Before you start writing – in fact before you get very far gathering information – you must decide two things:
· What your paper is about (the topic);
· For whom it is written (the audience).
Normally, the audience of a scholarly paper consists of people familiar with the general area but not with the specific topic. For instance, if you are writing about implementation of a numerical equation solver in Prolog, you can assume a passing acquaintance with numerical methods and with Prolog.
To a considerable extent, the choice of audience is up to you. But once you have made it, stick with it – unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, write all parts of your paper for the same audience. If you have a hard time visualizing the audience, try writing a paper that you would have understood if someone had given it to you a month ago, before you started researching the topic. The topic of a paper is often expressed in the first sentence.
The reflects a general principle: get to the point early. State your conclusions at the beginning, and then state the reasoning that leads up to them. Never leave the reader wondering where you are heading with an idea. Outline the whole paper before you write it. If you find this difficult, make an unordered list or collection of ideas you want to include, and then sort it.
The first paragraph of a paper is the hardest to write, and it is a good idea to try writing it – or at least sketching it – long before you write the rest of the paper. Often, once you compose the first paragraph, the whole paper will fall into place.
You do not need a long introductory section. Many term papers wander around for a few pages before they reach the main point. Do not do this. If you have an introduction (necessary in a long paper), it should be an overview of the paper itself, not a disquisition on other “background” topics, nor a record of everything you looked at while starting to research the topic.
You do not need a “conclusions” section at the end unless the paper either
(1) reports an experiment or survey, or (2) is rather long (thesis-length or more).
When you come to the end of your argument, stop, ending, if possible, on a general point.