Writing Guidelines

Written assignments must adhere to strict writing guidelines. By mastering the use of footnotes and following these guidelines, you will be more prepared for writing your thesis. You are encouraged to make an appointment and visit the SDSU Writing Center, open every weekday and located in Love Library 1103.


Grammar References

  • Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab -- Grammar
  • Missing articles -- "the" or "a" or "an"
  • Subject/Verb agreement (difference between "are" and "is")
  • Improper article -- "an" is used before a word that begins with a vowel or has a vowel phoneme at its beginning, such as a silent "h" in the phrase "an hour"
  • Punctuation -- Online comments and emails invite a more casual writing style where punctuation is relaxed but academic writing requires proper punctuation.
  • Noun quantity agreement -- proper use of plural/singular nouns ("There are many criminal in the world" is incorrect as "criminal" should be "criminals")
  • Bibliography -- not necessary when using end/footnotes
  • URLs -- place within footnote, not within body of your document
  • Ibidem -- for repeated citations
  • Foreign Words -- in italics (e.g., Latin)

Cite Sources Often

For (almost) every bold statement of fact in your research paper you should have a citation. Imagine you're on a Sunday morning political talk show, and the host wants to humiliate you. For every bold statement you make ("all cats make horrible pets") you should have a reference to a study from some reputable institute on companion animals where they concluded that cats are annoying. TIP: if you find yourself writing a sentence that includes "all" or "most", you should have a citation because you're asserting a fact and someone may want to challenge that. Example: "Most computers are infected with some malware" or "All hackers seek profit motive." Oh really? Says who? Where'd you get that data? Wikipedia is one of many great research tools. It is not a primary source. Do NOT cite Wikipedia in your written assignments. Do NOT directly copy-and-paste from Wikipedia.

External Research

It should come as no surprise that in writing a research paper, there may be a fair amount of research necessary. Your instructors have provided you with a very rich library of required and supplemental readings. Students who show initiative and pursue external sources will be rewarded. On the other hand, some research papers read more like high school "book reports" -- graduate education should not be simply to regurgitate what you heard in class or read in books. You should absorb the knowledge, analyze it, put it in perspective with your other knowledge and experience, and provide your interpretation of the subject matter.


Many times, a quotation is used in lieu of coherent thought. A string of quotations does not make for a meaningful and thought-provoking written work; consider paraphrasing (and citing) instead. In cases where the actual quotation is powerful enough to discuss in your work, surround short quotations with quotation marks and follow with a footnote. For long quotations (over 40 words or more than three lines), create a free-standing block of single-spaced text, without quotes, indented by half-inch on the left margin. Avoid quoting directly from instructor presentations as they are merely interpretations of the required readings. Instead, cite the underlying primary source the instructor was speaking about.

Word Choice

With almost every paragraph of your research paper, you should be able to answer your reader's implied question: "So What?" In other words, why did I just spend time reading that paragraph? How does it apply to me? Read through your paper and see if you have properly addressed the "so what" question that your reader will be asking. Write concisely to deliver your thoughts expeditiously and with little friction. Avoid awkward, vague, repetitive, and colloquial language (see below).

Passive Voice

A sentence uses passive voice when the object of an action is the subject of the sentence. In other words, whatever or whoever is performing the action is not the subject of the sentence ("Why was the road crossed by the chicken?" or "mistakes were made"). Avoid passive voice whenever possible; an active voice is more engaging to the reader and the delivery is more authoritative.


Clichés and colloquialisms are phrases that might be useful in an informal email or when spoken aloud during a PowerPoint presentation, but have no reason to be in a formal academic writing.

  • "Basically" or "Paradigm Shift" -- avoid filler words.
  • "Currently" -- you write in present tense so this is a filler word (i.e., "Currently, our cyber defense is inadequate" is not nearly as impressive as "Our cyber defenses are inadequate").
  • "a lot" -- should never be used in formal writing of any kind (at work or in post-graduate education). Could you imagine telling your boss "there are a lot of hackers". How many are in a "lot"? Even worse is when it is misspelled: alot.

Grammar Comics