How to Write a Paper at the Master's Degree Level
Writing a paper at the master's degree level requires considerably more research and planning than an undergraduate paper. The requirements for these papers can vary according to your discipline and the professor assigning the paper. Also, not all master's level papers have the same purpose, although most emphasize research.
Choose a paper topic based on the existing scholarly literature in the field in which you conduct research. Research at the master's degree level is primarily based on attempting to come up with a topic that is narrow in scope, but answers a significant question that exists in the scholarly literature. One of the primary purposes of the master's level paper is to prepare the student for later doctoral research and writing. Once you have chosen a topic, read the major works by other scholars in the field to discover the major themes in the scholarly literature.
Analyze the existing literature and look for problems in the scholarship. Some scholars can reach unwarranted conclusions based on the data they used to write their work. Others leave questions unanswered. Yet other scholars may have conducted research now contradicted by new data. Critique the existing scholarship so that your paper makes a contribution to the ongoing scholarly debate. This prepares you for the work you complete if you go on to pursue a doctorate.
Create an outline for your paper. The outline should consist of an introduction, body and conclusion. Many graduate level papers have an abstract that precedes the introduction. Your use of an abstract depends upon the research discipline and whether or not it is required by your professor. Your outline's body should consist of all of the major points of your paper so that you can map out your train of thought as you go.
Write your rough draft based on your outline. Remember that your paper's primary purpose is to review the existing literature and suggest possible directions for new research or critique the existing research. You should formulate your rough draft with this intention in mind.
Revise your paper as necessary to assure that it is both thorough and clear in its assessment of the scholarly debate. Make reasonable conclusions and suggestions regarding the the direction of future debate and draw your own definitive conclusion as the starting point for that debate. In doing so, you position your research in such a way that scholars must answer your work, if your research is of publishable quality.
Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.