In most cases, a linguistics analysis paper should be more like a science lab report than like a literary essay. This philosophy affects both the structure and the style of the paper.
- Breaking your paper down into numbered sections,
sometimes with numbered subsections, helps make the structure
of your argument very clear.
- Start your paper with an Introduction section that
includes a statement of the research
question you have addressed — the "point" of the paper — and
a brief summary of the answer that you have found. Don't
worry about giving away the punch line. Your readers will thank
you if you tell them right away what your arguments are leading
up to; this helps them follow your discussion.
- After you have stated your research question and a summary
of your answer, much of the rest of the paper will be about
giving your readers argumentation and
evidence to support your conclusions.
You should do this with data and discussion. State each piece of the argument clearly. Wherever relevant, immediately show data that supports your claim. That is, don't keep referring back to a huge chart of data in one place in your paper — organize the data into subparts and put it where it needs to be to show your reader that your claim or description is justified.
Just what "data" means will depend on what kind of project you are doing. It might consist of words, phrases, or sentences in the language you are analyzing, or tables or charts showing the number of times that certain items occur in certain contexts, etc.
- If your project involved collecting your own data,
whether that involved numerical values, utterances from
native speakers, or linguistic forms from written or
be sure to explain your methodology (perhaps in a
separate Methodology section near the begining of the paper).
What kind of data did you look at? Why did you make
that choice? How did you go about locating or collecting
relevant examples to analyze?
For a paper written for one of my classes, include all your raw data with the paper unless otherwise stated. Depending on the nature of the data, this may best be done with raw data in an appendix and selected representative examples, or numerical summaries, presented in the main text of the paper. If your project involved so much data that you don't think it makes sense to include it even in an appendix, consult with me and we'll figure out how you should handle it. (Sometimes when you are preparing a paper for external publication, it may not be feasible to include all raw data.)
In the body of the paper, you need to find a way to present the relevant patterns in your data. If you are working with numerical data (how many times a word occurred, the average pitch of a syllable, etc.), you should report your data in the form of tables and also with a data graphic such as a scatterplot, a line or bar graph, or some other appropriate kind of chart or diagram. (Some journals ask you to present a table or a graphic and not both. For a paper written for one of my classes, however, I would like you to do both.)
- Some tips for making good data graphics:
- Set up your data graphics in a format that best draws attention to what you want to compare.
- Keep your data graphics visually simple. 3D bar graphs for 2D data are busy rather than useful.
- Avoid pie charts; they have been shown to be difficult for viewers to interpret accurately.
- In your discussion, where appropriate, use as much
linguistic formalism as you can based on your background;
this might include a morphological or phonological rule,
phonological properties, syntactic tree structures, or
a formalism or analysis convention introduced in one of your
But also, be sure to state in plain English what your use of formalism is intended to show. This is important because (a) formalisms can go out of date and be hard for later generations of linguists to read, and (b) you may have made an error in your formalism, so the prose statement is a backup device that tells the reader what you actually wanted your formal analysis to do.
- A linguistics audience will be more impressed by
well-organized thinking and clarity of discussion
than by flowery language. An elegant writing style
can sometimes be a nice thing, but not if it comes at
the expense of clarity.
For more information about clear and effective writing,
on writing prepared by UNC's Writing Center.
- Where appropriate, be sure to use linguistics
terminology that has been introduced in the course.
- How to format linguistic data in your paper:
- If you give a linguistic form in the middle of a paragraph, unless it is in [fənɛtɪk sɪmblz], it should be in italics (or underlined). If you give linguistic data in a separate table or chart, italics are not necessary.
- For non-English data, English glosses should be provided in single quotes.
- In Japanese, the nouns hana 'flower' and hana 'nose' are distinguished only by pitch accent.
- The English verb know is a stative predicate, but the Japanese verb sir- 'know, find out' is an achievement predicate.
- If you give non-English data involving whole phrases or sentences, include a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss as well as a more natural English translation. (You can see examples of this in many published linguistics papers.)
- For more information about glossing linguistic examples, you may wish to refer to the Leipzig Glossing Rules, a useful summary of common abbreviations and conventions for linguistic glosses.
- If you need to cite a source, give the author's name
and publication date in the body of the paper (not in a special
footnote), and include a bibliography of sources at the end of
the paper. There is almost never a reason to give the author's full name,
the title of the article or book, or other such details in the body
of your paper (unless those facts themselves are somehow under discussion).
- Chomsky (2001) presents several ideas that will be useful here.
- This phonological principle was first applied to tone languages (Leben 1973).
- Remember that all information taken from another source needs to have a citation, even if it's not a direct quotation. (See me if you have questions about how to avoid accidental plagiarism.)
- Citations should include page numbers for direct quotations, and also for things like charts, diagrams, definitions, language data, or anything that comes from one specific place in your source (as opposed to cases where you cite a source for a general point of view or its overall discussion).
- Your paper must include a bibliography of all sources
cited in the paper. In linguistics, it is customary to use a
format that is reasonably close to APA
format, but as long as your bibliography is consistent, this can
be somewhat flexible.
- The above link to APA format includes information for internet citations.
- One point of difference from APA format that I would recommend: full first names are more informative than first initials.
- Remember to edit and proofread your paper. Typing and grammar mistakes are distracting. Rereading your paper will also help you find places where your ideas could be stated more clearly.