A GUIDE TO WRITING RESEARCH PAPERS
A GUIDE TO WRITING RESEARCH PAPERS
CONTENT I. Research Design--What question, idea, or topic are you researching? What type of information do you need to answer your research needs? How are you planning to organize and support your argument? Are your data sufficient to the task? Is your argument logical and relevant to your question? Where can you find the information? Preparing your research question and design in advance will save you a lot of time and agony when it becomes time to do the actual research and writing. A common mistake is in choosing too general a topic or idea. Keep your focus tight or you will need a book rather than a research paper to adequately deal with it. If you prepare a good research design, your research and writing will be greatly simplified. II. Conduct your research, using your research design. Be thorough, but do not be tempted to go outside your plan unless some modification is necessary (or you are just interested). This is a second common mistake. Many people tend to clutter their research and writing with irrelevant details and inconsequential asides. Stay with your current point and follow it up in detail. Stay focused! While you should maintain your focus, be alert for data and information that you may not have thought of or known about in advance and that is important to your research. Check your sources' sources for clues to important work you may have missed. Do not ignore journal articles. (If you do not know how to use the indexes to topics, articles, etc., ask the librarian. It is his or her job to help you.) In fact, journal articles can save you a lot of time since they are frequently a distillation of a longer work or book. You should also be alert to primary sources, original historical documents and other archival material, foreign language newspapers, some government documents, personal interviews, raw statistics, etc. If you are conducting your own field work experimentation, the procedure remains the same. However, there will almost certainly be modifications to make in your research plan and great care must be taken in the design to ensure that the data you are gathering are useful and will in fact assist in answering your research question in a logical fashion. III. Organization of your text--Always state your research question or topic at the beginning, as well as any countervailing views or controversies that have been generated in the literature and that you intend to address. The body of your paper should always address your opening, and only your opening, in a logical and supportive manner. If you have designed a good research plan and produced the appropriate data, your paper will essentially write itself at this point. You need only to follow the design as a type of outline, filling in your information in the appropriate order. (Note: It is helpful to arrange your notes by category or topic on separate pages so that they can be shuffled into the appropriate order. A word of caution: make sure you have all of the necessary citation information for all the data that you collect.) Make sure your argument follows logically, that you have smooth transitions from one point to the next, that you remain focused and do not include points irrelevant to the current discussion, and that you include sufficient information to adequately support your contention. Beware of using information that "everybody" knows. "Everybody" is likely to be wrong. The conclusion serves to briefly reiterate your main point and describe how it was supported in the text. Hopefully, you have provided a logical, solid, well-supported and well-argued thesis. Keep in mind that the conclusion is not the place for your unsupported opinion or flowery speeches about how the world can or will be a better/worse place, etc. You are writing a research paper, not an essay or opinion piece.
STYLE Begin writing as soon as possible, even before you finish all your research. The very act of writing will help keep you focused and aware of what you are still lacking. If you have a gap or need more research to finish a point, leave a "flag" of some sort in your text and continue with what you have. Avoid run-on sentences and awkward constructions. A sentence that exceeds more than three typed lines without punctuation will be difficult to read and follow. A good idea is to read your work aloud to check for length and smoothness of construction. It is also helpful to vary your sentence length for ease and interest of reading. The construction of your paragraphs is also important. Each paragraph should address a single point. The first sentence tells the reader the topic of the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph provides all of the detail necessary to clarify the topic introduced in the first sentence. If the point requires much clarification, such as in more than six sentences or so, then you are probably dealing with several distinct points and should break the paragraph into several paragraphs, each with topic sentences. Each paragraph follows logically from the previous one in the text in order to build a coherent argument. At times you may need a transition paragraph to make the connections between one paragraph or point to another. At other times the final sentence in a paragraph or the initial sentence in the next may serve this purpose. Write simply and directly. Avoid jargon (a professional hazard) whenever possible and always avoid common clichs such as "last but not least" or "in the general scheme of things." Remember that you are not writing a literary essay and that "flowery" language adds nothing to your argument or to your clarity. Be careful of which adjectives, qualifiers, and intensifiers you choose and be as precise as possible. A common mistake made by students is inappropriate word use. Make sure you know the precise meaning of the words you choose. If you are not sure, use a different word or look it up in a dictionary. Do not repeat the same word continuously. A thesaurus can be helpful in this regard. At the same time, guard against pretentiousness in your writing by using overly large or obscure words when a simpler one will do. Avoid the general use of the passive tense. I encourage you to write direct sentences and to use the word "I" when it is appropriate. When you have finished your first draft, read through it and eliminate any unnecessary words or phrases. Check for brevity. Check for clarity and accuracy of your argument. Check for extraneous comments that do not add to your argument or which are not then developed. Check for unsupported or "opinion" statements. Editorial page comments have no place in a research paper, unless that is your topic. Check for smooth transitions from one point to another. Rearrange your paragraphs, if necessary. Check your spelling and grammar. After you finish editing your work, do it again. Be happy that you live in the computer age. Read it aloud. Have a friend edit your work for you. If you do this on a regular basis, both you and your friend will benefit by learning how to pick out flaws before they occur and by receiving better grades.
--UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL PLAGIARISM BE TOLERATED. FAILURE TO READ YOUR GUIDE SHEET IS NOT AN EXCUSE. Plagiarism is stealing and passing off as one's own work the ideas or works of another and it is a serious crime in academia. If you are summarizing the words of anyone else, even in your own words, you must cite him or her. For a general summary of an entire work or chapter, the name and date is sufficient (Sahlins 1972). If you are summarizing a specific passage, then the inclusive page number(s) must be given (Sahlins 1972:36-38). If it is a direct quote, the specific page number(s) must be given Sahlins 1972:36). Only your own ideas, your own data, your own conclusions--or information that is in the realm of general knowledge (The Amazon River is located in South America.)--can be used without citation. Everything else must be cited. This includes references to films, recordings, literary references, personal communications, unpublished papers, etc. Failure to do so will cause you to fail the assignment. Take this as a serious warning.
FORMAT --Margins should be the standard default width of computer word processing programs, i.e., one inch. Left justification of type is preferable. DO NOT MANIPULATE MARGINS AND TYPE POINT TO INCREASE PAGE NUMBERS. --Double-space your text. --Print should be dark and crisp enough for clear reading. --Foreign words are underlined or italicized in your text, with the exception of foreign names and titles (el pueblo of Juan Carlos). --Be consistent in your format. If there are multiple spellings used in your sources for some reason, pick one spelling and maintain it. If you choose to capitalize certain words such as "the Catholic Church" or "Blacks and Whites," always use that form. The worst inconsistency (because it says a lot about you) is capitalizing one form of a category and not capitalizing another--such as "the baptist church and the Catholic Church" or "Blacks and whites." --Do not allow widows and orphans to occur. This is the term used to describe leaving one line of text from a paragraph or quotation to dangle alone at the bottom or top of a page (at least two lines together is the rule). Word processing programs will eliminate this problem automatically, if you program them to do so (but double check anyway because there are certain cases, such as headings and indented quotes, that the programs do not recognize as such). If you are typing your paper, simply leave a larger margin at the bottom of your page and start your paragraph, etc. at the top of the next page. --Check your spelling!!! --Do not include any authors or works that you have not cited in your references or bibliography. Other scholars are not interested in what works you may have read, they are interested in where your specific references originated. Make sure you do include all works that you have cited. If the citation is incomplete for some reason, attempt to complete it. If this is not possible, make a note in your references that the missing piece of information is not available, such as "nd" for "no date" or "ng" for "not given." Do not simply leave the reference out. --Avoid over-quoting. Most students quote far too much. Use your own words as much as possible. Use quotations for matters where: 1) the exact wording is crucial, as in parts of some documents or letters; 2) where the wording is unusually colorful or descriptive; or 3) where you want to comment on the exact text. --Indent and single space direct quotations of three or more sentences. Do not use quotation marks to begin and end a block quotation. One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. In the Old Stone Age the fraction must have been much smaller. This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture (Sahlins 1972:36).--If you are deleting words from a quotation, use three dots within a sentence and four between sentences. Marshall Sahlins (1972:36) has said, "Now . . . is starvation an institution." --Note that the quotation marks fall outside the entire sentence and after the period. The only exception to this rule is in some citations that also fall at the end of a sentence. "This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture" (Sahlins 1972:36). --If you add commentary in someone else's text or need to make an editorial comment, it is placed in brackets directly after the edition or at the end of the quote, but before the period. "This is the era of hunger unprecedented [rather than the distant past]. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution" (Sahlins 1972:36). According to Julio Cesar Chaves (1942:279), the new nation of Paraguay was left to incubate its new nationalism for the 26 years of Francia's rule. The isolation of Paraguay in 1823 was almost total. No commercial relations whatsoever were maintained outside the country, reducing commerce to the barter of a few products in Pilar [on the Paraguay River near Argentina]. Navigation was limited to an arrival at the port [of Pilar] of a boat because, for a rare political exception with the exterior, the Paraguayan government did not send representatives nor receive them. Since Nicols de Herrera, in 1813, not one plenipotentiary arrived in Asuncin; those sent from Artigas [Jos Gervasio, president of Uruguay] and from the Congress of Tucumn [Argentina] have also not set foot on Guaran soil [my translation] (quoted in Turner 1991:5).Note the use of brackets in the text for clarification and the use of brackets at the end to make an editorial comment. Also note that when you are using a direct quote from a secondary source, it is necessary to indicate that fact in the citation, i.e., "quoted in" or "cited in." --The first time you mention an individual in your text (excluding in text citations), the full name should be given, thereafter use only the surname. Honorary titles (Dr., Mrs., Mr., etc.) are not used in scientific writing with the possible exception of those in the religious orders (Father John, Sister Joan). Only the last name is given for the in-text citations (Sahlins 1972). When you cite a book or author in the text, place the in-text citation immediately after the title or name. The citation should include author's surname, date of publication, and page number(s), where necessary. If you have just mentioned the author, you only need the year and page number. You do not need to include the title of the work, nor do you need to underline it in the text. You must always include the date of the publication. If the author has more than one publication in one year that you are citing, you must indicate which you are referring to by the use of "a" or "b" after the year. The designation of which is to be "a" and which is to be "b" is decided alphabetically by title. This must also be done for your reference page. (Multiple references by the same author are first sorted by year, earliest first, and then alphabetically by title, if necessary). In his work, Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins (1972:36) has said, "[t]his is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution." Sahlins (1972:38) further states that, "...." Note the use of only the surname in its second occurrence and that the reader will need to refer to the reference section of your work to acquire the name of the second publ...