Research Paper Writing Guide
Dr. Michael I. Niman, Professor

Buffalo State Communication Department


 Know the difference between a Bibliography and a References Cited list.

·       A Bibliography is a general list of sources that address the subject matter of a book or paper.  It serves as a tool for readers who are interested in doing further research on the subject.

·       A References Cited list contains only those sources that are specifically cited in your paper. It allows readers to see specifically what sources you used.

Research papers must have a list of References Cited.  A bibliography is optional. It is not needed and they are not common on research papers.

Use a recognized academic citation style.  Use the same style consistently throughout your paper.  Do not mix styles.  Faculty members generally accept papers using either the APA, MLA or Chicago citation styles.  I prefer the Chicago style, but will accept papers written in APA or MLA style as well.  A short Chicago style guide which is available online at: Citation examples begin on page 10. I do not care what style you use, as long as you consistently use one coherent style.

Entries on your References Cited list must be complete, including publisher information as outlined in the style guide. For material that you accessed online, the complete citation must also include the date that the material was accessed.

All ideas and facts that appear in your paper, and are not your original ideas, should be attributed to their source.  This means you should either reference the author in your narration, with an in-text citation, or with a foot noted citation.

All citations should reference material listed on the References Cited list.  The reader should be able to easily determine where your information comes from by using your in text citations and your References Cited list.  You should not have sources cited in text within your paper that are not on your References Cited list. Your References Cited list should be in alphabetical order (according to the style guide that you are using)so that a reader can easily find a cited reference. For this reason, in text citations should reference the name that is listed as the first author on the References Cited list.

All material listed on the References Cited list should be cited in the body of the text with in-text citations (see examples below). Don’t inflate this list by listing material you don’t actually cite in your paper (this would amount to academic fraud and be very bad!). Proof read your paper and make certain your citations and your References Cited lists match up.

Your in-text citations or footnotes should include the number of the magazine, book or newspaper page where your information comes from. 

You should always list your citations by author, even if the author is an organization and not a person.  Citations should not listed by title. If there is no identifiable author, then the author is "Anonymous." But you must ask yourself, do you really want to cite a nameless source, and how credible is a nameless source? If the author is not apparent, but the publication is (as in a newspaper editorial without a byline) then the publication is both the author, and the publication.

When quoting experts, witnesses, authors etc., introduce them in your text.  Don’t simply cite a speaker when we have no idea who this person is or what their credentials are [e.g. “According to Michael Niman (Niman 1997:31)”].  Who is he?  Instead, introduce your speaker the first time you cite him or her [e.g. “According to Michael I. Niman, author of People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia,” or “according to Buffalo State journalism professor Michael Niman.”].  Subsequent quotes from the same source don’t require detailed introductions ["Niman argues . . . "].  Simple citations of sources that you are not quoting, but want to credit for providing facts or ideas, don’t require an introduction.

Internet databases and related web sites comprise online libraries.  You should not cite a search engine (Google) or referral site (Wikipedia) as your source any more than you would cite the "Bulger Library" as the source for a quote from a book that you found there.  The library is simply a depository for information.  You cite the book you find in the library, not the library itself.  The same is true for online sources.  When you access a journal via an online database such as JStor, you cite the journal. But since you do not have the journal in your hands, hence cannot verify that what you are citing is actually in the journal, you also cite the database that you used to access the journal, and the date that you accessed it (this is how scholars and journalists cover their butts).  Style guide offer specific instruction for how to do this. Generally, at the end of your References Cited entry, you add "Accessed via . . ." and a date (You do not need to cite the long long url that leads to a specific article, as website managers often change internal referring urls when they maintain their sites). The reason for the detailed citation of material you access online is that with a print magazine, journal or book, we can verify the accuracy of your citation by looking at the print version. With material that you accessed online, the material is only as accurate as the online database where you accessed it. Hence, you cite both. And you cite the date since the internet is not static, and hence, online material gets edited, whereas a book in the library does not.

Be Careful not to br fooled by a counterfeit website that purports to be something it is not. For example, look at the website for the World Trade Organization ( and an imposter site ( created by The Yesmen.

Chicago Citation Examples:  The following in text citations (Niman 2011:31) and (Niman 2011:213) refer to page 31 and page 213 of the same book, which would be listed on the References Cited pages as:  

Niman, Michael I.
2011    People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia 2nd Edition . Knoxville : University of Tennessee Press.

The following three entries from the same author are for page 83 of a book (McClusky 2001:83) a journal article (McClusky 1999) and a chapter from an anthology (McClusky 1993).

McClusky, Laura J.
2001    Here Our Culture is Hard": Stories of Domestic Violence from A Belizean Mayan Community. Austin : University of Texas Press.
1999    Domestic Violence Among Belizean Maya.  Humanity and Society 23(4): 319-338.
1993     Pity The Bones By Wandering River, Which Still in Lovers' Dreams Appear As Men. (with Robert K. Dentan) In The Functions of Dreaming, Milton Kramer and Alan Moffitt, eds. Albany : SUNY Press.

For details about other types of citations, see the above referenced style guide (Reference examples start on page 10). Underlined titles can be substituted for italicized titles



Clearly label your paper with your name, the date, the course number, the assignment (e.g. “Semester Paper”) and the subject and the title of your paper.

Your paper must clearly address the assigned topic.  Any deviation from the assigned topic will earn you a failing grade unless such a variance is approved by the professor (get it in writing and attach it to the paper).  In other words – don’t attempt to recycle papers you have written for other classes (it's that fraud thing again).

Follow all instructions carefully.  If the instructions require that you cite specific books or course materials (e.g. “cite all four course textbooks”) in your text, there is a reason for this.  If you do not follow instructions that clearly specify what is required on the paper, your grade will suffer greatly since you are not turning in the paper as required.  If you are unsure about what is required, ask the professor. If your professor requires that you print out, complete and attach a checklist to your paper, be sure to do that. Such checklists are valuable tools for students seeking good grades.

Encyclopedias are not “scholarly” or “academic” sources.  They are quick and dirty abbreviated sources of basic information whose quality fluctuates widely.  While High School teachers might accept such sources on class “reports,” they are not acceptable sources for college level “research papers.” You can cite an encyclopedia if you are critiquing an entry, however.

Avoid quoting dictionary definitions of words unless you feel it is absolutely necessary to make a pertinent point that is not readily apparent (e.g. “According to the Oxford American Dictionary, the word ‘amok’ comes from the Malay word of the same spelling, which means rushing in a frenzy”).  It is a safe assumption that your professor is well versed in the words pertaining to his or her field of expertise and does not need you to define them. Dictionaries are not good sources for social theory. Hence, for example, the dictionary definition of a word such as "anarchy" while referencing common usages ("absence or denial of any authority or established order," or "confusion and disorder"), does not accurately define anarchism ("a social philosophy promoting an inclusive nonhierarchical participatory democracy").

Wiki Warning: Wikipedia is a user moderated interactive Internet database (see "Internet" above under "citations" and "Web" below). It is not an encyclopedia (see "encyclopedia" above), nor does it portend to be one. In and of itself, it is not a source -- it is a conduit. The information on Wiki pages is posted by users. If you want to cite information from Wikipedia, you need to cite the author of the line or data that you are referencing. You can find the author by studying the edit history on the page in question. This, however, can be very time consuming, and will usually just yield a nom de Wiki or handle. If you can't trace an author, then the author is "Anonymous" and the page source is the Wikipedia URL. Wikipedia is useful, however, in pointing you toward credible sources. Almost all of the credible pieces of information posted on Wikipedia pages are cited to linked sources. Follow the link and cite that source if you deem it credible. Citing Wikipedia as a sole source will damage your assignment grade (by one letter grade in my upper division classes).

Blog posts have the same credibility as bathroom graffiti unless you positively verify the identity of the poster, in which case, the information can be cited to the poster. If the post quotes or purports to repost another source, such as a newspaper, you must find that original source and cite it directly -- otherwise how you you know that the blog quote is accurate and not made up or edited? Blogs serve to direct you to credible sources, but they are seldom credible sources in and of themselves.

Research papers must be based upon research.  Your grade for a research paper will reflect the depth of your research as well as the depth of your ideas and the clarity of your presentation.

Visit the library early and often.  I cannot stress this enough.  Research librarians (not the student employees working the stacks) are tenure track faculty members whose specialty is information retrieval.  Research is their profession and they are here to help you do the research for your paper.  Your tuition contributes to their salaries and for the books and other resources the library either owns or subscribes to.  Take advantage of the resources that you are paying for.

Begin your library research as early as possible. 

When in the library, visit the stacks and touch the books.  Like in a bookstore, library books are cataloged and shelved by subject.  When you visit one book on a shelf, you will find other books addressing the same subject matter shelved nearby.  One visit to the right shelf can provide you with all the academic citations that you need.

Be wary on the web.  There is a lot of bogus information out there.  If you are citing a New York Times article, for example, make sure you are citing it directly from the New York Times web site or a reliable site such as Lexus/Nexus.  It is a form of professional Russian Roulette to cite articles from unreliable third parties. Citations from untrustworthy sites are a sign of sloppy research.

Do not wait until the last moment to start working on your paper! You will probably not have time to take advantage of all of the research tools that the college offers to you. You will also not have time to meet with your professor to discuss any questions that may arise during the course of your research. Rushed papers often appear rushed and seldom comply fully with the outlined criteria. On a related note, if the assignment specifies that you should gather materials (usually news articles) during the course of the semester -- do it during the course of the semester. Last minute efforts to gather such materials often produces materials that don't meet your needs.

Research Tools:



Any instances of plagiarism, no matter how small, will result in automatic course failure and departmental and/or college disciplinary action (it's my policy to request expulsion on a student's second case of plagiarism).  Plagiarism means passing off someone else’s ideas or writing (intellectual property) as if it is your own.  All quotes, meaning any words written or spoken by someone other than you, must be inside of quotation marks and clearly cited.  Any other use of a sequence of words written or spoken by someone else constitutes plagiarism, even if the source appears on your References Cited list.  The Communication Department uses electronic databases (including to check papers for plagiarism. Incompetence is not an acceptable excuse for committing plagiarism.

For more information about plagiarism, see:




Don’t use Passive Voice.  It’s not only bad writing. It also obfuscates the identity of the speaker.  For example, in the statement, “It is said television watching is a contributing factor in childhood obesity,” who says this?  We don’t know.  An active voice constriction would read, “The American Academy of Pediatricians claims that television watching…”  See the difference.  Which sentence persuades you?  If you are uncertain about what constitutes passive voice, go back and revisit the basic writing stylebook that you used in your Intro to Writing for the Media or English Composition course. It should still be sitting conveniently near your computer or desk.

Learn the difference between the words, “affect” and “effect.” Use the correct word, especially in paper titles.  Here’s an example.  “Propaganda affects everyone differently, causing an unpredictable effect on society.”  But it’s not simple.  “Rhetoric can effect social change, but social scientists say it’s hard to predict who will be affected by such change.”  Again, reference your basic writing stylebook.  When in doubt, use safe words like “impact.”

Use paragraph breaks.  Avoid long drawn out paragraphs.  They make it difficult to visually navigate the page (hence, it makes your work difficult and annoying to read or grade).  Long paragraphs also fail to distinguish different ideas and points from each other.   

A good research paper has a thesis.  This is the conclusion or proposition that you are arguing. Your empirical argument should be persuasive and grounded on a foundation of evidence, which you acquire through research.  

Thinking people have opinions that they can defend. Your paper should demonstrate that you are not only familiar with the subject matter, but that you understand it, have command over it, and have formulated your own educated opinion about it. 

Proof Read your paper and make appropriate corrections before turning it in. Turning in a sloppy paper is disrespectful to the person who has to read it. With academic papers, this is usually the same person who will be grading it.

Use Staples, not paperclips or chewing gum. Paperclips catch on folders and other people's assignments and fall off.



WW = Wrong Word, as in you are using this incorrectly an makes no sense here.

PV = Passive Voice (see "Passive Voice" under "Common Problems" above).

Huh? = This statement makes no sense to me. What are you trying to say here?

AWK = Awkward sentence. Confusing or incoherent. Needs to be re-written for clarity.

FRAG = Sentence fragment. This is not a complete sentence.

R/O = Run-on sentence.

??? = Why do you think this is true?

COW = This is a can of worms. Do you really want to open it here?

Wiki = You cited the "Wikipedia" interactive database as a source instead of citing the actual source that posted the info. Do not pass Go. Lose one letter grade.

RE = Redundant

;) = I get the joke

Cite = You are presenting data here w/o a source. Your point would be stronger if you could cite a source for your data.

Not or Wrong = The data you are presenting here is wrong.





©2012 Michael I. Niman
usage rights released to Buffalo State faculty