Robin Canuel

Liaison Librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences Library

Q: What process do you go through when writing an academic paper?

A: Writing has never been an easy activity for me. I often struggle with basic writing tasks such as correspondence and report writing, so I find writing academic prose especially challenging. Now that I have accumulated a significant amount of academic writing experience, I often find myself sharing certain strategies that I use in my own research and writing when working with students and faculty. To help illustrate the value of engaging with the scholarly literature, and to motivate students to do in-depth library research, I sometimes tell students that I find writing difficult myself, and that scholars all have varying levels of writing skill. However, if you start your writing process by reading, and then citing, high quality relevant articles and books, this will directly lead to a higher quality final product. This is something all researchers can do, and is independent of their particular level of writing skill. I usually spend a significant amount of time searching for, and reading, the available academic literature related to my topic before engaging in the actual writing.

Composing the literature review section of a scholarly article is often the most challenging part of writing an academic paper. It is not a simple task to bring together many pieces of writing and present them in a coherent and interesting narrative. Whether reporting the results of a research project, or writing a conceptual essay, there is great value in summarizing associated publications to place your paper in context and to help explain to your audience the importance and value of what they are about to read. After I have read the literature I have found, and chosen to cite, I find it very helpful to see what others have said about these publications when they have cited them in their own papers. Identifying these publications is easily done using citation indexes such as Web of Science and Scopus (which McGill Library subscribes to), and this can also be done using Google Scholar. All three of these resources can potentially identify other more recent articles or books, which were not found during your initial research using subject specific bibliographic databases. I suggest conducting a cited reference search on all of the publications you have chosen to cite in your paper using all three of these tools because each of these resources indexes different materials.

Recommended writing resources:
Web of Science  
Google Scholar 

Photo credit: Merika Ramundo