Candidacy Paper Guidelines

ESS, Winter 2011: Guidelines for the Candidacy Paper

Advancement to MES candidacy is based, in part, on the student demonstrating ability to design and execute a scholarly research paper and effectively communicate research results in an oral presentation. The candidacy paper – a paper of professional quality – is the major writing task this quarter. The distinguishing feature of professional-level work is that it is worthy of attention by a significant audience larger than your peers and faculty seminar leader.  Your candidacy paper will demonstrate your skills, ideas and understanding of a topic that you are intellectually curious about and interested in.  As you prepare your paper pay careful attention to the following elements:

Subject and Scope

Your candidacy paper will relate to an area of environmental studies that interests you. Environmental studies are interdisciplinary so you have the opportunity to examine your topic from more than one disciplinary perspective. The choice of topic is yours and can be in an area related to your future thesis topic or something completely different. Your paper should cover the essential and necessary elements of the literature on your chosen topic. It is important to choose a manageable scale for the time allowed for this paper and the page guidelines.


Your seminar leader and the ESS class is your main audience, but the paper should be interesting and readable to environmental studies professionals outside the program who are not specialists in your topic. For example, you might send your candidacy paper with a job application to demonstrate your professional writing skills.

Question or Thesis

The paper should address a hypothesis and research question, and utilize the existing literature to provide evidence for your analysis.  One approach would be an assessment of the positions previous authors have taken concerning your topic – discussing which side is most convincing to you and why. Another option is to take a central question that has not been clearly or effectively presented in the literature and frame that question in a different, and in your opinion better, way.


Since you will base the paper on published results of other people’s data it is important that you exercise creativity, ingenuity, and diligence in finding as much relevant material as possible. You will need to explain why your evidence is the best available. The paper should be based, in large part, on primary literature sources including peer-reviewed journals, scholarly books and government documents.


Although you are not collecting new raw data, methodology is still important. You should utilize research skills and techniques from gCORE, including searching the literature, keeping a reference log, and annotating bibliographies. You should ask yourself what types of evidence will be important in answering or modifying your central question. Biological evidence? Historical? Economic and political factors? You should be very conscious of the types of evidence you mobilize to make your argument and how you use that evidence, and be prepared to explain the extent to which this evidence adequately supports your thesis or hypothesis.


At its heart, analysis means asking questions about the data and information you gathered in your research. The questions are the same that you should ask in analyzing a text for a seminar discussion, for example:  What implicit assumptions and premises underlie the materials you have read? How defensible are they? How effectively do authors respond to alternative points of view? Once you have written your initial drafts you should ask the same questions of your own paper. No matter how thoroughly you describe the results of your research, you have not done a professional level paper until you have also analyzed your own results.

Physical Form

Your paper should be typed, paginated, with one-inch margins. The length of the report should be equivalent to a 12-point font, 12 to 15 pages of double-spaced text document excluding the title page, bibliography, graphics, photographs, etc. Consult your seminar leader for their preference of font, spacing and submission mode (e.g., hard copy or electronic submission).

Give thought to an appropriate title that reflects your main argument or conclusion. Check your paper for correct spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax; all writing you submit for others to read should be as free as possible of these problems. Use tables and figures if those help to clarify your points. All figures should have captions, and tables should have titles that explain the content; figures and tables should be numbered and referred to in the body of the text. You must cite all evidence, ideas and data that are not general knowledge, using proper bibliographic and citation style; you may use any recognized style so long as you are consistent. For a useful guide to citation styles, see Long Island University’s:


During the final class meetings, you will present your paper to the rest of the class using PowerPoint. You will have 20 minutes, including 5 minutes for questions, to present your most important findings in a cohesive and concise manner. Visual aids can make a good oral presentation great and are often key to conveying complex concepts in an accessible way. Therefore, your oral presentation should be accompanied by visual aids of some sort: images, graphs, tables, conceptual diagrams, or a combination.


Plagiarism includes not only the unattributed copying of another writer’s language (sentences or distinctive phrases), but also unattributed transmission of another writer’s ideas. Since your paper will be replete with ideas, most of them not your own, you should have many citations to their true authors. Intellectual creativity is a commons: we are permitted to take freely from the work of one another, but are required in return to make this process public and not take false credit.

Candidacy Paper Checkpoints

  • Thu, Week 2: Select final topic
  • Thu, Week 3: Annotated bibliography and abstract
  • Tue, Week 7: Draft for peer review – and peer review
  • Tue, Week 8: Draft for faculty review
  • Tue, Week 10: Final draft
  • Tue & Thu, Week 10:  Oral Presentation

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