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Lesson Navigation IconOnline Guidelines for Academic Research and Writing

Unit Navigation IconThe academic research process

Unit Navigation IconOrganization and project management

Unit Navigation IconLiterature research and application

Unit Navigation IconWriting an academic paper

LO Navigation IconRequirements regarding academic papers

LO Navigation IconFormal structure of papers

LO Navigation IconQuotations and references

LO Navigation IconCreating a bibliography

LO Navigation IconWriting coaching

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Requirements regarding academic papers

Moral demands and plagiarism

Plagiarism: A breach of intellectual honesty

Academic writing requires observing certain rules such as the written as well as unwritten obligations to respect «intellectual honesty» (Baade et al. 2005: 27). You should refrain from falsifying data, results, and facts to convince others to adopt a particular opinion, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Plagiarism is a severe breach of intellectual honesty. In this context, plagiarism is «to adorn oneself with borrowed plumes», to copy or adopt content of other studies or texts without any references to its origin or author.


Plagiarism is not a trivial offense but theft of intellectual property!

The obligation to respect intellectual honesty applies to any kind of academic writing (even when doing some exercises, a homework, or a term paper), and any kind of sources (especially when using the Internet). This also includes copying results and exercises from one another is considered a plagiarism. When publishing papers containing plagiarisms, you commit a crime according to civil law and is liable to prosecution. A breach of academic integrity (even if committed unintentionally since ignorance is no excuse) can end your (academic) career at the worst (Baade et al. 2005: 27–28).


The University of Zurich uses ‹PlagScan› to check academic papers, etc.

actPlagiarism is more trouble than it's worth! Why?
Plagiarisms sooner or later are uncovered, especially if committed by a public person such as a politician. In some cases this lead to the dispossession of their academic title and their resignation.

Check part of your own work! Click on the link below and copy a section of your text in the field provided ‹https://www.plagscan.com/›

Including knowledge already existing

Students often think that adopting content of others is not satisfying since it detracts from their own contribution. However, collecting, assembling, and combining various sources is already an important and rather challenging part of your scientific work; it is therefore appreciated accordingly.

First, including knowledge already existing is welcome (reinventing the wheel is not necessary); second, chances are that you make progress just by assembling and comparing various sources. However, it is also important to comment on the sources' information already used. Your opinions, statements, and interpretations are a mandatory part of any paper (Petersen 1987: 19–32), but it is also necessary to see which part represents your own ideas and which one the comments of others.


It is mandatory to highlight what has been adopted from others.

Scientific requirements


Research results have to be traceable. In fact, it is not possible to follow statements inter-subjectively at all times since you do not always get the exact same results, even if using the same methods. Insights are always related to a human subject, in exact science (such as natural science) as well (Bopp 2000: 36). When writing an academic paper, it is important to document your way of gaining knowledge. Terms have to be defined clearly while disclosing the origin of all data or methods used and revealing the basics of your investigations. If such information is inaccurate or not disclosed at all, it will no longer be possible to follow the arguments of an academic paper.


Methods are reliable if results are repeatedly the same on equal terms. Especially in social sciences, it is often not possible to reproduce the same conditions since research in this field is generally not conducted under laboratory conditions. Additionally, social sciences deal with individuals not always reacting similarly, although having the same options. It is therefore necessary to document in detail how certain results have been gained before indicating why you have drawn which conclusions.


Methods are valid when measuring what they pretend to do. It sometimes happens that data are generalized improperly. It is not possible to find absolute truth; we can only research on the basis of the current state of scientific knowledge, which can very well be already outdated tomorrow. When writing a paper, you have to separate assumptions and opinions from facts. It is by all means possible to make assumptions; however, they always have to be evident.


Separate (reliable) facts from (unreliable) opinions and assumptions!

Stylistic requirements

Academic papers should be comprehensible and accessible to interested circles. You should avoid vexing writing styles, run-on or interlacing sentences, overblown diction, sequences of technical terms, gutter language, or slang. In case of doubt, it is advisable to translate foreign terms (Bänsch 1999: 20).


Answer the questions posed; and don't digress from the topic!

Papers should be read, not archived and filed away. In addition to a correct use of content and grammar, it is important to choose well as regards style and diction. Before the deadline, you should allow extra time for editing the paper and strive for an accurate, good style of expression. It is preferable to use correct, short, and distinct phrasings, an exact or even surprising choice of words as well as an expressive style of writing. You should avoid insignificant titles (e.g.: 1. Geographical Overview; 2. Historical Overview; 3. Main Part; 4. Results; etc.), set phrases, and unnecessary filler sentences.


Complicated or overblown sentences are not a sign of good quality!

A text should be unique, neither emotive nor ingratiating. When writing a scientific paper, it is not suitable to use elaborate explanations or a bombastic style of writing. If at all, you should express dismay or consternation in a soberly way. This does not imply that you have to be indifferent to the topic of your paper or that you cannot be affected by it (cf. Esselborn-Krumbiegel, 2004).


There won't be top grades for a paper full of mistakes, even if it's brilliant as regards content!

Layout and length

There are a lot of layout options when using a common word-processing program. The most important things are readability and clarity. When writing a paper with more than one or two pages, we recommend using fonts with serifs instead of sans-serif ones (cf. fig. 9).

Fig. 9: Examples of fonts with serifs and sans-serifs. Source: Diagram by author.Fig. 9: Examples of fonts with serifs and sans-serifs. Source: Diagram by author.

Most of the time, when writing seminar papers, exercises, a bachelor's or master's thesis, it is mandatory not to exceed a certain length. Before dealing with a topic in detail, this given number of pages appears to be a lot. However, on taking a closer look it becomes apparent that a topic can be dealt with in much more detail than expected; the maximum number of pages then appears to be insufficient. It is necessary though to pay attention to these requirements, more or less. On the one hand, it is not always convenient to correct thirty pages instead of the ten required. On the other hand, it is part of the assignment to cope with limiting factors such as time or length.

Almost all scientific journals have binding provisions as regards the length of texts. Authors must observe these rules if they want to get published. In addition, such a provision prevents a topic from escalating with regard to content. Most of the time, texts get better after shortening since it is then easier to concentrate on priorities.

Before the age of DP there were more or less binding definitions as regards the number of keystrokes per page. The following rules applied:

  • One line comprised 60 to 70 characters (the so-called «academic line»)
  • The line pitch was medium (spacing 1.5)
  • This resulted in approx. 35 lines or 2'100 to 2'500 characters per page for a running text without any heads or illustrations

When using word-processing programs, the number of keystrokes can vary strongly, depending on the font and its size. However, lines that contain more than 80 characters start to become a strain to the eye. Likewise more than 40 lines per page are considered as too dense (cf. fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Comparison of various fonts. Source: Diagram by author.Fig. 10: Comparison of various fonts. Source: Diagram by author.
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