The Paper

The standard social science paper is 8000 words long. If we assume 200 words to the paragraph, that gives us 40 paragraphs. That means a standard paper in the social sciences will say 40 things and support, elaborate or defend them. We might say, then, that you have to know 40 things to write a paper in the social sciences. The sooner you decide what those 40 things are, the easier your writing will be. If you write those paragraphs in formal “writing moments”, you can expect to write a paper in about 20 hours.

A well-written journal article will present a single, easily identifiable claim. It will provide an argument, not just for the truth of that claim, but for its relevance for a particular line of inquiry. It will also situate both the claim and the line of inquiry in a world of shared concern that goes beyond the narrow, scholarly interests of both the writer and the reader. Within those narrow limits, however, it will respect the field’s theoretical and methodological commitments. Before it is over, it will offer a simple one-paragraph statement of the argument for the central claim of the paper that assumes that the very knowledgeable and highly intelligent reader has understood the rest of it.

To this end, a standard empirical paper in the social sciences can be divided into seven sections, with a certain amount paragraphs each. For example:

  1. Introduction (3 paragraphs)
  2. Background (5)
  3. Theory (5)
  4. Method (5)
  5. Analysis (15)
  6. Discussion (5)
  7. Conclusion (2)

These are of course rules of thumb, not to be followed slavishly. But they should give you some sense of the finitude of the problem of writing a research paper. The essence of planning is to appreciate your finitude.

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