© Virginia Montecino Jan 1997
You may use this assignment if you attribute the source and include the URL
- become more knowledgeable about finding and using varied research sources in your major.
- further develop your critical thinking skills and back up your points with evidence.
- become more adept at synthesizing information and developing informed views.
- discipline yourself to follow a scholarly research format to document in-text sources and a reference page (bibliography).
- compose a well organized, clear, concise, research paper to expand your knowledge on a subject in your major.
FIRST STEP: Before you brainstorm about topics or begin your proposal or research, read "Help with Writing Research Papers(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm)."
I. Research Paper Proposal(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/res-pap-pro.html): You will submit a research paper proposal. See the due date for your proposal on the course schedule. Attach a copy of the final proposal to the end of the final version of your research paper to be turned in with your portfolio).
II. Research Paper: Yourresearch paper must be your own work. Review theHonor Code and Plagiarism (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm) statement and the Copyright and the Internet(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm) guidelines.
Topic: Your research paper project begins with a fact finding search on some current issue in your major to advance your knowledge. After you brainstorm about possible subjects and then select one, narrow your topic down to a manageable issue. Investigate possible approaches to your chosen topic and map out your strategy. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence.
Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts. If you aretaking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's).
Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Find 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. In this paper I do not want you to try and solve a problem or necessarily reach a conclusion. What I am looking for is evidence that you can gather a body of knowledge on a particular subject, narrow it down to a particular focus and show that you can synthesize the information and make some intelligent, insightful observations about the subject. What I don 't want is just a regurgitation of information strung together. A significant part of the paper should be your interpretation of the information and how your knowledge about the subject has been enriched.
Your paper should contain these parts:
Introduction: Your introductory material should set up your topic for your audience. Briefly summarize your findings on the subject - If the sources disagree about the value of or perspective on the subject, point out the areas of disagreement. Your introduction should not meander around the point of your paper. It may be more than one paragraph in length, but at some point, very early in the paper you then need to start the substance of the paper. Your thesis should come at the end of your introductory material. State your thesis in the form of a sentence or two. It shouldnot be in the form of a question. Your thesis should be a brief statement, in your own words, that points out the major issues about this topic that you discovered in your research. If you can't articulate in a sentence or two what your main point is then you probably don't have a good idea of what you will be writing about.
Body of Paper: Use subheadings, where appropriate, to separate different aspects of your paper which support your controlling idea (your thesis). The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence to support your thesis, in a logical, fully developed manner. For each new topic which supports your overall thesis, provide a topic sentence or two which is, in effect, the thesis for that sub-topic. If you do not use subheadings, you need to provide transition sentences to move your reader from one paragraph to the next. Your supporting sub-topics should address these issues: How will this knowledge advance science or technology or society - not in broad, abstract ways, but in concrete ways? What is the major impact of these findings? How will they affect people? What are the benefits to people? Are there any disadvantages? For example, if you are a nursing major, you might summarize findings on various treatment options or recent research findings for a particular medical condition. A computer science major might address a particular technology breakthrough with its plusses and minuses in application.
A writer of a research paper should synthesize the information gained from sources and weave them into a well ordered discourse, using the sources as evidence to support key points. A paper which is just a string of quotes shows that the author made no attempt to come to grips with the subject and is relying on the sources to speak for her or him.
Conclusion: Your conclusion should make some "wrap up" statements about what you learned about your chosen topic and the possible impact of your findings on people and perhaps society in general. Also, address any issues that may still not be resolved for you. Don't be reluctant to address any issues that aren't easily resolved or have negative or ambiguous outcomes. I am not necessarily looking for a neatly wrapped up conclusion with no loose ends. I am looking for a conscientious, thoughtful look at some topic in your field, sharing of the major significance of this issue, and any unanswered questions, if any, you are still dealing with.
Audience: Your paper should be understood by a broader audience than scholars in your field - for example, your classmates. You will have to explain concepts and not expect your audience to understand in-house jargon. If you are working on a paper in your major for another class this semester or on the job, we can negotiate the focus of your paper and the audience requirements. Have a target audience in mind. Who would be interested in and benefit from your treatment of the subject? By anticipating your audience you can anticipate the kinds of questions that may arise.
Format: [Web-based papers will approximate these guidelines.]
I prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style. If you want to use another one, check with me. Use one of these APA Research Style Guides(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm).
Length - 5 to 7 double spaced pages of text (not including graphics, cover page, appendices, or reference page). Ten "rambling" pages is not better than 7 clear, fully developed pages.
Margins - 1 inch top, bottom, left, right
Cover Page - in APA style (which should include your name, course and section, date, my name. The title should give your audience a good idea of what your paper is about - not tease your audience. For example, a clear title might be: The Internet - Changing the Way Students Learn and Teachers Teach.
Pagination: Put page numbers in top right hand corner of each page, including the cover page. Also include your last name and abbreviated title: Smith - Internet 2
Sources: Take notes on your sources and photocopy or print out original source material. I may ask to see them. For long articles, photocopy the first page, the pages you quote from, and the reference page (if there is one). Check out theGMU Libraries online and others ( http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/book-lib.htm). Don't rely entirely on the Internet for sources. Search Bank - INFOTRAC (http://www.searchbank.com/searchbank/viva_gmu) - has the capability to transmit the full text of some article onto your Web Browser for saving to a file or for printing.) Also check out the Washington Research Library Consortium
(http://www.aladin.wrlc.org.) You will be required to do some of your research at a "real," not virtual, library. Much scholarly work and other valuable information still resides only in hard copy. Relying only on the Internet will give you a false impression of what is out there.
Use a minimum of 7 varied and CURRENT sources (at least three from the past year 1997) - for example, journals in your major, Internet sources, interviews (no textbooks, please or encyclopedias - unless they are specialized encyclopedias in your field of study and you are using them for definitions of concepts. Encyclopedia and similar sources should be in addition to the 7 minimum. Books (often outdated by the time they get published) are generally poor sources for scientific subjects except for background info. Trade magazines or special interest group sources have built in biases, but can have some valuable information. But, for example, if you are writing about the value of advertising on the Internet, a company whose product is Internet advertisements would probably not be an objective source, but might be a good source for showing what is being done with Internet advertising. But you would have to point out the possible biased interest of the source. Check the source of all information for reliability. Is the Internet site sanctioned by a reputable institution or organization? Does the person you interview have credentials and experienced with your subject? Does he or she have a built in bias you need to address in your paper? What biases of your own may you have to be aware of to produce a scholarly look at this subject?
Documentation: Follow the online APA Style Guide (latest version) for documenting the sources in your text and your Reference Page. If you are unsure about a particular source, we can discuss it.
Use parenthetical citations (citation information in text between parenthesis) for information that is someone's opinion and is not common knowledge. Give parenthetical citation information for quotation sand paraphrases. Include page number for direct quotes. APA requires the date be included in in-text citations:
As Smith (1993) stated, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable evidence than scholarly or professional journals" (p. 2).
As Smith said, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable information than scholarly or professional journals" (1993, p. 2).
Paraphrased version: Magazines written for a lay audience tend to have less objective information than that found in scholarly publications (Smith, 1993). NOTE: There are no quotation marks or page number for a paraphrase. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words the original author's EXACT meaning - not just rearranging words in the author's original text. You can embed a short quote of a key phrase in paraphrased material and give the page number of the quote.
It is poor form to begin a paragraph or a sentence with a quotation - letting the source speak for you instead of incorporating the source into your text. For example, here is an example of poor form, which shows no input from the writer of the paper. He or she is just writing what the original author said, without trying to paraphrase the information or, at the very least setting up the quote in context:
"The proliferation of multiple births in this country speaks to the need to formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (Jones, 1997, p. 82).
An example of a more graceful form of setting up a quote is:
Because of significant number of multiple births in the United States, Jones points out that this country needs to "formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (1997, p. 82-84).
All sources in your research paper, like the examples above, are not only documented in the body of your paper, but must also be listed in the proper format on the References page.
Use quotes judiciously. Use them only when paraphrasing will make the statement unclear or a kernel of an idea is so perfectly stated that trying to paraphrase in your own words will ruin the impact of the statement. See the APA Style Guides for how to handle long quotes
Appendices: Graphics or charts should only be used if they can clarify some concept in your paper. Don't use them just for a "flashy" effect or for "gee whiz" value. If you include large graphics or charts, include each on a separate appendix page and label each one A, B, and so on. Refer to such appendices in the text where you discuss that issue. Graphs, charts, and appendices are not included as pages of text. They must be in addition to the 5 to 7 pages.
Final advice - try to relax
Consult me when needed throughout the process - I'm happy to help.
Virginia Montecino |email@example.com
What is a research paper? A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on its author’s original research on a particular topic, and the analysis and interpretation of the research findings. It can be either a term paper, a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation. This Chapter outlines the logical steps to writing a good research paper. To achieve supreme excellence or perfection in anything you do, you need more than just the knowledge. Like the Olympic athlete aiming for the gold medal, you must have a positive attitude and the belief that you have the ability to achieve it. That is the real start to writing an A+ research paper.
STEP 1. HOW TO START A RESEARCH PAPER? CHOOSE A TOPIC
Choose a topic which interests and challenges you. Your attitude towards the topic may well determine the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your research.
Focus on a limited aspect, e.g. narrow it down from “Religion” to “World Religion” to “Buddhism”. Obtain teacher approval for your topic before embarking on a full-scale research. If you are uncertain as to what is expected of you in completing the assignment or project, re-read your assignment sheet carefully or ASK your teacher.
Select a subject you can manage. Avoid subjects that are too technical, learned, or specialized. Avoid topics that have only a very narrow range of source materials.
STEP 2. FIND INFORMATION
Surf the Net.
For general or background information, check out useful URLs, general information online, almanacs or encyclopedias online such as Britannica. Use search engines and other search tools as a starting point.
Pay attention to domain name extensions, e.g., .edu (educational institution), .gov (government), or .org (non-profit organization). These sites represent institutions and tend to be more reliable, but be watchful of possible political bias in some government sites. Be selective of .com (commercial) sites. Many .com sites are excellent; however, a large number of them contain advertisements for products and nothing else. Network Solutions provides a link where you can find out what some of the other extensions stand for. Be wary of the millions of personal home pages on the Net. The quality of these personal homepages vary greatly. Learning how to evaluate websites critically and to search effectively on the Internet can help you eliminate irrelevant sites and waste less of your time.
The recent arrival of a variety of domain name extensions such as .biz (commercial businesses), .pro, .info (info on products / organizations), .name, .ws (WebSite), .cc (Cocos Island) or .sh (St. Helena) or .tv (Tuvalu) may create some confusion as you would not be able to tell whether a .cc or .sh or .tv site is in reality a .com, a .edu, a .gov, a .net, or a .org site. Many of the new extensions have no registration restrictions and are available to anyone who wishes to register a distinct domain name that has not already been taken. For instance, if Books.com is unavailable, you can register as Books.ws or Books.info via a service agent such as Register.com.
To find books in the Library use the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).
Check out other print materials available in the Library:
- Almanacs, Atlases, AV Catalogs
- Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
- Government Publications, Guides, Reports
- Magazines, Newspapers
- Vertical Files
- Yellow Pages, Zip or Postal Code and Telephone Directories
Check out online resources, Web based information services, or special resource materials on CDs:
- Online reference materials (including databases, e.g. SIRS, ProQuest, eLibrary, etc.)
- Google Scholar
- Wall Street Executive Library
- Index to Periodicals and Newspapers (e.g. MagPortal.com, OnlineNewspapers.com, etc.)
- Answers.com – an online dictionary and encyclopedia all-in-one resource that you can install on your computer free of charge and find one-click answers quickly.
- Encyclopedias (e.g.Britannica, Canadian Encyclopedia, etc.)
- Magazines and Journals
- International Public Library
- Subject Specific software (e.g. discovering authors, exploring Shakespeare, etc.)
Check out public and university libraries, businesses, government agencies, as well as contact knowledgeable people in your community.
Read and evaluate. Bookmark your favorite Internet sites. Printout, photocopy, and take notes of relevant information.
As you gather your resources, jot down full bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) on your work sheet, printout, or enter the information on your laptop or desktop computer for later retrieval. If printing from the Internet, it is wise to set up the browser to print the URL and date of access for every page. Remember that an article without bibliographical information is useless since you cannot cite its source.
STEP 3. MAKE YOUR THESIS STATEMENT
Most research papers normally require a thesis statement. If you are not sure, ask your teacher whether your paper requires it.
A thesis statement is a main idea, a central point of your research paper. The arguments you provide in your paper should be based on this cenral idea, that is why it is so important. Do some critical thinking and write your thesis statement down in one sentence. Your research paper thesis statement is like a declaration of your belief. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments to support and defend this belief.
A thesis statement should be provided early in your paper – in the introduction part, or in the second paragraph, if your paper is longer.
It is impossible to create a thesis statement immediately when you have just started fulfilling your assignment. Before you write a thesis statement, you should collect, organize and analyze materials and your ideas. You cannot make a finally formulated statement before you have completed your reseach paper. It will naturally change while you develop your ideas.
Stay away from generic and too fuzzy statements and arguments. Use a particular subject. The paper should present something new to the audience to make it interesting and educative to read.
Avoid citing other authors in this section. Present your own ideas in your own words instead of simply copying from other writers.
A thesis statement should do the following:
- Explain the readers how you interpret the subject of the research
- Tell the readers what to expect from your paper
- Answer the question you were asked
- Present your claim which other people may want to dispute
Make sure your thesis is strong.
If you have time and opportunity, show it to your instructor to revise. Otherwise, you may estimate it yourself.
You must check:
- Does my statement answer the question of my assignment?
- Can my position be disputed or opposed? If not, maybe you have just provided a summary instead of creating an argument.
- Is my statement precise enough? It should not be too general and vague.
- Does it pass a so-called “so what” test? Does it provide new/interesting information to your audience or does it simply state a generic fact?
- Does the body of my manuscript support my thesis, or are they different things? Compare them and change if necessary. Remember that changing elements of your work in the process of writing and reviewing is normal.
A well-prepared thesis means well-shaped ideas. It increases credibility of the paper and makes good impression about its author.
More helpful hints about Writing a Research Paper.
STEP 4. MAKE A RESEARCH PAPER OUTLINE
A research paper basically has the following structure:
- Title Page (including the title, the author’s name, the name of a University or colledge, and the publication date)
- Abstract (brief summary of the paper – 250 words or less)
- Introduction (background information on the topic or a brief comment leading into the subject matter – up to 2 pages)
- Manuscript Body, which can be broken down in further sections, depending on the nature of research:
- Materials and Methods
- Results (what are the results obtained)
- Discussion and Conclusion etc.
- Tables, figures, and appendix (optional)
An outline might be formal or informal.
An informal outline (working outline) is a tool helping an author put down and organize their ideas. It is subject to revision, addition and canceling, without paying much attention to form. It helps an author to make their key points clear for him/her and arrange them.
Sometimes the students are asked to submit formal outlines with their research papers.
In a formal outline, numbers and letters are used to arrange topics and subtopics. The letters and numbers of the same kind should be placed directly under one another. The topics denoted by their headings and subheadings should be grouped in a logical order.
All points of a research paper outline must relate to the same major topic that you first mentioned in your capital Roman numeral.
Example of an outline:I. INTRODUCTION - (Brief comment leading into subject matter - Thesis statement on Shakespeare) II. BODY - Shakespeare's Early Life, Marriage, Works, Later Years A. Early life in Stratford 1. Shakespeare's family a. Shakespeare's father b. Shakespeare's mother 2. Shakespeare's marriage a. Life of Anne Hathaway b. Reference in Shakespeare's Poems B. Shakespeare's works 1. Plays a. Tragedies i. Hamlet ii. Romeo and Juliet b. Comedies i. The Tempest ii. Much Ado About Nothing c. Histories i. King John ii. Richard III iii. Henry VIII 2. Sonnets 3. Other poems C. Shakespeare's Later Years 1. Last two plays 2. Retired to Stratford a. Death b. Burial i. Epitaph on his tombstone III. CONCLUSION A. Analytical summary 1. Shakespeare's early life 2. Shakespeare's works 3. Shakespeare's later years B. Thesis reworded C. Concluding statement
The purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. A good outline is the most important step in writing a good paper. Check your outline to make sure that the points covered flow logically from one to the other. Include in your outline an INTRODUCTION, a BODY, and a CONCLUSION. Make the first outline tentative.
INTRODUCTION – State your thesis and the purpose of your research paper clearly. What is the chief reason you are writing the paper? State also how you plan to approach your topic. Is this a factual report, a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem? Explain briefly the major points you plan to cover in your paper and why readers should be interested in your topic.
BODY – This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. Remember the Rule of 3, i.e. find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Begin with a strong argument, then use a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument for your final point.
CONCLUSION – Restate or reword your thesis. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this particular conclusion.
STEP 5. ORGANIZE YOUR NOTES
Organize all the information you have gathered according to your outline. Critically analyze your research data. Using the best available sources, check for accuracy and verify that the information is factual, up-to-date, and correct. Opposing views should also be noted if they help to support your thesis. This is the most important stage in writing a research paper. Here you will analyze, synthesize, sort, and digest the information you have gathered and hopefully learn something about your topic which is the real purpose of doing a research paper in the first place. You must also be able to effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, insights, and research findings to others through written words as in a report, an essay, a research or term paper, or through spoken words as in an oral or multimedia presentation with audio-visual aids.
Do not include any information that is not relevant to your topic, and do not include information that you do not understand. Make sure the information that you have noted is carefully recorded and in your own words, if possible. Plagiarism is definitely out of the question. Document all ideas borrowed or quotes used very accurately. As you organize your notes, jot down detailed bibliographical information for each cited paragraph and have it ready to transfer to your Works Cited page.
Devise your own method to organize your notes. One method may be to mark with a different color ink or use a hi-liter to identify sections in your outline, e.g., IA3b – meaning that the item “Accessing WWW” belongs in the following location of your outline:I. Understanding the Internet A. What is the Internet 3. How to "Surf the Net" b. Accessing WWW
Group your notes following the outline codes you have assigned to your notes, e.g., IA2, IA3, IA4, etc. This method will enable you to quickly put all your resources in the right place as you organize your notes according to your outline.
STEP 6. WRITE YOUR FIRST DRAFT
Start with the first topic in your outline. Read all the relevant notes you have gathered that have been marked, e.g. with the capital Roman numeral I.
Summarize, paraphrase or quote directly for each idea you plan to use in your essay. Use a technique that suits you, e.g. write summaries, paraphrases or quotations on note cards, or separate sheets of lined paper. Mark each card or sheet of paper clearly with your outline code or reference, e.g., IB2a or IIC, etc.
Put all your note cards or paper in the order of your outline, e.g. IA, IB, IC. If using a word processor, create meaningful filenames that match your outline codes for easy cut and paste as you type up your final paper, e.g. cut first Introduction paragraph and paste it to IA. Before you know it, you have a well organized term paper completed exactly as outlined.
If it is helpful to you, use a symbol such as “#” to mark the spot where you would like to check back later to edit a paragraph. The unusual symbol will make it easy for you to find the exact location again. Delete the symbol once editing is completed.
STEP 7. REVISE YOUR OUTLINE AND DRAFT
Read your paper for any content errors. Double check the facts and figures. Arrange and rearrange ideas to follow your outline. Reorganize your outline if necessary, but always keep the purpose of your paper and your readers in mind. Use a free grammar and proof reading checker such as Grammarly.
1. Is my thesis statement concise and clear?
2. Did I follow my outline? Did I miss anything?
3. Are my arguments presented in a logical sequence?
4. Are all sources properly cited to ensure that I am not plagiarizing?
5. Have I proved my thesis with strong supporting arguments?
6. Have I made my intentions and points clear in the essay?
Re-read your paper for grammatical errors. Use a dictionary or a thesaurus as needed. Do a spell check. Correct all errors that you can spot and improve the overall quality of the paper to the best of your ability. Get someone else to read it over. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can see mistakes that you missed.
1. Did I begin each paragraph with a proper topic sentence?
2. Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
3. Any run-on or unfinished sentences?
4. Any unnecessary or repetitious words?
5. Varying lengths of sentences?
6. Does one paragraph or idea flow smoothly into the next?
7. Any spelling or grammatical errors?
8. Quotes accurate in source, spelling, and punctuation?
9. Are all my citations accurate and in correct format?
10. Did I avoid using contractions? Use “cannot” instead of “can’t”, “do not” instead of “don’t”?
11. Did I use third person as much as possible? Avoid using phrases such as “I think”, “I guess”, “I suppose”
12. Have I made my points clear and interesting but remained objective?
13. Did I leave a sense of completion for my reader(s) at the end of the paper?
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, by William Strunk, Jr.
For an excellent source on English composition, check out this classic book by William Strunk, Jr. on the Elements of Style. Contents include: Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders: Place yourself in the background, Revise and rewrite, Avoid fancy words, Be clear, Do not inject opinion, Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity, … and much more. Details of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. partially available online at Bartleby.com. Note: William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946). The Elements of Style was first published in 1918.
There is also a particular formatting style you must follow. It depends on the field of your studies or the requirements of your University/supervisor.
There are several formatting styles typically used. The most commonly used are the APA style and the MLA style. However, there are such style guides as the Chicago Manual of Style, American Medical Association (AMA) Style, and more.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is mostly used to cite sources within the field of social sciences. The detailed information can be found in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used for the liberal arts and humanities. The most recent printed guide on it is the MLA Handbook (8th ed.). Instead of providing individual recommendations for each publishing format (printed, online, e-books etc.), this edition recommends a single universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any kind of source.
You should necessarily ask your instuctor which formatting style is required for your paper and format it accordingly before submitting.
STEP 8. TYPE FINAL PAPER
All formal reports or essays should be typewritten and printed, preferably on a good quality printer.
Read the assignment sheet again to be sure that you understand fully what is expected of you, and that your essay meets the requirements as specified by your teacher. Know how your essay will be evaluated.
Proofread final paper carefully for spelling, punctuation, missing or duplicated words. Make the effort to ensure that your final paper is clean, tidy, neat, and attractive.
Aim to have your final paper ready a day or two before the deadline. This gives you peace of mind and a chance to triple check. Before handing in your assignment for marking, ask yourself: “Is this the VERY BEST that I can do?”