend to overestimate the likelihood of the event happening again. This is what Daniel Kahneman calls . . .

The trick here is to be really detailed and include sensory details that really frame what you saw. For an example of this, see this article I co-authored with a friend. It is science writing, but we opened in scene to make the technical details we were about to explore more palatable.

Profile: Open by introducing an important figure in your story. Example – When she was ten years old Dr. Susan Smith discovered what would become a life-long obsession with archaeology…

Background: Give us some details about why this story matters. (Warning: Don’t be boring and hit your readers with data and statistics right out of the gate – be creative and compelling.) I really like Dr. Cynthia Coleman’s blog post on Black Swan and Zika virus.

Quotation: Is there one quote that perfectly articulates what you have to say? (Warning: I should add that this is my least favorite opener and I think it is pretty lazy to let someone else open up your writing, and editors I have worked with agree, but some people still think it is a valuable options so I include it here.)

Dialogue: Similar to scene setting, this can really draw a reader in, if it is done well.

Question: Imagine a world where…? This can be done, but it can also be overdone too. Make sure you ask really good question(s) and answer them artfully. If you ask more than one question, there's a sort of unwritten rule of three, which suggests three is the best number of questions for symmetry and rhythm.

Contrast: Do you have two polar opposites that perfectly illustrate what you are writing about? Bruce Ballenger (author of the text this material is drawn from) writes about one student paper where his student, Dusty, opened with “a comparison between her friend Susan, who grew up believing in Snow White and Cinderella and married at twenty-one, and herself, who never believed in princes or white horses and was advised by her mother that it was risky to depend on a man” (Ballenger, 186).

Announcement: Open with what the paper is about: With police violence making headlines at tragically regular intervals, we set out to discover . . .

Remember, these are only examples, and you can introduce your paper in any way that makes sense. Just remember to answer one really important questions about your paper: so what?

Homework for Wednesday:

  • Write three different openings for your paper. Experiment and try something you may never have considered before. (While you may have a clear favorite, I would still like to see all three options.)
  • On Wednesday, we'll exchange introduction with a classmate who will read all three and see if he or she can answer these questions: What is the paper going to be about? What is the “central question I’m trying to answer”? (Ballenger, 187) Can you guess my thesis?
  • As always, your homework needs to be typed and formatted in MLA style. Please. I'm begging now.

MLA Citations...Again

TWO Critical Aspects of MLA Citation

  • In-text citation: Called parenthetical citation, this is a method of including specific information in the body of your text whenever you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing the ideas of others. Failing to give credit via in-text citations is a form of plagiarism (Russell et al.). You must refer to the guidebooks and websites widely and freely available for specific technical aspects of citing different types of work (i.e. electronic, multiple authors, etc). According to Russell et al., "Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text, must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry in the Works Cited List."
  • Works Cited
  • Sample Paper
Learning to speak the language in order to engage in academic discourse and scholarship is your responsibility as a student, and there are countless resources available, including me. Use them. Finally, you need to understand that MLA citations are not busy work or irritating technical steps to take to satisfy some stodgy professor. To use proper citations is to participate conversations that seek to understand, shape, and improve our daily lives with evidence-based reasoning and critical thinking.

Works Cited

Russel et al.. MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics. OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab. 18 Nov 2011. Web. Accessed 26 Feb 2017. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/02/

Russel et al.. MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format. OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab. 2 Aug 2016. Web. Accessed 26 Feb 2017. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/05/

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

  • What does it mean to be peer reviewed?
  • Finding peer reviewed sources
  • Evaluating articles in library database
  • Reading and understanding peer reviewed articles

What is peer review?

In class, we've conducted peer review workshops of our papers. In our work together, you've shared your papers with your peers, and asked them to review them in order to strengthen your writing by both giving and receiving feedback on the work. This is a pretty standard convention in writing classes, but not what we are looking at right now for your research essays. In academic, or scholarly journals, peer review is similar but conducted in a more formal setting. The standard conventions of peer review are:

  • Submissions to the journal are reviewed thoroughly by a panel of experts on the subject. Ideally, this review process is blind, meaning that the reviewers and reviewees remain anonymous to each other. (This isn't always the case and is a highly contested aspect of peer review because some folks believe, I think rightly so, that the review process privileges those with stature or prestige in their field over others who are lesser known when anonymity is stripped away. Would you critique your mentor as harshly as you would a stranger? Some argue that this has made it quite difficult for women and people of color to gain access in some fields and can elevate some ideas over others in a way that doesn't always serve the disciplines, but does serve the egos of those involved.)
  • The reviewers send the paper back to the author(s) with recommendations (or demands) for revisions. This process can happen several times.
  • Once all agree that the writing, methodology, data collection, and interpretation are sound, the piece is published in that journal.

Once published in a scientific journal, the ideas and information becomes a building block in our understanding of the phenomenon being explored; the work is cited by others and included in the development of new studies that expand on the findings or examine the results in a new light. This is considered by many to be the apex or highest level of the academic conversation you are beginning to join.

FINding peer reviewed sources

  • PCC Library
  • Links to glossaries of terms commonly found in research studies for the social sciences, health, science (There's too much here to really dig into, but always remember that Google is your friend when you are feeling lost or confused!)
  • Have I mentioned how awesome librarians are? If you can't find what you are looking for, you should ask for help. I've wasted hours searching for articles only to watch the librarian pull dozens up in an instant. They are superheros!!!

Evaluating your sources

Reading scholarly articles

While each discipline has its own quirks and conventions (and within that, each journal has their own quirks!), generally speaking, scholarly articles are relatively consistent in how the information is organize and presented to you. Most articles will be broken into these five sections:

  • Abstract: Simple, short summary of what is contained within the study or paper
  • Introduction & literature review: The introduction tells you what is in the paper or study and provides context, background, and rationale for conducting this line of research or inquiry. A literature review is a comprehensive, and usually quite exhaustive, survey of the existing research already out there on the given topic. A literature review is usually conducted before a study is launched in order to see what is known and unknown. A literature review also helps researchers unearth flaws in previous studies, not as a means to be critical of others, but as a means for enhancing the study they hope to conduct.
  • Methods: This section covers all the ins and outs of how the study was conducted; it will include information about how the study was executed or how the data was collected. This is where the jargon and technical language starts to feel a bit overwhelming in the beginning.
  • Results: In the results section, the study authors will provide all of their data and findings, as well as the methods used for analyzing and interpreting the data. If you're new to all this and you didn't lose your mind in the methods section, you will in the results.
  • Discussion: The authors discuss their interpretation of all they collected and learned. Sometimes the discussion session includes a conclusion.

Tips for wading into these murky waters:

  • Take your time, this stuff is complex.
  • Look up unfamiliar terms and annotate your copy of the article.
  • Read multiple times. Even those familiar with the materials will often read multiple times, because this stuff is really complex.
  • Don't get too bogged down with the methods and results. If you haven't taken statistics and this isn't your major, you probably won't get anything from this. I do, however, scan the methods and look at things like sample size, and other clues that may help me evaluate the findings, but I don't let myself loose too much time here and neither should you.

Source material: Oregon State University Library

And, here's one more resource...

Next Week...

  • For homework, locate, print, and read this article: Thibodeau, Paul H. and Lera Boroditsky. "Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning." Plos ONE, vol. 6, no. 2, Feb. 2011, pp. 1-11. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016782.
  • Write a short 250 word summary of the article and submit in MLA format with a proper citation.
  • Work on your papers and feel free to email me with questions and concerns. If you think you'll want to see me for office hours next week, you'll probably want to email me to set something up since others may have similar needs. I arrive on campus and am usually at my desk no later than 11:15.

Have a great weekend! (But not so great that you don't get your work done...)

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Jenny Woodman

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