Alternatives to writing a research paper

Is it recommended to use “we” in research papers?

Is it recommended to use “we” in research papers? If not, should I always use passive voice?

It’s over a decade late, but I’ve seen multiple answers and comments here suggest use of subjects like “I” and “this researcher”, so I feel obligated to point out that for papers going under double-blind peer review, use of such singular subjects can significantly bias the reviewer by tipping them off to the fact that there is only one author. This is effectively a form of de-anonymization, and it would make sense for some publishers to consider this a bad thing. In such a case, “we” might be preferred over “I”. but you should definitely check with the publisher to be sure.

3 Answers 3

We is used in papers with multiple authors. Even in papers having only one author/researcher, we is used to draw the reader into the discussion at hand. Moreover, there are several ways to avoid using the passive voice in the absence of we. On the one hand, there are many instances where the passive voice cannot be avoided, while, on the other, we can also be overused to the point of irritation. Variety is indeed the spice of a well written scientific paper, but the bottom line is to convey the information as succinctly as possible.

Thanks, Jimi. So you suggest that using “we” not a really bad thing as long as not overusing it, right?

@evergreen: Definitely. Take a look at the best papers out there; we is used liberally. It really cannot be avoided, especially in experimental research writing.

Since this is an English site, I feel obliged to point out that “at the end of the day” and “the bottom line is” are almost synonym, and anyway close enough in meaning to clash horribly when put next to each other. Furthermore, you simply can’t follow “the bottom line is” with “on the other hand”. That contradicts the whole meaning of “bottom line”.

@Konrad: Great points you make here. I don’t necessarily agree with your final sentences, but I guess I went for too much color, resulting in an overkill of idiomatic phrases. But this is not a well-written scientific paper 🙂 And I guess it also shows that too much spice is usually not a good thing!

There is alleged to be a research paper, by a single author, who wrote: “We with to thank our wife for her understanding. “

APA (The American Psychology Association) has the following to say about the use of “we” (p. 69-70).

To avoid ambiguity, use a personal pronoun rather than the third person when describing steps taken in your experiment.

Correct: “We reviewed the literature.”

Incorrect: “The authors reviewed the literature.”

[. ]

For clarity, restrict your use of “we” to refer only to yourself and your coauthors (use “I” if you are the sole author of the paper). Broader uses of “we” may leave your readers wondering to whom you are referring; instead, substitute an appropriate noun or clarity your usage:

Correct: “Researchers usually classify birdsong on the basis of frequency and temporal structure of the elements.

Incorrect: “We usually classify birdsong on the basis of frequency and temporal structure of the elements”

Some alternatives to “we” to consider are “people”, “humans”, “researchers”, “psychologists”, “nurses”, and so on. “We” is an appropriate and useful referent:

Correct: “As behaviorists, we tend to dispute.

Incorrect: “We tend to dispute. “

Alternatives to Traditional Exams and Papers

In designing assessments or assignments for a course, instructors often think of exams or term papers, but there are many other types of assessments that may be appropriate for your course. If you are willing to think creatively about assignments that go beyond traditional exams or research papers, you may be able to design assignments that are more accurate reflections of the kind of thinking and problem-solving you want your students to engage in. In addition, non-traditional assignments can boost students’ motivation.

In developing creative assessments of your students’ learning, it is helpful to think about exactly what you want to assess. The questions below will help you focus on exactly what skills and knowledge your assessment should include.

  • Do you want to assess your students’ acquisition of specific content knowledge, or their ability to apply that knowledge to new situations (or both)?
  • Do you want to assess a product that students produce, or the process they went through to produce it, or both?
  • Do you want to assess any of the following?
    • writing ability
    • speaking skills
    • creativity
    • use of information technology
    • Is a visual component to the assessment necessary or desirable?
    • Is the ability for students to work in a group an important component of the assessment?

    To help you think outside the box in developing assessments of your students’ learning, here are some alternatives to multiple-choice exams that can be used in many disciplines and contexts. They are organized based on what kinds of cognitive processes or skills they require.

    Alternatives that draw on students’ creativity:

    • Advertisement
    • Development of a product or proposal (perhaps to be judged by external judges)
    • Diary entry for a real or fictional character
    • Letter to a friend explaining a problem or concept
    • Brochure
    • Performance: e.g., a presentation to the class or a debate
    • Poem, play, or dialogue
    • Web page or video
    • Work of art, music, architecture, sculpture, etc.
    • Newspaper article or editorial

    Alternatives that require analysis or evaluation:

    • Analysis and response to a case study
    • Analysis of data or a graph
    • Analysis of an event, performance, or work of art
    • Chart, graph, or diagram with explanation
    • Debate
    • Legal brief
    • Review of a book, play, performance, etc.
    • Literature review
    • Policy memo or executive summary
    • Diagram, table, chart, or visual aid

    Alternatives that require work similar to what is required for a term paper, but that result in shorter documents:

    • Annotated bibliography
    • Introduction to a research paper or essay (rather than the full paper)
    • Literature review
    • Executive summary
    • Research proposal addressed to a granting agency
    • Scientific abstract
    • Policy memo or executive summary
    • Start of a term paper (the thesis statement and a detailed outline)

    Alternatives that require only that students understand course material:

    • Explanation of a multiple-choice answer (students must explain why the answer they chose to a multiple-choice question is correct, or why the alternative answers are wrong)
    • Meaningful paragraph (given a list of specific terms, students must use the terms in a paragraph that demonstrates that they understand the terms and their interconnections)
    • Short-answer exam (rather than asking multiple-choice questions, make some questions short-answer, to require students to show their understanding of key concepts)

    Alternatives that require integration of many skills and types of knowledge:

    • Poster (which could be presented to the class or a larger audience in a poster session)
    • Portfolio to demonstrate improvement or evolution of work and thinking over time
    • Powerpoint presentation
    • Reflection by students on what they have learned from an experience

    Who Is Doing This at IUB

    Ben Motz, in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, assesses his students’ understanding of concepts in his cognitive psychology course by asking them to produce 60-second public service announcements about the concepts. He describes the project in this CITL faculty spotlight. He has also created a course in which students apply concepts of probability and techniques of statistical analysis to managing fantasy football leagues. His course is described in this news release.

    Professor Leah Shopkow, in the department of History, has her students create posters to demonstrate their understanding of concepts in her medieval history class. The students present the posters in a poster session that is open to the public.

    See Also


    Walvoord, Barbara and Virginia Anderson (1998). Types of assignments and tests. Appendix B in Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 193 – 195.

    For More Help or Information

    For help in designing creative assignments, contact the CITL to meet with a consultant.

    The Three-Paragraph Introduction: An Alternative to the Research Paper

    One goal of my interdisciplinary (but primarily social and natural science based) freshman proseminar is to develop the skills to identify a research question. A second goal is to help the students master college level writing skills. I have found that meeting these goals through the assignment of a traditional research paper is problematic for two reasons. First, students struggle to understand the difference between identifying a research gap and constructing a paper to fill the gap (e.g. are the environmental impacts of dams always negative?) and constructing a paper to argue a point (e.g. we should build fewer dams), let alone actually do the research. Second, even if formats for structuring a research paper are given, students often struggle with logical flows within and between paragraphs and sections. Third, it is problematic for students to learn from feedback unless they have opportunities to revise their papers at least once and preferably more times. Multiple revision is logistically difficult given the lengths of traditional papers and the nature of the semester.

    To meet my class content goals and partly address these issues around writing, I created a shorter, iterative research and writing assignment that focuses primarily on setting up a research paper, rather than writing the whole paper. In essence, the core of the assignment is to write just a three paragraph introduction. While the assignment is backed up with two, 4-5 page “content” papers, they are designed primarily to help students engage with and mentally organize content rather than as writing assignments per se. In terms of writing, my feedback to students, their revisions and my grading are focused primarily on the 3 paragraph introduction.

    The steps I follow to implement the assignment are:

    • Relatively early in the semester, students are given background and instructions to the assignment, though there is nothing due for multiple weeks. The instructions are along these lines:

    “A good introduction to a research paper can be as short as 3 paragraphs. It requires convincing people that your issue is important (paragraph 1), explaining what information gaps exist (paragraph 2), and demonstrating that your paper will at least partially fill one or more of those gaps and perhaps what your research found (paragraph 3). Writing paragraph 1 requires you to understand the context of your research. Writing paragraph 2 requires understanding the literature that has already been published. More explanation and discussion will occur over the course of the semester, but for now note that you will be asked to write and rewrite the paragraphs of your introduction as we move through the semester. Rewriting (again and again) is the key to a good paper.”

    Over the early weeks of the semester we examine how the introductions of the academic papers we read in class are structured. Included in these readings are papers I wrote. We discuss how the papers conform or not to our in class discussions of what is needed in a good introduction.

    • Student decides on general topic half way through the semester and turn in a paper title. We discuss everyone’s titles to draw out issues and share ideas.
    • Students write a one paragraph introduction to their research paper as well as a 4-5 page background paper, with citations, that provides the context for their paragraph. The purpose of the background paper is to ensure that students are delving into the subject matter.
    • Professor gives detailed feedback on the paragraph. The professor’s comments on the background paper are focused primarily on subject matter, though more general comments may be given on writing.
    • Students write a second 4-5 page paper that examines the published literature on their subject and establishes a question that the literature has yet to answer. The paper must include 15-20 academic citations to ensure that the students have engaged reasonably well with the literature. Based on this background paper, students write the second paragraph of their introduction. Students turn in turn in a revised first paragraph, their new second paragraph, and the new 4-5 page background paper.
    • Professor gives detailed feedback on the first two paragraphs of the introduction. More general writing comments are given on the background paper. Substantial comments are often given on the content of the background paper as students struggle to understand what a research question really is and how one establishes such a question.
    • After students receive feedback, at least one and often more discussions occur in the following classes on what it means to establish a research question.
    • Based on feedback, students rewrite their second paragraph, often after doing substantial new literature review. Students also write a new third paragraph in which they suggest the methods they would use to answer their research question and hypothesize their results. As the students do not actually do the research, this paragraph is more of a fun assignment in which they can use their imagination. Students turn in revisions of their first two paragraphs plus their new third paragraph.
    • Professor gives detailed comments on the 3 paragraph introduction.
    • As the paper is due before the end of the semester, one or more additional class discussions occur on the overall writing experience.
    • In some iterations of the class, students also peer review each others papers.

    In using this format over the past 3 years, I have found the following advantages and disadvantages:

    1. The short format allows me to carefully read every word and sentence and provide detailed comments on what worked for the student, what didn’t, and what should be considered in the future to improve the work.
    2. The iterative process allows (i.e. forces) students to carefully consider my comments and make changes based on them. I find this a major improvement over the typical process in which I write on the papers and am not sure that the comments are even read. The iterative process also encourages in class discussions on both writing and content.
    3. I set the assignment up in part to to emphasis the difficult to grasp concept of a research question. I find that focusing on the question through short iterative writing, rather than jumping into an attempt at an answer, helps students grasp the idea. In my experience, the importance of purposefully developing this skill of crafting a research question cannot be underestimated. As an example, many students in my senior seminars and those applying to do honors theses do not know what a research question is. The assignment could of course be changed to emphasis other content areas.
    4. Because the students spend so much time on each paragraph based on feedback and discussion, and because they have carefully thought through an actual research question, they often use their work from my class in their applications for research-based scholarships and other opportunities. In some cases they use their actual work from my class in their applications. In others, they choose new topics but model their proposals on their 3 paragraph introductions.
    5. While I do grade each iteration of the assignment, I have found it difficult to develop rubrics to fairly differentiate students and their efforts, especially as the papers improve over the course of the semester.


    Research paper introduction and lit review

    The main product for the class is the introduction to a research paper and the supporting literature review. YOU DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THE RESEARCH OR WRITE A FULL PAPER. The product will be accomplished through 6 relatively short, interconnected writing assignments. Due dates for each assignment are given in the schedule. The assignments have three main goals beyond learning about water. The first is to help you learn the difference between research and reporting/advocacy/argument. The second is to help you learn how to construct a strong opening for the many papers you will have to write at Georgetown and the rest of your life. The third is to learn how to do a literature review either for a research paper or to establish the evidence base for decision making.

    A good introduction to a research paper can be as short as 3 paragraphs. It requires convincing people that your issue is important (paragraph 1), explaining what information gaps are still out there (paragraph 2), and demonstrating that your paper will at least partially fill one or more of those gaps (paragraph 3). Writing paragraph 2 requires understanding the literature that has already been published. More explanation and discussion will occur over the course of the semester, but for now note that you will be asked to write and rewrite the paragraphs of your introduction as we move through the semester. Rewriting (again and again) is the key to a good paper.

    The assignment has 4 main goals:

    • Learn more indepth information about an aspect of the class that interests you,
    • Learning the difference between research and reporting/advocacy/argument.
    • Learning how to construct a strong opening for any academic paper
    • Learning how to conduct a literature review either for a research paper or to establish the evidence base for decision making.

    All assignment must be turned into Canvas.

    Part 1: Paper Title (0%) Provide a title for you paper in the form of a question. You can change the title every time you turn in your paper. While you get no points for doing this, you still lose 1% of your total grade for everyday the title is late.

    Part 2: Background to the topic (5%) You need to make sure your topic is interesting andrite a paper of approximately 4-5 pages describing what your topic is and why the reader should care about it. You must cite at least 10 works. Citations may come from academic literature, but for this part of the assignment they may also come from popular press.

    Part 2: First paragraph to the introduction (10%) What is the paper about and why is it worth reading? Writing a good introductory paragraph requires an ability to convey an overall understanding of the issues and how they fit into the reader’s world. It establishes whether the reader wants to continue reading your paper and sets the stage for the work you will do. The introductory paragraph may include citations from popular press, academic articles, or both.

    Part 5: First two paragraphs of your paper 5%

    Part 6: Full introduction including paragraph on how you will fill the gap (3 paragraphs) 5%

    All assignments must be emailed to me by 8am on the day they are due. Your file must be named INAF100_LASTNAME_#, where LASTNAME represents your family name and # represents the assignment number

    How to do citations in this class

    Like this: “Giordano (2015) believe that ….,”

    or like this: “Some researchers (Giordano, 2105; Byman, 2016) believe that…”

    In your bibliography, for all academic articles, use one of the automatic formats provided by GoogleScholar, e.g.:

    Wolf, A. T., Yoffe, S. B., & Giordano, M. (2003). International waters: Identifying basins at risk. Water policy, 5(1), 29-60.

    Do not use footnotes or endnotes to cite sources.

    If you do not cite as instructed, your assignment is automatically reduced by one letter grade.

    Part 4: Justifying the research question/gap (2-4 pages) 15%

    Part 3: Revised first paragraph to the introduction, second paragraph to the introduction, and literature review (20%)

    A research paper requires an original research question or the establishment of a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. To be credible, you must convince the reader that you are aware of what is already known by doing a literature review and articulating it to the reader. For this class, the literature review must include AT LEAST 20 ACADEMIC articles. Can you include non-academic articles? YES. Do you still need 20 academic articles? YES.

    You must organize your literature review using a typology (method for classification) that you create. In other words, don’t discuss the articles one after the other. Instead, organize the ideas in each article according to concepts you define as important. Don’t write, “Johnson (2015) says this. Smith (2013) says that.” Instead write, “The literature on water and conflict is divided into two camps. The first camp (Jones, 2013; Smith, 2015) highlights that increased scarcity will inevitably lead to increased social tensions. The second camp (Wight, 2010; Billinglea, 2012) highlights that increased scarcity induces the creation of new institutions to mitigate scarcity’s impact.” You might then explain specifics of some of the authors, but the organization (typology) is generally by concept, not author.

    You must define the concepts (typologies) in the way that makes sense to your project and the academic fields from which you are drawing. For this assignment, the typology should be clearly labeled by creating sub-headings in the literature review section. You must also provide a summary of the literature review at the end of the section that leads the reader to understand what the research question/knowledge gap is that your project (if you were to actually do it) would attempt to address.

    This assignment should be structured like this:

    Title (edited version of what you already produced for Parts I and II)


    First Paragraph (edited version of what you already produced for Part II)

    Second Paragraph (summarizes for the reader the knowledge gap that you identify in your literature review and that your research would fill if you were to actually do it).

    Literature Review

    How long should a literature review be? There is no clear answer, but probably 5 or so pages. A literature review in a journal like Science might be one or two paragraphs. A literature review for a PhD thesis might be one or more chapters.

    It is important to note that the literature about your topic does not have to be specifically about your PARTICULAR topic. Good research draws on theory, not just subjects. If you want to write a paper on whether Bangladesh and India are going to fight over the Ganges, you don’t want to only look at the literature on India, Bangladesh and the Ganges. You might also, for example, want to consider the literature on theories of international conflict and then try to apply those to the case of India and Bangladesh and their shared river.

    Part 4: Full introduction and literature review (20%)

    For the final assignment, turn in a three paragraph introduction and literature review. Format you paper in the style of one of the papers you cite in your literature review.

    The assignment should be structured like this:

    Title (edited version of what you already produced for Part III)

    Abstract (100 words or less)


    First paragraph (edited version of what you already produced for Part III)

    Second paragraph: edited version of what you already turned in for Part III)

    Third paragraph: How your project would fill answer the question/fill the gap and what it concludes (you hypothesize the conclusion)

    Literature Review (edited version of what you already produced for part III)

    Screen shot of the first (and possibly other) pages of article whose format you are copying.

    Research Paper Alternatives

    FYW encourages students to engage deeply with sources and develop writing projects that do much more than simply cite or respond to sources. In important ways, the familiar “research paper” students may be used to writing may be at cross purposes with the more deliberate and sustained work with sources required in most FYW assignments. Strong Info Lit assignments work against students’ expectations in regard to research, then, by weaving researched sources into a larger conversation already taking place students’ work and by building onto the content matter, thinking, and writing students have already been doing. You can find examples of strong Info Lit essay prompts in our Baseline Syllabus Sequences and on our Assignments Database page.

    For instructors who would prefer to avoid a “research paper” altogether, however, there are some creative options that help students learn the skills and critical thinking required in academic research and writing but that make use of those skills for shorter “feeder” projects. Strong shorter projects may take the place of or be in addition to a researched essay in fulfilling the FYW Info Lit component. Consider the following, and consult with the Assistant Directors of FYW for ideas on adapting these or creating other Info Lit projects of interest to you.

    Everything but the Paper

    Have students do all the research necessary to write a critical, argument-driven project on a chosen topic. Have them create a works cited list of relevant sources and a brief one to two sentence description of why each is useful, then propose an argument and a summary of how they would construct the paper if they were to write it.

    Annotated Bibliography

    Have students compile an annotated bibliography that summarizes and evaluates the sources students have found. It’s important to stress that this research often includes a lot of excess—simply choosing the first hit is often not the right match for a research project. Consider asking students to locate and annotate more sources than are necessary to include in the final project. Possibly even include a list of “rejected” sources (to emphasize the sorting aspect of research).

    Class Archive

    An annotated bibliography could also become a class-wide collaborative project, where students contribute the sources they have found to a class archive that other students are encouraged to draw on in their writing projects. Google Docs (or a related technology) enables your class to create a “living” bibliography that each can alter, add to, and improve throughout the semester.

    Classroom Resource/Context Project

    Ask students to choose a topic relevant to the conversations the class has been having all semester, and then research one of these topics with the goal of creating some sort of presentation or document that will help the whole class more deeply understand readings and ongoing conversations. The instructor can provide a list of recommended topics or let the students generate their own. This works well as a collaborative project, but can also be an individual one.

    What Is This Text? Who Is This Author?

    Any assigned text can be accompanied with a small research component designed to help students place the text in a larger context. If you assign a text by Judith Butler, for example, students could be assigned roles to establish this context. One set of students could research Butler the person; another set could say more about what her influential writings are (and what they seek to do); a third set of students could trace the reception and influence of these texts.

    Citation Trail

    Working with the texts used in class, invite students to choose one of the works that the author has cited. Have students locate that source, read it (in its entirety if it’s short or just the relevant section if it’s long), and document the context of the citation and how this (new) text is helpful in understanding the original author’s project. Then students should repeat their process with a source cited in their newly discovered text.

    10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers

    In high school and college, I suffered through quite a few research reports and papers. I gathered data, cited sources, followed MLA style and double spaced.

    I turned in my papers. Then I never did anything else with them.

    I still have one political science paper I wrote hiding out in a trunk full of papers in my basement. The rest have been pitched in the “cylindrical file”, never to be seen again.

    The merits of doing research and creating these reports and papers are valid. When they create them, students …

    • Gather information
    • Evaluate sources
    • Organize and synthesize data
    • Form ideas and cohesive thoughts
    • Create a polished, finished product
    • Cite where they got their information

    Here’s the problem, though: the finished product just isn’t very relevant to the real world, be it in the workforce or in people’s personal lives.

    Reports and papers often end up where mine always did — in the trash.

    If students are going to do their best work to learn and create, shouldn’t it be in a form they can be proud of — and that they want to show others?

    I think it’s time that we turn research reports and papers on their heads. Here are 10 creative alternatives:

    1. Websites. By making a free website using tools like Weebly and Google Sites, students are much more likely to attract eyeballs to their work. Websites can be shared easily, and they live on when people stumble upon them through Google searches. When students publish their work to a website, they’re creating a positive digital footprint as well.

    2. Infographics. Have you seen those super long infographics that you have to scroll down through to see all the information? They’re all over Pinterest and other social media. Here are two great tools that will help your students create them:

      can turn a report or paper into a flashy eye-catching visual. Start with a predesigned template or use the graphics, text and other goodies to create your own from scratch. (Here’s a post I wrote with 20 ways to create classroom pizzazz in class with Piktochart.) provides a drag-and-drop interface that students can use create beautiful designs. Start with a perfectly-sized infographic template and add the text and visuals you want. Then save them as image files for the web or in PDF format for sharing and printing.

    3. Google Drawings interactive posters. Gathering lots of information for a report or paper onto a poster board might be impossible (or require teeny tiny text!). A Google Drawings interactive poster (see post on this here) fits the in-depth research genre better because it can be a jumping off point for more information. Use a Google Drawing to present some visuals. Then, create links from that poster to Google Docs or other resources that provide more information about the topic. Be sure to use a live hyperlink (Ctrl+K is the keyboard shortcut) to get readers where they want to go.

    4. Linked YouTube videos. Researchers gather information and present it in video format in front of an audience of millions every day. It’s called television news. Students can create short videos on the different segments of their report or paper. Then, they can upload them to YouTube and link them together using annotations. It becomes an interactive video version of their reports. See this example I did with a post I wrote on Google Classroom.

    5. ThingLinks. ThingLink lets students create clickable hotspots on an image. Students use an image (either use a pre-existing one, an information-based one like a map or a chart, or create one with a tool like Google Drawings or PicMonkey). Then, they add clickable dots to important parts of that image. Those clickable dots can take readers to sources already existing on the Web or to Google Docs or other sources created by students. See ThingLink’s website for examples of how this awesome tool works.

    6. Radio shows. Programs like “This American Life” and other audio documentaries do a phenomenal job of creating long-form stories and journalistic presentations in an engaging way. With some planning, students could record a compelling podcast/radio show presentation about their content. They could add interviews, sound effects, background audio from a site like a restaurant or a bus station, etc. Use tools like Audioboom (upload audio so others can listen to it) and Audacity / Garage Band (for mixing audio). Can be simple or complex.

    7. News broadcast. In No. 4 above, we used short video clips to create an interactive video presentation. But news broadcasts generally aren’t very interactive. Students could create a news show, blending video, images, sound and effects together using a tool like WeVideo or Camtasia Studio. It could be uploaded to a class YouTube channel where others could watch.

    8. Info/image slide show. The “Did You Know?/Shift Happens” videos created by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. They’ve taught us about rapid changes happening globally, and we willingly watched because they were engaging. These text-based slideshow videos can be very popular, and students can create them with YouTube’s photo slideshow tool or Animoto (free for educators).

    9. Aurasma aura poster. This one actually utilizes poster board, but it’s so much more than the standard poster. With Aurasma (an iPad app), students can create auras. An aura is a video or image that displays over something in real life when you look at it through the camera in the Aurasma app. (Here’s an example of how it works.) Students can create auras for different images on their posters. When the viewer scans the images with the Aurasma app, it displays videos or images with more information.

    10. Google Slides slide book. I’m all for ditching textbooks, and this is a great way to do that. Instead of using a standard textbook, students can show their understanding by creating an interactive, engaging one! In place of reports and papers, students could create a slide book like this one (created by Matt Macfarlane, a teacher who provides this to his students). Notice the images, links to sites and embedded videos.

    [reminder]How else could we improve on research reports and papers? Which of these are you most likely to use?[/reminder]

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    Alternatives to Traditional Testing

    For many courses of varying format and size, across many disciplines, reasonable alternatives to traditional tests (i.e., paper-based T/F or Multiple Choice) exist. In fact, oftentimes the alternatives may even be advantageous to promote student learning and be more authentic means of students demonstrating what they have learned at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (synthesis, analysis, evaluation). All such courses should, however, include appropriate summative evaluation activities per COCI policy on (alternatives to) final exams:

    • The University of California’s Academic Senate maintains regulations on final exams.
    • The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) has set forth policies that outline how final exams work at Berkeley:
        (or alternative method of final assessment) (determining the day and time of the exam)

      Alternative Assessment Types

      Paper instead of test

      A standard alternative to a test, the paper can take many forms. Make sure that the paper is integral to the course and not simply an add-on. One way to accomplish this, to help students write better, and to encourage academic integrity is to give the assignment early and ask for portions of the paper to be turned in at intervals: preliminary topic, outline, bibliography, draft, and so on. And ask students to include all drafts and notes along with the paper.

      A series of quizzes or chapter tests instead of comprehensive, high-stakes tests

      Unless there is a solid pedagogical reason for a comprehensive, high-stakes test (i.e., midterm), you might consider a series of shorter tests throughout the semester. You can always add one or two questions relating to previous units in the course. Remember, though, a comprehensive final assessment is still required in most courses per COCI policy.

      Memorandum or briefing

      Students prepare a one or two page memorandum or briefing, with, for example, the following headings: background, problem, possible solutions with pros and cons, final recommendation (and you can add as you like, for instance, final recommendation with implications, possible impact, and so on). Besides being a good exercise in synthesizing material, it’s an excellent way for students to practice being concise and direct.

      Professional presentation

      Many courses lend themselves to presentations of the kind that a professional consultant would provide to a community group or some kind. For example, in Architecture and City and Regional Planning, students often present their projects to a simulated “community board.” The presentation could be applicable to many fields, in the form of an expert witness presenting material. One variant: Local library board. Make a presentation arguing for the inclusion of certain books in the library, based on the reading for the semester. Applicable to many different disciplines.

      Annotated Anthology or course reader

      Students prepare a selection of works they have read during the term as a thematic anthology—they create the theme, choose the works, write a paragraph introduction to each, and an introduction to the anthology. (If the works themselves are short, e.g., poems, they should be included). For longer pieces, just a table of contents, the introduction, and the introduction to each piece. Of course students will also have to think about order. Katherine Snyder of English has used such an assignment as part of a final exam, but it could be easily adapted for use as an in-course assignment.

      The course reader exercise works essentially the same way, but in this case, students have to organize the readings chronologically to develop the theme they have created for the course. This assignment can be made as complex as you wish, by asking for such things as assignments to go with the readings, suggestions for further reading, and so on.

      Poster Sessions (with peer critique)

      This is applicable to many different kinds of classes. Chemistry 1A has used it quite successfully in large classes for several years. Here is a description of the assignment developed by Michelle Douskey:

      “The goal of the project is to help each student link the material covered in class to everyday products and processes by asking and answering key chemistry questions that get at the heart of the topic. Students must pick a topic from a given list, develop a hypothesis, and perform library research to support or refute their hypothesis. The students present their research during a poster session during the last lab period. The scaffolding focuses on two main aspects of the project; support for the students and support for the GSIs. The GSIs are trained to assist the students in the refinement of their hypothesis and in the search for appropriate sources of information. Students are given a topic list, an example poster, the grading rubric and a proscribed feedback mechanism with the GSI. The clear timeline and implementation strategies help the students to be successful in pushing their understanding of chemistry. When polled in the Spring 2005 semester, 84% of the students stated that the project increased their ability to apply chemistry to things beyond the textbook.”

      Annotated portfolio of work throughout the term

      Portfolios in place of a test have been used for a number of years in the College Writing Programs. Students compile their best or representative work from the term, write a critical introduction to the portfolio and a brief introduction to each piece.

      Annotated research bibliography with introduction

      Rather than ask students to write a research paper, ask them instead to compile a bibliography on a problem or question. In essence they do everything but write the paper. They must read the works, evaluate their accuracy and helpfulness, and provide an explanatory introduction to the bibliography (from Anna Livia Braun, French). Each entry contains an explanatory and/or evaluative paragraph. Students can also compare the relative usefulness of sources, authors’ points of view, biases, and so on.

      Fact Sheet

      Developed by Barbara Abrams of Public Health, a Fact Sheet is a more demanding assignment than it first appears to be, and would be relevant to other courses. Such a fact sheet would be intended to be distributed to the public in relevant places. While Abrams’ fact sheets deal with health issues (smoking, HIV, etc.), other applications might be in economics or sociology (school board budgets or trends in enrollment), history or political science (fact sheet on the 1960 Presidential Election), engineering (fact sheet on the new Bay Bridge). Students must learn to search the relevant databases for the discipline, evaluate material, and present it in a concise, readable way.

      Reflective paper

      If the class is experiential in nature (e.g., student teaching, performance), ask the students to write a reflective paper/critique of their experience. The key here is to make them tie this to theory or themes in the course so that it doesn’t become an effusion of personal feeling.

      Even in non-experiential/performance courses, a reflective paper can be very useful. Some classes ask students to add a reflection to a term paper.

      Op-Ed piece to be sent to local newspaper

      The Op-Ed piece is a “real world” exercise that requires not only a thorough understanding of both sides of an issue, but an ability to understand the audience.

      Student-Proposed Project

      Students, at a predetermined point in the class and with specific conditions tied to it to ensure it will represent their learning as related to the course goals, may have the option of suggesting a course project that they would like to undertake.

      Refine Your Final Word With 10 Alternatives To “In Conclusion”

      Wrapping up a presentation or a paper can be deceptively difficult. It seems like it should be easy—after all, your goal is to summarize the ideas you’ve already presented and possibly make a call to action. You don’t have to find new information; you just have to share what you already know.

      Here’s where it gets tricky, though. Oftentimes, it turns out that the hardest part about writing a good conclusion is avoiding repetition.

      That’s where we can help, at least a little bit. When it comes to using a transition word or phrase to kick off your conclusion, the phrase in conclusion is frequently overused. It’s easy to understand why—it is straightforward. But there are far more interesting and attention-grabbing words and phrases you can use in your papers and speeches to signal that you have reached the end.

      in summary

      One of the simplest synonyms of in conclusion is in summary. This transition phrase signals that you are going to briefly state the main idea or conclusion of your research. Like in conclusion, it is formal enough to be used both when writing an academic paper or when giving a presentation.

      • In summary, despite multiple experimental designs, the research remains inconclusive.
      • In summary, there is currently unprecedented interest in our new products.

      A less-formal version of in summary is to sum up. While this phrase expresses the same idea, it’s more commonly found in oral presentations rather than written papers in this use.

      • To sum up, we have only begun to discover the possible applications of this finding.

      let’s review or to review

      Often, a conclusion doesn’t simply review the main idea or argument of a presentation. In some cases, a conclusion includes a more complete assessment of the evidence presented. For example, in some cases you might choose to briefly review the chain of logic of an argument to demonstrate how you reached your conclusion. In these instances, the expressions let’s review or to review are good signposts.

      The transition phrases let’s review and to review are most often used in spoken presentations, not in written papers. Unlike the other examples we have looked at, let’s review is a complete sentence on its own.

      • Let’s review. First, he tricked the guard. Then, he escaped out the front door.
      • To review: we developed a special kind of soil, and then we planted the seeds in it.

      in closing

      A classy alternative to in conclusion, both in papers and presentations, is in closing. It is a somewhat formal expression, without being flowery. This transition phrase is especially useful for the last or penultimate sentence of a conclusion. It is a good way to signal that you are nearly at the bitter end of your essay or speech. A particularly common way to use in closing is to signal in an argumentative piece that you are about to give your call to action (what you want your audience to do).

      • In closing, we should all do more to help save the rainforest.
      • In closing, I urge all parties to consider alternative solutions such as the ones I have presented.

      in a nutshell

      The expression in a nutshell is a cute and informal metaphor used to indicate that you are about to give a short summary. (Imagine you’re taking all of the information and shrinking it down so it can fit in a nutshell.) It’s appropriate to use in a nutshell both in writing and in speeches, but it should be avoided in contexts where you’re expected to use a serious, formal register.

      • In a nutshell, the life of this artist was one of great triumph and great sadness.
      • In a nutshell, the company spent too much money and failed to turn a profit.

      The expression in a nutshell can also be used to signal you’ve reached the end of a summarized story or argument that you are relating orally, as in “That’s the whole story, in a nutshell.”

      [To make a] long story short

      Another informal expression that signals you’re about to give a short summary is to make a long story short, sometimes abbreviated to simply long story short. The implication of this expression is that a lengthy saga has been cut down to just the most important facts. (Not uncommonly, long story short is used ironically to indicate that a story has, in fact, been far too long and detailed.)

      Because it is so casual, long story short is most often found in presentations rather than written papers. Either the full expression or the shortened version are appropriate, as long as there isn’t an expectation that you be formal with your language.

      • Long story short, the explorers were never able to find the Northwest Passage.
      • To make a long story short, our assessments have found that there is a large crack in the foundation.


      If using a transitional expression doesn’t appeal to you, and you would rather stick to a straightforward transition word, you have quite a few options. We are going to cover a couple of the transition words you may choose to use to signal you are wrapping up, either when giving a presentation or writing a paper.

      The first term we are going to look at is ultimately. Ultimately is an adverb that means “in the end; at last; finally.” Typically, you will want to use it in the first or last sentence of your conclusion. Like in closing, it is particularly effective at signaling a call to action.

      • Ultimately, each and every single person has a responsibility to care about this issue.
      • Ultimately, the army beat a hasty retreat and the war was over.


      Another transition word that is good for conclusions is lastly, an adverb meaning “in conclusion; in the last place; finally.” Lastly can be used in informational or argumentative essays or speeches. It is a way to signal that you are about to provide the last point in your summary or argument. The word lastly is most often used in the first or last sentence of a conclusion.

      • Lastly, I would like to thank the members of the committee and all of you for being such a gracious audience.
      • Lastly, it must be noted that the institution has not been able to address these many complaints adequately.


      The word overall is particularly good for summing up an idea or argument as part of your conclusion. Meaning “covering or including everything,” overall is a bit like a formal synonym for “in a nutshell.”

      Unlike the other examples we have looked at in this slideshow, it is not unusual for overall to be found at the end of a sentence, rather than only at the beginning.

      • Overall, we were very pleased with the results of our experiment.
      • The findings of our study indicate that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with internet providers overall.

      asking questions

      Using traditional language like the options we have outlined so far is not your only choice when it comes to crafting a strong conclusion. If you are writing an argumentative essay or speech, you might also choose to end with one or a short series of open-ended or leading questions. These function as a creative call to action and leave the audience thinking about the arguments you have made.

      In many cases, these questions begin with a WH-word, such as who or what. The specifics will vary spending on the argument being made, but here are a few general examples:

      • When it comes to keeping our oceans clean, shouldn’t we be doing more?
      • Who is ultimately responsible for these terrible mistakes?

      on a final note

      Before we wrap up, we want to leave you with one last alternative for in conclusion. The expression on a final note signals that you are about to give your final point or argument. On a final note is formal enough to be used both in writing and in speeches. In fact, it can be used in a speech as a natural way to transition to your final thank yous.

      • On a final note, thank you for your time and attention.
      • On a final note, you can find more synonyms for in conclusion here.

      The next time you are working on a conclusion and find yourself stuck for inspiration, try out some of these expressions. After all, there is always more than one way to write an ending.

      Choose the best word with Grammar Coach’s Grammar Coach™ isn’t your average spell checker. The Grammar Coach™ platform makes writing papers, essays, emails, and a whole lot more a whole lot easier. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing. Start writing smarter today!

      How to Write a Research Paper Step by Step

      A research paper is one of the most complex tasks assigned to students. It requires a good set of writing skills, excellent research skills, time, and concentration to get right.

      Often, working on such assignments, students feel helpless and stuck. Luckily, you don’t have to feel this way, and you won’t, if you use the following guide.

      What Is a Research Paper and How does It Differ from a Research Proposal??

      A research paper is based heavily on in-depth research and analysis. It is used to evaluate a student’s research skills, as well as the ability to document information and provide original, useful insights on the research matter. The primary purpose of a research paper is to express your view on the research you found throughout the research process.

      Get Your Research Paper Written

      Simply send us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll get it done fast.

      How is a research paper different from a research proposal, you may ask? Students often confuse these two terms, though they are very different. A research proposal is a concise description of your motivation and objectives for a specific topic. It explains why you decided to research a particular matter, and what you want to achieve. It also highlights how your research can contribute to an expansion in its relevant area, and, finally, gives a brief description of how you plan to conduct this research.

      A research paper, on the contrary, is a detailed paper that describes your research. It is much longer than a research proposal. Unlike a proposal, it also includes a detailed description of the results of your research.

      Compared to a regular essay, writing a research paper requires thinking outside of the box, being open to experiments, and analyzing the results. Here are some of the key features that define a research paper:

      • A research paper is usually longer than other written assignments;
      • The paper is based on extensive research of a particular problem;
      • Your insights should be based on your experiments and thoughts, but you are allowed to use references from literature as well;
      • Usually, a writer is supposed to find some novel solution or approach throughout the research process;
      • Support the information with evidence (like your experimental studies, samples, and documents).
        Use these features as a reference point when writing your research paper.

      How to Start a Research Paper

      When you are assigned to write a research paper, it’s naive to believe that you can immediately begin to start writing. Before you can get started, you need to undertake a few preparatory steps.

      You need to get familiar with the assignment in the first place, to ensure that you have a clear idea of what is expected from you. Many students underestimate the importance of this step. Read the instructions carefully, to understand what exactly your professor asks you to do. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for any clarification if necessary. This will help to ensure that you are on the right track!

      The next vital step to take is choosing a topic, because your whole research, as well as the scope of work and your results, will depend heavily upon it.

      Why the Topic Choice Is Vital

      If you pick a topic you are not interested in, you will probably have a hard time finding the motivation for writing your paper. Besides, the enthusiasm and effort you put into your research will often reflect upon the quality of your paper—so, it can influence your grade as well. If a topic is too broad, it can be hard to manage. It is always easier to study and analyze a narrower topic.

      The most common topics are relevant social, political, cultural or technological issues. If you want to see more of those, we have a separate research paper topics post.

      Finally, the complexity of the chosen subject also matters. It is important to make sure that you have enough knowledge and skills to manage it. Otherwise, you may get stuck and begin to feel unable to complete the assignment.

      As you can see, the topic you choose does have a direct impact on your research. Here are a few tips to make the right decision:

      • Pick a topic that you are genuinely interested in;
      • Narrow down the chosen subject;
      • Pick a subject that you can manage;
      • Make sure that there are enough resources (information) to work with on that specific topic.

      Research Process

      When you have a clear understanding of your assignment and have a great topic in mind, it is the right time to start researching your subject. As a rule, the research process can be divided into several stages:

      Get Familiar with Your Topic

      Before you can shape your own opinion on a specific topic, you have to study it thoroughly. A good tip to simplify your research is to use general sources like Wikipedia to get your research going. Yes, you won’t be able to use any information from there for your references—as wikipedia is not a credible source. However, it can give you a good starting point and help drive your research further.

      Select Sources

      To succeed, you will need to find enough material for your work. At this stage it is vital to distinguish different types of sources to find valid information you can rely on. There are two main types of sources:

      • Primary Sources – statistical data, interviews, surveys, and historical and legal documents;
      • Secondary Sources – books, articles, etc.

      It is better to focus on finding as many valid primary sources as possible. A great starting point for this would be your school’s library, and official government websites. Also, you can use academic journals like Google Scholar to your benefit. Just like a library, academic journals will also help you to find reliable primary sources.


      Skim and Narrow Down Your List of Sources

      As you delve deeper into your research, you will come across a large number of sources and information. It is barely possible to read everything related to your subject in-full. That’s why you should get comfortable with skimming through information, and learn to identify key ideas quickly. After skimming through the sources you have, you can determine which of them are most useful and focus on them.

      Document Information

      As you research the topic, it is vital to keep track of all the information you find. Some of the best ways to do this are by using Bibliography cards or Note cards.

      1. Bibliography Cards

      Bibliography cards can help you keep track of your sources. Write your source on them, in MLA format, and number them for reference. Put source numbers on your note cards, so you know which source every note is from.

      2. Note Cards

      Note Cards can help you keep track of information from your sources. Take a note card and write down relevant information on the front, with the source number on the back. This will help you with organizing your facts and writing your paper later.

      Organize Your Research

      Finally, you have to group your sources and organize them. One of the best ways to do this is to order them from most to least critical. Also, you can organize sources based on the order of your arguments.

      Do You Need Some Help With Your research paper?

      Writing your Research Paper Outline and Thesis

      Now, when you have finished your research and have organized it, you can begin writing your research paper.

      First of all, you have to form a thesis. A thesis is a brief statement that the researcher puts forward for the readers to describe what the paper will be about. It should emphasize what you are going to prove or explain in your research paper.

      To form a clear and relevant thesis, ask yourself: what is my paper about? The answer to this question is exactly what your thesis statement should be.

      For example, this is how your answer might sound:

      This sentence reveals the main topic of your paper. However, if you make it your thesis statement just as it is, it will be weak, which in turn, will influence your grade. Therefore, you should only consider your answer as a starting point, and then evolve it to make a powerful, definitive statement. A good example of a thesis statement based on the topic mentioned above would be:

      “While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons, while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.”

      As you can see, a good thesis should be impersonal, definitive, clear, and straight to the point. Also, it should be arguable – meaning that someone could disagree with it. This is the formula for a strong statement.
      Once you think you have formed a good thesis, don’t hesitate to check in with your professor to get feedback.

      Now, let’s move on to the next stage. Writing an outline is what will help you begin to build your research paper and ensure a logical flow of ideas. In a nutshell, the key purpose of an outline is to structure your paper. It should include a detailed plan for each section of your paper. If done right, it will help you to:

      • Understand the flow of information and how your ideas are related;
      • Organize your thoughts in a logical sequence;
      • Ensure that you won’t miss anything while writing.

      Here is a good example of how a research paper outline should look:

      Topic: Measles and the vaccination debate


      1. Definition of measles
      2. Rise in cases of recent years in places the disease was previously eliminated or had very low rates of infection
      3. Figures — the number of cases per year on average, and number in recent years. Relate to immunization


      1. Symptoms and timeframes of disease
      2. Risk of fatality, including statistics
      3. How measles is spread


      1. Immunization procedures in different regions
      2. The immunization debate, addressing two sides: why immunization is recommended and why groups are questioning its validity
      3. Different regions, focusing on the arguments from those against immunization


      1. Outbreaks in USA, Australia, and Thailand
      2. Immunization figures in affected regions
      3. High number of cases in non-immunizing regions


      1. Dangers presented by measles and its link to other diseases
      2. Illnesses that can result from the measles virus
      3. Fatal cases of other illnesses after patients contract measles


      1. Summary of arguments of different groups
      2. Summary of figures and relationship with recent immunization debate
      3. Concluding statement based on data gathered
      4. Which side of the argument appears to be correct?

      Writing Process

      Finally, you can move on to writing your research paper. An approximate structure for your paper should look as follows:

      1. Abstract and Keywords
      2. Introduction
      3. Previous related works (not mandatory)
      4. Detailed section of the main topic
      5. Methodology
      6. Experimental Results
      7. Conclusion
      8. References

      While writing, it makes sense to form your paper in the same sequence, gradually moving from the abstract all the way to your conclusion section. That’s when following your outline should come in handy. By now, you should already have a detailed plan, so all that is left to do is to add more words to it and fill in the information.

      As a rule, in the course of writing, you may face certain pitfalls. One of the most common ones is getting stuck on a specific section, trying to formulate your thoughts appropriately. Here is a tip: at this stage, there is no need to worry about the flawless grammar and word choices. After all, now, you are just writing your first draft. Later, you will have enough time to polish your text and bring it to perfection.

      Proofreading and Editing

      Many students don’t realize the importance of proofreading and editing. They believe that once they finish writing their research paper, it is all set and ready to be submitted. However, that’s the wrong approach. These two steps are vital for ensuring the overall success of your paper. Thus, they should not be neglected.

      One of the most effective methods of proofreading is the following idea. As a rule of thumb, the idea is to re-read your draft every few days to see if it reads naturally. This way, you will have a few days to distract yourself and pull back from the content of your research to look at it with a fresh perspective later on. Consequently, you should be able to notice flaws that were previously invisible to you.

      Another good idea is to ask your parents or peers to proofread your paper as well. It never hurts to hear an opinion of someone who wasn’t directly involved in the research paper. Ask them if the paper is exciting and straightforward. Then, use their feedback to polish your paper.

      It is recommended to create your first draft as early as possible—yet, not to rush the process. Proofreading and editing can take a lot of time, so you should ensure that you have enough time to do everything before the deadline.

      What should you pay attention to when proofreading? The most obvious purpose of this step is to identify any grammatical mistakes in the text. However, there is much more to it than there seems. When proofreading your work, it is vital to check the logical flow of ideas and structure. Readability also matters. You should make sure that your thoughts are presented in a simple and understandable language. Finally, you need to check compliance with the given instructions, analyze the coherence and in-depth examinations in body paragraphs, and ensure that you have a valid conclusion.

      To make proofreading and editing a bit faster and easier, you can use tools like Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, etc. Such tools can come in handy when checking the grammar, structure, style of writing, clarity, and prevalence of plagiarism. These tools can speed up the whole process significantly. However, do not rely on such tools completely. After all, a computer is not always as accurate as a real proofreader.

      Research Paper Examples

      It can seem quite hard to write a research paper that deserves a good grade. As you will be gradually moving from one section of a paper to another, you will probably come across numerous questions and pitfalls. Overcoming these challenges can be uneasy, especially if this is the first time you are dealing with this type of task. That is why it is always a great idea to keep a high-quality example of a research paper at hand. Below are a few examples of how a top-notch research paper should look. Study the examples to have an idea of how to write yours:

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