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How to write a paper – Academic writing for archival, library and information sciences

Academic texts are based on the research and knowledge of others. When you write a term paper, for example, you will need to read about the topic. The texts that you have read and used when writing your paper will in turn refer to other texts, such as textbooks or articles in journals. In the academic community, the academic publications of others are used as a basis for one's own reflections and points of view. Texts that are not based on previous research are not considered academic. It is dishonest to refer to the research of others without making reference to sources.

It can have serious consequences, even for a student, to submit a text that quotes from or makes reference to the research of others without including references. This is called plagiarism, and it could result in the paper not being approved. You could also be suspected of cheating. The University of Bergen Library has produced an informative and funny video about this: A Plagiarism Carol (YouTube). The solution to the problem is simple: learn the fundamental rules of academic writing.

Here at the Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, we have prepared some aids that may be of help when you are writing academic texts. Since a good academic text requires good language, we have prepared an overview of language rules and advice (

Written genres (PDF) provides an overview of the requirements for content, form and language that apply when you, as a student, have to write a report, article, memorandum of understanding or similar.

On our pages, you can also find help regarding how to format in-text citations and prepare a correct list of references in accordance with the APA citation style (PDF, in Norwegian only).

Student papers – structure and content

Formal requirements

  • Font and font size: 12-point Times New Roman
  • Line spacing: 1.5
  • Printed on one or both sides of the paper
  • Margins: default

A 'typical' student paper will consist of the following parts (the parts in brackets are only relevant in connection with big papers, such as bachelor's or master's theses):

Research question

The starting point for a paper is always a research question. What is the question; what is it that you want to find an answer to? Research questions should not be worded so that they can be answered with a simple yes or no.

In the introduction, you paint a picture of the topic you want to explore. For example, you can place the topic in a historical context and/or explain why you have taken an interest in the field.  Towards the end of the introduction, the research question emerges as a natural part of the picture you have painted.

Make your research question specific

Maybe you are curious about what the consequences would be if the lending desk were removed from the library. You realise that this is a vague topic and that you need to be more specific. What does 'consequences' mean in this context? Is it organisational consequences, such as staffing requirements, working environment effects or changes in user behaviour? Are there particular aspects of this that you want to explore, for example, whether library users find it easier than before to contact the library staff? Will you be looking at a particular type of library, for example public libraries, or a particular target group, for example adult library users? It is natural for the research question to be followed by any sub-questions and/or delimitation.

Alternatively, you may want to examine how digitisation influences access to archives. This is also a paper that could take many different directions. Does 'digitation' mean fully electronic archives, where documents are created in electronic formats, does it mean that paper documents are digitised by means of scanning, or that aids such as registers and archive catalogues are in digital form? Do you want to focus on active archives in the government administration, or archives that are no longer active and have been handed over to dedicated archival institutions? It could also be interesting to write about systematic dissemination via the internet or the general public's use of the Electronic Public Records (OEP) database to get an overview of matters processed by the government administration.

It is demanding to formulate an accurate research question, and it is well worth investing time in this process.

How can you answer your question?

Once the research question has been formulated, the work to find the best way of answering it begins. Is it necessary to carry out an investigation? If so, what methods should be used? Will you be using qualitative methods, such as interviews, or quantitative methods, such as questionnaire surveys? Explain your chosen method(s). In big papers, the student will be expected to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different possible methods.


The next question to ask is what kind of theory will be most helpful in achieving the goal of the assignment. If you are looking into organisational matters, it may be a good idea to read about organisational theory. If your focus is on aspects of communication between librarians/archivists and library users, it may be natural to seek out theory on interpersonal communications, or perhaps more specifically on 'customer relations' in the public sector. Are there corresponding investigations or has previous research been conducted in the field?

You must present all the relevant theory you have used to the reader. The scope of the theory section depends on the size of the paper.


In the main body of text, you discuss your research question in light of the theory. If you have carried out any form of investigation, this is where you present your results. Do your figures and observations tally with the findings of previous research and existing theories? What is similar, and what is different? How can you explain any deviations? Were there faults and shortcomings in the chosen method or in how the investigation was carried out? In this part, you can argue your own points of view or explain which explanatory model you find most credible and why. 


The discussion ends in a conclusion. Please note that you must not draw sweeping conclusions on the basis of a small-scale investigation. Maybe there is a need for further investigation and research in the field?

Brief summary

An academic paper must be based on a research question and seek to answer this question. The paper must have a clear and logical structure.  The language must be varied, clear and fluent.  Many yield to the temptation to construct complicated sentences to give their paper a more academic feel. It is better to use short sentences. Use the full stop. Use verbs instead of piling up adjectives and nouns. Avoid colloquialisms and verbal phrasing. For example, when outlining your thesis, you are not going to "look at" your topic, you "explore" (or a similar verb) it.

Why reference sources?

In a nutshell, you reference sources to make your argument credible and verifiable, and to give it academic weight. "Verifiable" means that others can check that your information is correct and used in the proper context. Academic honesty is important; you should reference the originator of all theories and arguments that are not your own.

So, sources are referenced to:

  • document facts
  • substantiate one's own claims and theories
  • refer to background reading
  • refer to background theory

NOTE: Do not reference sources for information that is (or should be) common knowledge and/or easily verifiable. For example, there is no need to reference a source to confirm that Paris is the capital of France or the year that Henrik Ibsen died.

In-text citations

There are several in-text citation styles.

At the Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science (ABI), we use the Harvard referencing system. That means that we refer to the last name(s) of the author or authors and the year of publication in in-text citations.

Hakkepølsa (Lindgren 2003) is a novel that can be read at many different levels.
The topic of Lindgren's novel Hakkepølsa (2003) is tuberculosis.
An interesting paper on the public library as a meeting place was written by Hilde Ljødal (2005).

In the last two examples, the name of the author is mentioned in the text, and it is therefore not necessary to repeat it inside the parenthetical citation.

When quotations are used, the page number, chapter or similar must be given for reasons of verifiability. Example of a reference to an exact section in a publication: 'In the library community, it is often claimed that the physical library will become more important as a result of new technology' (Ljødal 2005 p. 5).  

If the same source is quoted repeatedly in the same context, we only repeat what is new to the reader. Jørgen H. Marthinsen wrote a basic textbook for archival studies (1991). In the introduction, he writes: 'Archival studies consist of two main parts – archive creation and archival repository' (p. 15). Filing systems are dealt with in chapter 7. He writes the following about the requirements of the filing system: 'The purpose is for the filing system to be functional for users. The stipulated requirements are intended to make it possible to realise this purpose' (p. 223).

Referencing publications with one author or editor

In-text citations:
... (Alsvik2005)

In the reference list:
Alsvik, O.(Red.). (2005) Musikk, identitet og sted . Oslo: Norsk lokalhistorisk institutt.

In-text citation:
… (Marthinsen 2003)

In the reference list:
Marthinsen, J. H. (2003) Arkivdanning: Veiledning i arkivarbeid.  Oslo: Unipub.

Missing primary source

We should always strive to quote the original source. If the primary source is very difficult to track down, for example, if it only exists in an archive, a secondary source can be used. The risk associated with using a secondary source is that this source may have misunderstood or misquoted the primary source. Therefore, we must clearly indicate that a secondary source has been used:

In-text citation:
 … (Steenberg, cited in Spangen 2005, p. 59)

According to Steenberg (as cited in Spangen 2005, p. 59),

In the reference list:
Spangen, I.C. (2005). En nøkkel til biblioteket blir til: Katalogen og katalogiseringsreglene i historisk perspektiv. Oslo: Høgskolen i Oslo.

NOTE: We only reference the source we have actually consulted.

Direct and indirect quotations

It is sometimes desirable to quote the sources used when presenting theory. We distinguish between direct and indirect quotations. Direct quotations reproduce the text exactly as it is in the original document, while indirect quotations paraphrase or summarise the content.

Direct quotations must be clearly marked so that they are distinct from the text written by you. Direct quotations can be marked using:

  • Quotation marks
  • Italics
  • Indentation in the text
  • Smaller line spacing
  • Smaller font

Quotation marks are recommended for short direct quotations (of less than 40 words).

An example of a short direct quotation:
 ... 'The Act relating to the Legal Deposit of Generally Available Documents is a special act in relation to the Copyright Act, and it permits the use of an obligation to deposit documents. ' (St.meld. nr. 23 (2008-2009) kap. 5.2.2)

For longer quotations, it will be more expedient to use one of the other techniques.

Example of a long direct quotation:
In Report No 23 to the Storting (2008–2009), this is worded as follows:

Act No 2 of 12 May 1961 relating to Copyright in Literary, Scientific and Artistic Works etc. (the Copyright Act), Section 2 confers on the person who created a work an exclusive right to use and distribute it. This exclusive right covers reproduction (making copies of the work) and making the work available to the public.
Reproducing or distributing copies of the work outside the private sphere must be authorised by the copyright holder. For example, spreading literature via a library or making literary, scientific and artistic works available online are subject to the exclusive right.' (chapter 5.2.1)

The use of indentation makes it clear that this is a quotation.

Indirect quotations: Direct quotations may result in a somewhat 'inconsistent' text, and the text will often flow more smoothly if you present the material using your own words. The source must of course be referenced.

Example of an indirect quotation:
According to the National Strategy for Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Cultural Heritage, there is a separate provision in the regulations to the Copyright Act that entitles the National Library to digitise its collections to preserve and secure them. The National Library is also charged with disseminating its collections. This takes place in accordance with the Copyright Act (St.meld. nr. 24 (2008-2009) kap. 5.2).

The reference list

As mentioned above, we use Harvard style for in-text citations (the author-date style). At ABI, the entries in the reference list must be in APA style. It is important that the in-text citations correspond to the list of references. This means that the APA entries in the reference list are organised by the last name(s) of the author(s), followed by the year of publication.

In-text citation:
 ……(Riverton 2006)


In the reference list:
Riverton, S. (2006). Jernvognen: Kriminalroman.  Bergen: Vigmostad & Bjørke.

Examples of APA entries

Bell, B. L. (1998). An annotated guide to current national bibliographies (2. totalt rev. utg.).

München: Saur.

Newspaper or journal articles:
Hegge, P. E. (2004, 5. februar). Bibliotekene brukes! Aftenposten, Aften , s. 2. Holtvedt, T.

(2004). Tusenårsarkivet. ABM, 1 (1), 28-29.

Articles in compendia:
Kvelvane, O. I. (2007). Kjønnlitteratur. I C. Naper (Red.), Litteratursosiologi: Tekstsamling

(s. 108-109). Oslo: Høgskolen i Oslo.

Online publications:
Book published online:
ABM-utvikling. (2007) Bibliotektjenester i fengsel: Plan for 2007-2009. Hentet fra

Electronic journal articles:
Benestad, H. B. (2006) Forskningsfusk:Sudbø-saken i historisk lys. Samtiden , 3. Hentet


Official documents:
St.meld. nr. 22 (2006-2007). (2007) Veiviseren:For det norske film løftet. Hentet fra

Offentleglova (2006). Lov om rett til innsyn i dokument i offentleg verksemd (offentleglova).

Hentet fra