Over the next few minutes what I’d like to do is talk about the research paper writing process. In this PowerPoint presentation I’m going to be taking some information from a number of different sources. Specifically I’m going to be taking information from the fourth edition of the “MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers” by Joseph Capaldi.
I also include some information from “Ten Steps in Writing the Research Paper” by Peter Markman, Allison Heny, and Roberta Markman, and then I’ll close up this presentation lecture by going through through some information by Laurie Rozakis in her book “Writing Great Research Papers.”
Let me begin by talking about the writing process in general. We’re all familiar with the three phases of the writing process: the prewriting, drafting, and revising phrases. I want to make it clear that we typically do a lot of the research during the prewriting phase, but I also want to stress that research needs to continue to occur during the drafting phase, and the research needs to continue into and through the revising stage. So when you’re working on a research paper, you are always conducting research.
Now that begs the question, though, what is a research paper?
A couple of years ago I had my students in a freshman composition class go out and find definitions, and actually they wrote a definition essay on what is a research paper. From our research we came across several different definitions or terms that are used to describe what a research paper is. First and foremost, the most common definition we found in our research was that a research paper is an expanded essay.
That is, you the author are preparing your essay, your voice, your presentation, your argument, and then you are expanding upon that argument by providing supporting evidence from outside research. In some cases and in some majors or disciplines the research paper is referred to as an investigative report. You might be taking a biology class. You may be taking a Psychology class. And what you’re doing then is conducting an investigation. And then the research paper becomes the report of the investigation that you completed.
In all cases, however, a research paper is considered to be a formal presentation. In most English classes, we are focusing on the MLA format (the Modern Language Association), but as your continue through your college careers, you may use additional formats such as the APA format or the Oxford format. Above all else, a research paper is evidence according to Markman, Heney, and Markman. The research paper is evidence.
It’s “a valid criterion for judging the disciplined work habits and the intellectual maturity of the student.”
In other words when you submit your research paper to the instructor, you are providing the instructor with evidence of how well you are disciplined in your work habits, to work on a long-term project and bring it to completion, and it also demonstrates the intellectual maturity of the student because your reasoning, your thought process, your thinking is evident in the development of the paper. In other words according to Laurie Rosakis, the research paper shows your instructor that you can gather information, that you can evaluate information, and that you can synthesize information. In other words, Laurie Rosakis says that research paper shows your instructor that you know how to think.
Okay let’s go to the ten steps of the research paper writing process, according to Markman, Heney, and Markman. The step number one is to find your subject. In doing so you want to first consider the amount of time that you have to do the paper.
How much time do you have for the research? How much time do you have for the writing? From the moment you get the assignment until it is due, how much time do you have? Because the subject that you choose needs to be relevant to that out of time. In my English classes, I tend to give my students most if not all of the semester to work on their research paper.
And so my students have greater flexibility to go out and look for things that particularly interest them that might take additional time. Other instructors may leave the research paper until the end of the semester or may not assign a research paper until late in the semester, and the student is restricted as to how much time the student will have. In which case, you want to find a subject that you can research and write quickly. You also want to consider the length of the paper. Is the instructor asking for a four page research paper?
Is the instructor asking for a 15 to 20 page research paper. The length of the paper again impact your subject because the length of the paper will affect how much you can develop your ideas in the limited space. When you’re looking to find your subject, you also want to consider the availability of research and sources.
As I mentioned my students have opportunities to do interlibrary loan. They have time and opportunities to to go outside of the College District, where they can go to other universities, other college,s and libraries to have a broader availability of research. If the amount of time is limited, or if the subject is limited, you may want to consider moving onto a different subject. If you’re not going to have available resources, in the amount of time that you’ve got, you want to consider your audience.
Remember that you are an academic writer. You are a scholar writing for your professor who is a scholar, and so you want to remember that you are writing for the professor. That is your audience.
He or she is the person to whom you are addressing your research paper. And then next you also want to consider your interests. One of the fastest ways to kill a research paper project is to take on a subject that you have no interest in. Find something that does interest you. However, Markman, Heney, and Markman also say that you should avoid “any subject you will investigate with a closed mind.” If you already have a very definite and secure position on abortion, or the death penalty, or term limits for presidential candidate … so if you’re already closed minded.
That is going to affect the kinds and the quality of the research that you look at. Research has shown that if we have a particular mindset, or view of a subject, we will filter out certain types of research and resources that would contradict our point. We do not consider them. And as an academic, as a thinker, you want to take on a subject that you can look at with a sense of objectivity. Now once you’ve done that, though, the next step is very easy.
You want to get to Wikipedia or About.com or some of the online encyclopedias. You might want to go to a popular magazine. You want to read a general article about the subject that you’ve chosen. It’s okay to do that it even in a popular magazine or a website like Wikipedia because what you’re doing at this point is giving yourself a broad overview of the subject.
This step provides you with keywords that you can then use in later more refined searches. So start with a general article just to make sure you understand generally what your topic is about. Step number three: you want to formulate a temporary thesis. Remember a temporary thesis needs to be expressed as a full sentence. It’s the central point that you’re arguing, and I say at this point to formulate a temporary thesis because it’s the argument for the position that you anticipate being able to prove and demonstrate through your research and reasoning.
However, the research and then the reasoning may change how you actually end up the paper, so this is a temporary thesis that will get you started. In Laurie Rosaki’s book, she talks about a thesis statement, that it states the topic, it shows the purpose. Is this an informative or is this an argumentative research paper? It shows the direction you are going to be going.
“It is written in focused specific language” and “it is interesting, showing a clear voice and style.” So says Laurie Rosakis.
Step number four, you want to prepare a preliminary bibliography. At this point, you just want to make sure that there are sufficient resources available to you to complete the research project in a timely manner. You also want to pay attention to those topics that will give you over a million hits in Google because now you’re dealing with the topic that is probably overused, trite, or maybe you’re even doing something that’s already common knowledge. So a preliminary bibliography lets you know that there is an adequate amount of research available to you without demonstrating that the topic is overused or trite.
Step number five is when you want to start digging through those sources that you have found. You want to start taking notes. Typically, there are three types of notes that you’ll want to keep.
The first type are direct quotes. As you read through an article or book, you may want to take down some direct quotes from the author. You only want to quote those “words, phrases, lines, and passages that,” according to Joseph Gibaldi, “are particularly interesting, vivid, unusual, or apt.” For the most part, you want to just work with some general summaries of the articles that you’re looking at or paraphrases of particular points or ideas. In your notes, make sure you are very clear with yourself that when you are quoting, you are quoting, and when you are summarizing or paraphrasing, you are not doing any direct quoting.
If you’re using your own words and ideas, remember though that even though your written material of your own summary or paraphrase, your own words, remember though that those ideas are coming from that particular source. Always keep track of your bibliographic information for all of your notes. Then step number six is to develop note cards and outlines.
You want to write down the major ideas. You want to arrange your notes according to the ideas that best support. You want to try to avoid a long list of separate ideas. remember that even though the research paper may be fifteen to twenty pages in length, you are primarily going to deal only with two, three, or four, maybe five main points in all.
You want to identify those main points at this stage, and you want to organize them into the sequence with which you want to develop them. Remember always to accept your outline, just like your thesis statement. It’s a preliminary outline. Then step number seven, it is finally time to write the first draft.
You want to sit down at the computer or at the table with pen and paper. You want to write simply and directly. You want to use words that are accurate, suitable, and familiar. Do not repeat yourself. Don’t show any particular bias in your paper. For the benefit of the reader, please mix your sentence types.