A research paper uses information from multiple sources to verify,
disprove, or make known conclusions reached after one has carefully
studied the subject at hand and evaluated all of the information
about it that has been gathered.
PLANNING THE PAPER
When Your Mentor Gives You a Subject
If the subject
is specific, you can probably come up with a working thesis statement
quickly and get started on your research right away.
Examine the works of Jung, Levi-Strauss, and Campbell. Compare
their thinking about mythic tales as cultural records, focusing
on ritual, religion, and community status.
wants you to examine and compare the
information in three different sources on the topic of mythic
tales as cultural records. The assignment also offers subheadings
(ritual, religion, and community status) that should help
organize your paper.
If the subject
assigned is rather broad (i.e. "World War II,"
"Drug Abuse in America"), you will want to narrow the
topic down to a more specific focus.
Your Mentor Asks You to Choose Your Own Subject
What are the greatest threats to environmental health?
How might the economy be changed to improve the environment? What
household activities could we alter for the sake of protecting
water, soil, etc?
What are you struggling with at work? What are the current
difficulties in your area of specialization?
Which historical figures do you admire? Why? What historical
time period would you like to explore and why?
and interests What do you do for fun in your spare
time? At what activities do you excel? This might include outdoor
recreation, sports, the arts, gardening, home crafts, etc.
research topic in mind, read newspapers and magazines. Flip through
encyclopedias, almanacs, or even educational television to search
for ideas of interest.
Your Subject into a More Specific Topic
star as voice of social conscience
||The US President
as international leader
habits of Tyrannosaurus Rex
and exercise when attempting to lose weight
Developing Guiding Questions
on the "John Lennon" question: John Lennon started out
as a writer of simple "pop" love songs, but eventually began
crafting music for the sake of social enlightenment. It's interesting
to think that somebody so rich and famous would cultivate a social
conscience. Celebrities are often perceived as being only self-interested.
Did John Lennon's blue-collar roots nurture his compassion for social
justice? What other aspects of his personal life may have shaped his
public life? Does being a celebrity demand a level of greater responsibility
to the community?
on the "Presidency" question: In the US, the Presidency
is often granted nearly mythic characteristics. Great leaders of our
country such as Abraham Lincoln and F. D. R. have become icons for
having exhibited what are considered the finest qualities of government
leadership qualities that are useful even in international
Why do Americans assume the President must be an international leader?
In what ways should a US President merely be a strong ally and not
one compelled to guide other nations? During wartime, how does the
international role of a US President change?
strategies may be applied to any part of the research process discussed
a more focused topic
- Write down
any or all of the thoughts that come to mind about your chosen
- Write non-stop
for 10 minutes without lifting the pen from the page or your hands
from the keyboard.
- Step away
from your work for a little while (maybe a half-hour or so).
- Look over
your free writing: Choose the idea that seems both most interesting
to you and most capable of offering depth and complexity.
with this new, narrower topic, repeat the whole process.
- Write your
topic in the center of a blank page.
it with related topics, connecting sub-topics to the main topic.
Do this by drawing a line from the sub-topic to the main topic
as if you were connecting spokes to the hub of a wheel.
- Branch other
topics off of the sub-topics (making smaller wheels).
(3) The List
- Under your
topic heading, simply list your thoughts as they come to you through
- Ask "Who?
What? Where? When? Why? How?" about your topic.
- Answer each
question as completely as possible.
your topic by answering the following questions:
a) Can you
discuss an incident about it?
b) What causes it?
c) What can you describe about the topic?
d) What results from it?
e) How does it compare to something else?
f) What are its parts, sections, or aspects?
g) What do you remember about it?
h) Why is it valuable or important?
i) Are you for or against it? Why?
j) How do you respond or feel about it?
II. LIBRARY RESEARCH
What texts might be useful?
There is also a wealth of on-line and Internet resources
that can help you with your research. For more information on available
on-line resouces, see Researching On-Line
elsewhere in this web site.
The Reference Section
Encyclopedias. Provide a wide survey of multiple topics. Numerous
entries also offer a list of works for further reading. There
are several good choices:
- Funk &
Wagnall's New Encyclopedia
- World Book
Encyclopedias. Many academic fields provide their own encyclopedias:
of African American Culture & History
of Popular Music
of Religion and Ethics
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology
Companion to English Literature
Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Works. These contain short entries on significant people,
focusing on their lives and accomplishments:
Men and Women of Science
- The American
and Genealogy Master Index (Will direct you to resources focusing
on numerous people)
of American Biography
of National Biography (British)
of Special Library and Information Centers
- New York
- Video Source
A number of encyclopedias
are also available online.
Libraries now have access to their card catalogues through a computer
terminal. In the public libraries of Monroe County, this computer
system is called LIBRAWeb. Through LIBRAWeb, you can search for books
according to an Author, Title, Subject or Significant Word. You can
search the Public Library catalog from any computer with access to
the Internet by going to http://www.rochester.lib.ny.us/
and clicking on the button, "Public Library Catalog."
To browse the
collections of other local libraries such as college libraries, click
on "Magazine Indexes and other Databases," then click on
"ROARing Cat." If you find useful materials at a college
library, often you can borrow them through interlibrary loan.
Finding Magazine Articles
From the LIBRAWeb
click on "Magazine Indexes and other Databases." You may
then select Infotrac, which contains citations to articles from popular
and academic journals. A commercial site called Northern Light (www.northernlight.com)
also offers a database of citations from journals, magazines and newspapers.
Finally, the Empire State College Web Site (www.esc.edu)
provides students access to several useful resources:
(WWW access) over 70 indexing and abstracting databases,
many with full-text articles. Each record in FirstSearch provides
a listing of libraries that own the particular item.
Online a database of U.S. college and university
250 indexing and abstracting databases, including the full
text of major newspapers (i.e. 90 days of The New York
includes the Literature Resource Center, Biography Resources
Center, Expanded Academic Index, OneFile and Association Unlimited.
Archive database of over 400,000 images compiled
by the Associated Press.
full-text electronic versions of Harper's Weekly
from the 19th century.
Reference Center Academic consumer health information.
guide to the Government Printing Office database
of documents produced by federal agencies and departments.
a collection of over 1000 electronic books that you can
"check out" for up to four hours.
over 700 full-text journals covering science, business
and the humanities.
Finding Newspaper Articles
- Newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,
and The Christian Science Monitor have their own online indexes.
Infotrac indexes The New York Times and The Wall Street
- Northern Light
includes citations from major US newspapers.
TWO WAYS TO TAKE NOTES ON YOUR SOURCES
The Researcher's Notebook
Divide a notebook
or loose-leaf binder into the following sections:
Strategy" Section. In this section, make a list of
what sources to investigate for information on your topic. As
you explore them, make a check next to the sources on your list.
This helps you to remember which sources you have already researched.
& Bibliography" Section. Keep a full record of
bibliographic information on each source that you use (author,
publisher, etc.). Write this information down according to the
documentation style that you will be using for the research paper
(the most commonly used are MLA Style,
APA Style, and Chicago
on Sources" Section. Using the following three-step
process, take notes on each source that you study:
Preview. Get a rough idea of what the source is all
about by skimming the title, the major subject headings (start
with the table of contents and the index), and
the introductory paragraphs and concluding paragraphs of the
various sections or chapters.
and Respond. Read through the source carefully, and take
notes on your responses to the text only. What crosses
your mind as you read? What questions does it raise
for you? What questions does it answer? How might you
use it for your project? Or why won't it make a good resource?
Summarize. In your own words, summarize the
main points of the source. What is its main argument (thesis),
and how does it go about proving this thesis? What details
support the thesis, and how
do you react to each of them?
the Guiding Questions" Section. After
you have thoroughly studied your source material, think about
how you might be able to use it. Compare what one source says
with what another says. If you discover disagreement, how do you
respond to it? Do you agree with some sources and not others?
Why? What answers are you finding to your Guiding Questions? What
new questions arise? Can you begin to develop a working Thesis
Statement? Can you rough out an early outline for the paper?
- Write bibliographic
information on 3x5 inch cards.
- Write significant
ideas or concepts on 4x6 inch cards .
- Use only one
card for each major point.
- In the upper-left
corner of each card, write down the author and title of the book,
- In the upper-right
corner, write the topic of the note card as a short key word
or phrase, i.e. "Tyrannosaurus Rex: Diet."
- Write the exact
page numbers for each piece of information you gather.
- File each note
card under the key word or phrase. As you gather notes, you will
be organizing groups of cards according to the various aspects
of your subject.
THREE KINDS OF NOTE TAKING
There are three kinds
of note taking: summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting. When you summarize,
paraphrase, or quote, be sure to include exact page references, since
you will need the page number later if you use the information in your
the most useful kind of preparatory note taking because it is the
quickest. A summary condenses a chapter down to a brief paragraph
or perhaps only one or two sentences. A summary is best written in
your own words. However, if you do use phrases from the primary source,
place quotation marks around them.
Here is a passage
from an original source researched for an essay on apes and language.
Following the passage is a note card summarizing it.
scientific interest in the question of apes' ability to use language
first soared some 15 years ago when Washoe, a chimpanzee raised like
a human child by R. Allen Gardner of the University of Nevada, learned
to make hand signs for many words and even seemed to be making short
Since then researchers have taught many chimpanzees and a few
gorillas and orangutans to "talk" using the sign language
of deaf humans, plastic chips or, like Kanzi, keyboard symbols. Like
Washoe, Sarah, a chimpanzee trained by David Premack of the University
of Pennsylvania, and KoKo, a gorilla trained by the psychologist Francine
Patterson, became media stars. Eckholm, "Pygmy"
Where a summary
uses fewer words in order to condense information, a paraphrase presents
information in about the same number of words as the original text.
However, if you choose to keep certain passages in their original
language, place them in quotation marks in order to distinguish your
paraphrasing from the author's exact words.
note card paraphrases the original source. Note how the word choice
is different from the original. If one were to refer to this card
later, a student would not risk plagiarism.
exact words drawn from a source. Be certain to place all direct quotations
inside of quotation marks. It is VERY difficult to recall later on
which passages, paragraphs, or words you have quoted. Also, make sure
that when you quote you have written down everything precisely, including
punctuation and capitalization.
It is good practice
not to use direct quotation too often. They are best reserved for
those instances when a writer's exact words are necessary to explain
most effectively a difficult idea, to capture a sense of the writer's
personality or style, or to express clearly how the writer objects
to or supports an opinion.
Tentative Thesis Statement
- Does it seek
both to address and solve a question?
- Does it offer
- Do you want to
write about it?
- Does your research
Should all high school graduates be required by law to serve in the
military for one year? Should this include both men and women? What
good might this do for young people? What harm?
We should require one year of military service for all high school graduates
because it will instill in them a sense of discipline and pride that
will guide them throughout their adult lives.
A significant number of young people today are finding themselves in
serious trouble with the law because of flirtation with drug use, gang
activity, or other criminal mischief. Perhaps to fight this sense of
aimlessness, the rigors of government-mandated military service would
offer young people a sense of dignity, discipline, and drive that would
guide them in making wise decisions for their future.
For additional help,
see also "Finding
Prepare an Outline
An outline is useful for the following reasons:
- It gets your
argument down on paper for the first time;
- It encourages
you to organize and develop your material; and
- It is the first
step that takes you that much further to completion.
A research paper's
most important elements organization, argumentation, and evidence
should all be in hand after developing a solid outline.
For additional help,
see also "The
WRITING THE FIRST DRAFT
When writing your first draft:
- Focus on your
ideas, on what you say, not how
you say it; and
- Treat the first
draft as raw material.
Quotations into Your Paper.
When you are using a writer's words, you need to smoothly blend those
words into your own writing. Imagine the writer's words as an extension
or complement to your own thoughts and ideas.
Here are some suggestions on how to incorporate quotations effectively
into your own work.
Give the source's full name when you first refer to that source.
Include the person's credentials if possible.
U.S. General Franklin J. Crookmayer, director of the National
Military Recruitment Committee, claims that military volunteerism
is down is 42%, and that very little is working to improve that
If you refer to Crookmayer again, you can simply cite his last
Crookmayer suggests that a mandatory period of military service
for all high school graduates would help "to boost the flagging
number of recruits throughout all branches of the U.S. military"
smoothly by using several methods. Here are four ways to integrate
In order to maintain the international respect that the United
States is accustomed to commanding, it is essential that we build
a strong military upon which the rest of the world can count in
this era of global danger and violence Gen. F.J. Crookmayer.
F.J. Crookmayer identifies one reason why we must improve our military:
"It is essential that we build a strong military upon which
the rest of the world can count in this era of global danger and
to General F.J. Crookmayer, "It essential is that we build
a strong military upon which the rest of the world can count in
this era of global danger and violence" (119).
In the face of global violence and tyranny, Crookmayer declares
that "it is essential that we build a strong military upon
which the rest of the world can count in this era of global danger
and violence" (119).
d) Interrupted Quotation
is essential," professes Crookmayer, "that we build a
strong military upon which the rest of the world can count in this
era of global danger and violence" (119).
is a necessary step in the presentation of supporting evidence in
a research paper. You must identify the source of every quotation,
opinion, statistic, or fact about your topic that you incorporate
into your writing. You do so for the following reasons:
- It fosters
offers a reference for any reader who wants to study your research.
- It informs
the audience of the extent of your research.
- It gives credit
where credit is due.
Any facts that
are considered common knowledge (for example, the fact that table
salt is sodium chloride or that the American Civil War took place
from 1861 to 1865) do not need to be documented.
that we have borrowed from other writers by inserting into the text
of our paper citations that announce certain ideas or words belong
to another author. Use the documentation style commonly adopted by
your discipline. Every discipline has its own way of documenting sources.
Most humanities researchers use the Modern Language Association (MLA)
format; social scientists often use the format supported by the American
Psychological Association (APA); the
natural sciences use a number system. Ask your mentor which style
of documentation to use. Ask also whether you should use endnotes
or footnotes. Any good guide to writing research papers will provide
information on how to use documentation. Furthermore, you can turn
to the reference manual published for each discipline.
Parenthetical References and List of Works Cited Format
preferred MLA format uses parenthetical
notations that generally offer the author's name and the page
number after the quoted material. If readers want to know more,
they can refer to a list of Works Cited at the back of
the paper. In most cases, this system allows you to acknowledge
your sources both easily and immediately. All of the citations
in this document have been in this format.
Psychological Association Style (APA
The American Psychological Association (or APA
) style also uses parenthetical text references. However, instead
of author and page number, the basic reference contains the author's
last name and the year of publication. Page numbers are not always
provided because of the common practice of referring to an article
or study as a whole.
At the end of the paper, readers can find complete information
on each source under the heading of References.
Every autumn, American microbreweries begin the process of brewing
their malty Octoberfest beers. (Jackson & Cormish, 1990).
beers with a rich, smoky flavor, were almost lost to us until the
recipe was recreated from beer salvaged from a 19th century shipwreck.
(Merman, 1979, p. 211).
the use of the thoughts, writing, or scholarship of another without
appropriate acknowledgement or citation. Most plagiarism occurs simply
because new writers don't know the rules. To avoid unintentional plagiarism,
take very careful notes, placing quotation marks around any words
taken directly from a source. Also, if you have paraphrased another's
work within your notes, be certain to jot down a side note reminding
yourself that you have done that. For additional help, see also "Plagiarism
and How to Avoid It."
The earth is suffering from many small abuses rather than from a
few large ones. By treating the spectacular abuses as exceptional,
the powers that would like to keep us from seeing that the industrial
system (capitalist or communist or socialist) is in itself and by
necessity of all of its assumptions an extremely dangerous and damaging
way of life. The large abuses exist within and because of a pattern
of smaller abuses. (Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, &
The powers that be have kept us from noticing that the industrial
system is in itself an extremely dangerous way to live. We treat its
spectacular abuses but don't acknowledge that the world is suffering
from a pattern of smaller abuses.
In this instance
the writer clearly used material belonging to another without acknowledging
the source. Borrowing ideas can also be plagiarism:
Because Americans don't typically pay attention to the smaller abuses
of the environment for which industry is most responsible, we are
faced with the inability to end the planet's suffering. This arises
mainly from the fact that our focus is trained primarily upon larger
may be rephrased in the writer's own words, but he or she has borrowed
them from the source without proper citation.
Here are guidelines
for incorporating source material:
integrate sentences, phrases, or paragraphs into your paper from
the text of another writer, you must place quotation marks around
the borrowed words - or indent passages longer than four lines
- and also you must acknowledge the source. For example:
According to Wendell Berry, our environmental dilemma stems
from "many small abuses rather than from a few large ones."
These are a result of "powers that would like to keep us
from seeing that the industrial system (capitalist or communist
or socialist) is in itself and by necessity of all of its assumptions
an extremely dangerous and damaging way of life" (30).
make use of another writer's thoughts or ideas but change his
or her original choice of words or reorganize the presentation
of the ideas - that is, when you paraphrase - you still need to
cite your source:
Berry asserts that because Americans don't typically pay attention
to the smaller abuses of the environment for which industry is
most responsible, we are faced with the inability to end the planet's
suffering. This arises mainly from the fact that our focus is
trained primarily upon larger environmental problems (30).
When the work you use is commonly known and generally available
- that is, not an interpretation - you can cite the source simply
in a parenthetical reference rather than in the text.
Franklin D. Roosevelt will always be remembered for his reference
to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a date
which will live in infamy (Englert 92; Callman 80).
- When you make
use of information gathered by another writer or scholar, you must
announce this as well.
examination of tribal rituals will use as its touchstone the work
of Jamake Highwater, particularly The Primal Mind.
REVISE: A Three-Phase Approach to Revision:
To reevaluate the thought and development of the paper as a unified
your goals. What are you trying to say with this essay? How well
does the paper achieve its purpose? How could this be improved?
Have you kept
your audience in mind? How much might they already know about
your subject? How receptive might they be to your perspectives?
Is your tone consistent and considerate of your audience?
your thesis. Does it assert something about your topic? Does it
maintain a position? Is it clear? Specific? Interesting? Do you
believe it? Do you care about it? Do you want to write about it?
To focus on the purpose and central idea of your essay, answer
the following questions:
it reads my paper, my audience believes _____ about my topic.
it reads my paper, my audience will think _____ about my topic.
Do the body
paragraphs of the paper enlighten and/or support the thesis?
develop in a logical, clearly written pattern? Test the organization
of your paper by sketching out an outline of the argument.
Is your argument
fully developed? Have you looked at it from numerous points of
view? Have you asked who, what, when, where, how, and why? Do
details and examples effectively support your ideas? Are they
engaging and complex? Do you need more proof?
introduction grab the audience's attention? Does it explain something
fresh about the topic?
conclusion offer a unique insight? Does it flesh out clearly the
importance and depth of your argument?
Is the title
imaginative? Does it direct the audience's attention to the main
idea of the essay?
Two: The Paragraph
Objective: To examine the coherence and clarity of each paragraph.
paragraph have a main point, i.e., topic sentence? (Try
identifying the main idea of the paragraph)
Are the sentences
within each paragraph clearly related to the main topic of the
Are the sentences
logically connected? Could you use transitional
words and phrases to make the relationships between sentences
between paragraphs smooth and clear?
Three: The Sentence (see
also "The Sentence")
It is often ineffective
to read for both content and grammar at once. So, in the first two
phases of revision, try to focus only on content, on the quality
of your ideas and on how well they are developed and expressed. Once
you are pleased with what your paper says, it is time to proofread
In the final examination
and assessment of the essay, check for grammar, mechanics, and style.
Use rich, imaginative prose, and avoid unnecessary words, cliches,
redundancy, and pronouns (it, this, there, they) that don't
refer clearly to a noun. Incorporate into your writing a variety of
sentence lengths and patterns. To keep from slipping back into reading
for content, begin with your final sentence and read your paper backwards.
If grammar is
not your strength, don't be afraid to ask for lots of outside help.
Refer to a grammar book. Use the computer's spell-check and grammar-check
(if either is available, but don't trust them to catch all errors).
Ask a friend (one who knows English grammar) to help you proofread,
but be certain that he or she can explain your errors to you.