The structure and style of a linguistics essay should resemble that of a scientific article rather than a literary theory essay. As such it should be clear, concise, simple and direct. It should avoid digressions, redundancy, overstatement, verbiage, rhetorical flourishes, and unnecessary qualifiers. Your goal should be to approach the subject matter as objectively as possible, and to demonstrate a capacity for clear, rigorous and methodical thinking.
A good essay in linguistics should have a concise, informative title which accurately reflects the aim and scope of the paper. You may also be required to write a succinct, one-paragraph abstract summarising the contents of the paper.
The introduction then presents your objectives and hypothesis. The reader should be informed of both aspects of the subject you will investigate and those you will leave out. It may also be appropriate to provide a short critical survey of previous work on the subject. Having clearly stated your research question and sketched your answer to it, the rest of the essay will focus on supporting your conclusions with argumentation, data and evidence.
Each step in your argument should be clearly stated. Numbered sections (1, 2, 3) and subsections (1.1, 1.2, 1.2.2) may be used to make the structure of your argument as perspicuous as possible. Each sub-subsection must be divided into paragraphs, and each paragraph should cover a single well-defined point which differs from those of previous and subsequent paragraphs.
Words should be chosen carefully to convey precisely what is intended. Use linguistics terminology where appropriate, but always make sure you understand the precise meaning. Remember, the point is to communicate clearly, succinctly and precisely, never merely to “sound clever”.
Data should be introduced wherever relevant and organised in such a way as to clearly substantiate your claims. How you incorporate and present your data will depend on its nature and how much of it there is. For example, numerical summaries may be presented in the main text of the paper and the raw data in an appendix.
The body of the paper should identify the relevant patterns in your data. When employing numerical data this should be presented in the form of tables and graphics (e.g. a bar or line graph, scatterplot, or other suitable kind of diagram or chart).
When writing up your research you must provide the rationale for your choice of methodology. It is advisable to devote a separate methodology section near the start of the paper for this purpose. Describe your data collection method and address both its advantages and limitations. Be sure to define your terms and to explain any abbreviations you use.
Use linguistic formalism (e.g. syntactic tree structures, morphological rules, phonological properties) where appropriate but also clearly state what your use of such formalism is supposed to demonstrate.
The results section should present your findings in a clear, well-structured and accessible way, highlighting those observations that are most relevant to your hypothesis.
The discussion or analysis section interprets the results, evaluates the extent to which the findings support the hypothesis, discusses the quality and limitations of the data and procedure, and compares the results with those of other studies. Remember, your goal is not simply to persuade the reader that you are right, and the falsification of a hypothesis is often just as valuable as corroboration.
Your conclusion will succinctly summarise your findings and suggest potential follow-up studies. Where your results are inconclusive (e.g. because of limitations of the method or data), be sure to discuss this. You should also indicate those aspects which require further study or research.
Be sure to provide complete references, listing all the literature you cite in your paper in alphabetical order and in accordance with your department's preferred citation style.
Finally, do not neglect to proofread and edit your paper. Upon carefully re-reading your paper you will also be able to strip away redundancies and find better ways to clarify certain points.
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