When it comes to academic integrity and academic style, many writers and readers may assume that MLA and Chicago style are one in the same. However, while both styles have many similarities, they are, in fact, two very different things. In an effort to set the record straight, below are a few good reasons why you might want to learn MLA and Chicago style writing.
Accuracy is, undoubtedly, one of the most important aspects of any piece of academic writing. Without it, all the words and sentences in your paper would be utterly useless. When writing a research paper in MLA or Chicago style, the first thing you need to do is make sure that the information you provide is accurate and consistent. As a general rule, you should only use sources that you have read and verified in full. If your professor assigns specific newspaper articles or websites as sources, make sure that you track them down and use their original titles rather than paraphrasing them.
Accuracy is also one of the main distinctions between these two styles. While most publications require you to stick to the general rules of grammar and spelling, the Chicago style is far more flexible when it comes to details such as punctuation, capitalization, and hyphenation. This allows you to take liberties with the English language that may not be acceptable in an MLA paper. For example, the Chicago style allows you to write:
- We ate at Joe’s Bar-B-Que
- I went to the movies with my cousin
- I bought a gift for my girlfriend
So long as everything you write makes sense and is consistent, you can get away with murder. Just remember not to do it again in your next paper!
Clarity means just what it says; your paper should be as clear as possible when you are finished writing it. In addition to being accurate, your paper should also be well-written and easy to understand by the person reading it. Most professors will grade your paper based on how well you accomplish these two tasks, as well as on how you used the information you provided.
While it is acceptable to make lengthy academic papers somewhat vague and difficult to understand, doing so will only hurt your grade in the long run. Vague and complex papers are difficult to grade because they require the reader to work hard at understanding what you are trying to say, as well as how you arrived at that point. When you make your paper as clear and precise as possible, however, it will become much easier for the reader to follow your argument, and the professor to grade your work accordingly.
Let’s face it: writing a research paper is hard work. Not only do you have to have all the data and sources you need to complete the paper, but you have to weave your way through a complex argument and maintain coherence throughout the piece. As a general rule, coherence refers to the connection or cohesion between the various ideas, facts, or sections of your paper. In other words, the paper must make sense, and you must have managed to tie everything together convincingly.
The first step to crafting a coherent paper is to establish a clear thesis statement, which is simply a sentence that states the main idea of your paper. From there, you can develop your argument, which will form the backbone of your paper. Your argument should consist of a series of statements or claims that you make in order to prove your thesis statement. Make sure that these statements are relevant to the topic, and tie them together with evidence from the text; a good, solid argument should always be complete with evidence. When you have a solid argument, you can start to weave in and out of the evidence to create a story that makes sense, and will undoubtedly impress your professor.
Presentation is, simply put, how you present yourself. This includes everything from formatting and spelling to the content and ideas of your paper. When writing an academic paper in an effort to prove a point, you are usually required to include a variety of facts and figures in order to do so. This can be extremely difficult to manage, which is why most students end up simply copying and pasting their source materials, rather than formatting them properly and keeping the flow of the paper consistent. Proper presentation makes your paper much easier to understand, and ensures that it is graded fairly.
Finally, we come to the most important point, which is that there are formalities that you need to follow when writing in an academic setting. Some of these may seem quite obvious, like spelling and grammar, but there are others that you may not even be aware of. These include:
- The length of your paper
- The font you will use
- The spacing between words
- The style of your paper (MLA, Chicago, etc.)
All of these elements make up your paper’s form, and they must be managed appropriately. When you write a formal paper in MLA or Chicago style, you will find that a lot of the routine elements are taken care of for you, so all you need to do is focus on the content and ideas, and present them well. The formalities will be handled by the person grading your paper, so all you need to do is give it your best shot.
On that note, what are your favorite ways to write? Are you in school, and if so, what kind? Are you just starting out, and what have you written thus far? Be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments, and feel free to ask questions if you want more information.