This year we had a number of submissions on quite interesting topics.Unfortunately, the judges could agree on only one paper which we felt was qualified to receive a prize.
Going over the various submissions, I personally was reminded of how difficult it is to write an academic paper in any language. I was also reminded of some of the differences that one sees among among different types of academic papers, and also some of the differences that one notices between typical academic papers written in Japanese and in English. Perhaps saying a word about this might help to give candidates in future more of an idea about what kind of paper we expect.
At a typical American university, a typical undergraduate student in the humanities or social sciences will write numerous 'short' papers (of roughly 2,000 words or so) over his or her academic career.
Most, however, unless they go on graduate school, will probably never write a paper that is much longer than that. The opposite is true, I believe, for a typical undergraduate student in Japan.
Many students in Japan will end up writing one long academic paper that is required to graduate, but few will have had much experience writing the kind of short papers that we ask students to submit in this contest. Because of that, a number of the submissions appear to be short versions of what were originally much longer papers. These often include 'chapters' on literature review, and other elements that would be appropriate in much longer papers, but are out of place in short 2,000-word papers.
In addition to that, some of the papers we received appear to be English versions of papers that were originally written in Japanese. That is not against the rules, but it can be a problem in the sense that what is expected of an academic paper written in Japanese sometimes differs from what is expected of a typical paper written in English. There are exceptions of course, but often a Japanese paper will begin by introducing the topic and introducing some kind of 'mondai settei', or issue that is to be the focus of the paper.
The paper will then go on to pull the reader along as the author examines various aspects of that issue before finally arriving at a conclusion. In contrast, a typical academic paper written in English, at least in the humanities and social sciences, will tend to go so far as to include a 'thesis statement' in the introduction. For those of you who want an in-depth explanation of what a thesis statement is and how to produce one, I recommend the annual academic writing workshop that is held at both Hiyoshi and Mita, but for now I will just say that it is very similar to what is considered the 'conclusion' of the author. By beginning the paper with this, the author is then forced to make a logical and persuasive argument that justifies his or her point of view. The thesis statement also functions to narrow the focus
of a paper, as information which is not directly relevant to building a persuasive argument will be omitted.
Almost all of the papers that we received were lacking a clear thesis statement. Because of this, often the arguments were much too broad in scope, including information which was not really relevant.
Once again, for students who might aspire to submit their papers to the contest in the future, I strongly recommend attending the annual workshops in academic writing in English that we sponsor at both the Hiyoshi and Mita campuses.