What does a good scientific paper look like? The scheme below should help you get to the bottom of this question. While acknowledging that it is impossible to do full justice to the complexities of written work, the scheme should at least give you some indication of what to look out for.
|A (Sehr Gut)||B (Gut)||C (Befriedigend)||D (Ausreichend)||F (Nicht ausreichend)|
|Argument||The paper makes a CLEAR AND CONCISE argument. It hypothesizes the relationship between its dependent and independent variable(s) and RIGOROUSLY tests this relationship in the empirical section. The paper contains NO factual errors.||The paper makes a CLEAR argument. It hypothesizes the relationship between its dependent and independent variable(s) and CAREFULLY tests this relationship in the empirical section. It contains SOME factual errors.||The paper makes an argument, which is however NOT ENTIRELY clear. It is unclear which (in)dependent variable(s) have been chosen and the “state of the art” is presented INDISTINCTLY. The student has made SOME EFFORT to reconcile theory and empirics. The paper contains some factual errors.||The paper attempts to make an argument but largely fails to "get its point across". The reader only has a remote understanding of what the student wants to explain and how. The literature review is unrefined and theoretical and empirical parts HARDLY FIT together. The paper contains VARIOUS factual errors.||The paper makes no argument. The theoretical part is missing or reduced to the point where it resembles a “caricature”. The empirical part is not connected to previous sections of the paper. Factual errors abound.|
|Structure||The paper is well structured. Individual sections are ALWAYS well connected. The reader never loses sight of the “big picture”. All sections are STRICTLY NECESSARY for the paper's argument.||The paper is well structured. Individual sections are MOSTLY well connected. The reader never loses sight of the “big picture”. There are individual DIGRESSIONS putting the reader off track.||The paper is not well structured. Individual sections are well connected. The reader SOMETIMES loses sight of the “big picture”. The paper SOMETIMES digresses into other areas.||The paper is not well structured. Individual sections are RARELY well connected. The reader OFTEN loses sight of the “big picture” and digressions are FREQUENT.||The paper has no recognizable structure. Individual sections are not connected. The reader feels lost from start to finish.|
|Presentation||Formatting rules (font type, line spacing, etc.) have been FOLLOWED. Table of contents and list of abbreviations are COMPLETE. Tables and figures in the text HELP the reader. The paper contains NO typos.||Formatting rules have been followed. Table of contents and list of abbreviations are complete. Tables and figures in the text are INEFFECTUAL. The paper contains INDIVIDUAL typos.||Formatting rules have NOT been entirely followed. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations miss INDIVIDUAL items. The paper has NO tables or figures in the main text. The manuscript contains SOME typos, suggesting that it has been prepared at the last minute.||Formatting rules have not been entirely followed. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations miss VARIOUS entries. The paper has no tables or figures. FREQUENT typos give the impression of careless working habits.||Formatting rules have been disregarded. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations missing. No tables and/or figures. The manuscript is rife with typos.|
|References||Sources are marked CLEARLY in the text. The required citation style is used consistently throughout the paper WITHOUT errors. The reference section at the end is complete and contains ALL sources (no more, no less).||Sources are marked clearly in the text. The required citation style is used with SOME errors which do however not hamper finding the source. INDIVIDUAL items in the references are misplaced.||Sources are marked clearly in the text. The citation style is used inconsistently. Finding the source is OCCASIONALLY difficult. SOME items in the references are misplaced.||Sources are NOT ALWAYS (!) marked clearly in the text. Finding the source is occasionally difficult. Some items in the bibliography are misplaced.||Sources are not marked in the text (plagiarism!?). No recognizable citation style used. References missing or containing many errors.|
|Sources||In the theoretical section the paper uses contributions from PEER-REVIEWED scholarly journals and high-quality book publishers (e.g., university presses). The empirical section draws from a LARGE number of available primary sources.||In the theory part the paper MOSTLY uses contributions from scholarly journals or high-quality publishers. The empirical section draws from a large number of available primary sources.||In the theoretical section the paper uses SOME contributions of limited scholarly standing (e.g., working papers, MA-theses, self-published books). The empirical section uses FEW available primary sources.||The theory section MOSTLY consists of low-quality (scholarly) sources. The empirical section is taken mostly from secondary sources and only REHASHES what others have done already.||The paper contains few to no scholarly and primary sources.|
Most categories should be self explaining. But the presentation category deserves a special mention. As the inclusion of at least one table (or figure) is usually a good indicator of the work that has gone into a paper, I have included this aspect rather vigorously in the scheme. Without a figure or table it will be hard to reach anything better than a C in this category. Tables and figures simply lighten up the text and reel in the reader. Moreover, styling a table or figure to perfection is much harder than it first seems and can help you develop a clearer argument.
Also note that if you do not always (!) mark all sources clearly in the text you could commit plagiarism, resulting in a D in the references category. Where the problem becomes endemic and leaves me no choice but to come to the assessment that you, in fact, plagiarized the result will be an automatic F for the paper overall; no matter its other merits. You may also note that I use the terms references (as in references section at the end of the paper) and bibliography interchangeably in the scheme.
Over time I have come to appreciate this scheme as a fairly efficient vehicle to communicate to students what determines a good scientific paper.