Research Paper Writing Guide
Structure your paper to guide the reader to your findings, to encourage active dialogue, and present your original analysis clearly.
I. Brief presentation of your primary thesis, your research problem, three major sections of your investigation, and the solution / findings / recommendations that you will be making.
Overview: In this section, you present a clear, brief, and eminently lucid summary of your problem and subsequent investigation. The description of your primary thesis should not be more than one sentence in length. In a subsequent sentence, you will describe three major aspects that you investigate in your paper. You should briefly state why this is important, and that you are taking a unique approach to the problem.
Keys to Success: Be brief, clear, and direct. You should engage the reader's the interest by indicating what makes your work worthwhile, unique, potentially useful. Keep in mind that you are laying down the foundation for rest of the paper, and creating a category that your reader can easily manage and archive. You are preparing a pathway for your reader and facilitating the process of making relevant connections, and the application of the reader's own experience to the points you are making. You are also creating an ethos or tone that is highly credible, which will place your reader in a frame of mind that is receptive and accepting of your "evidence" and "proofs."
Example: This paper examines the use of utopian narratives in Native American science fiction and explores how they function to a) propose new visions of a world which incorporate traditional Native views of the human's relation to nature, b) propose an alternate vision of science fiction, and one that does not primarily concern itself with a dialectic between the human and the machine, and c) envision communities of the future that incorporate Native-based systems of governments. Although there have been a number of studies of Native American writers, none have looked at this aspect of writing, nor have they examined the cultural beliefs, underlying assumptions about human nature and the proper role of government, or the ethics of technological innovation vis-a-vis a core sense of humanity. This investigation focuses primarily on the work of three Native American writers, and approximately 25 collections of their novels, essays, short stories and poems.
II. Definition of key terms and concepts. Cite references.
Overview: In this section, you will provide definitions and descriptions to terms that are central to the development of your paper. This is not the same as a glossary, but is more of a definition and discussion of how you use the term in your paper. For example, one could say "Holman's Handbook to Literature defines a 'utopian narrative' as 'xxx xxxx xxxx xxx' (Holman 762)" Only define the terms that the average reader is not likely to understand, or the terms that have a special application for your paper.
Keys to Success: Make a list of key terms and concepts that you are addressing. Look very closely at terms that may be in common parlance, but which have a special and specific meaning or application for your research paper. Be clear, and explain the specifics when necessary. Cite sources.
III. The research problem, further described. An in-depth look at your research problem, which describes what it is, with an illustrative scenario or example. This a synthesis and should be original work, therefore it may not be necessary to cite sources here. If there are controversial elements, mention them briefly.
Overview: This gives you a chance to re-address the topic you introduced in the first section and to go into more detail. You may be able to simply describe the issues and why there is a sense of urgency about the topic. If your topic is an exploration of a social issue, or a proposed method, you may wish to further describe your topic with an illustrative example or scenario which shows rather than tells the reader the central issue.
Keys to Success: Develop this section well so that your reader has a clear idea of the depth and complexity of the research problem, and an understanding of the major issues. Select your illustrative scenario very carefully so that it does not set up contradictions or conflicts with later sections of your paper. Without becoming sentimental, or generating bathos, this section can evoke an emotional response which can be helpful in persuading your reader of the importance of the study.
IV. History of research on this topic. Explain why your research is unique and needed. Give a brief chronology of research, and the history of ideas. Provenance, antecedents, etc. Cite sources.
Overview: This section is invaluable, not only to your reader but also to yourself because it compels you to research your topic very carefully and to trace any evolution of ideas that might have occurred. In addition, it makes your argument solid and gives it credibility. It demonstrates that you, as a researcher, are well aware of the work that has been done in the area.
Keys to Success: Keep the lines of investigation clear and focused. Do not list articles that digress or do not specifically refer to your primary thesis and the research problem. Try to find the source of some of the key ideas and trace the evolutionary unfolding and adoption of the ideas as they relate to your primary thesis.
V. "Evidence" section. Supporting statistics, examples, case studies, citations, supporting passages from key texts. Explain why the statistics you cite are valid. Present counter-arguments and opposing viewpoints. Cite carefully.
Overview: In this section, you present the statistical support to your idea, and/or the results of any research, surveys, laboratory investigations, etc. Be sure to discuss methodology as well as addressing who conducted the research, when it was done, why or what primary objective was served, where it happened, what results were obtained. If research was conducted that refutes or calls into question this work, be sure to describe it as well.
Keys to Success: Make certain the statistics are directly relevant to your research problem, and clearly describe how they relate to the primary thesis and/or the sub-topics or aspects explored. Set the stage to be able to refer back to this supporting evidence when making points in later sections of the paper.
VI. Further case studies or examples. Minimum of three: supporting your thesis statement, one that takes your thesis statement in a new direction or explores the subtopics, and one that makes one think of new aspects of your thesis and research problem. Use citations, and intersperse your thoughts and analysis throughout.
Overview: This is part of the research paper where your analytical abilities are put to the test. This is also where you have a chance to show the reader the key elements of your argument, and elements those elements with examples. It is necessary to be very careful in citing sources. Your mission here is to demonstrate that your ideas and insights are rock-solid, and if they dare doubt, you have the facts to back it up!
Keys to Success: Find good examples or case studies that clearly illustrate the points you want to make. Do not quote passages that are too long: make it short, pithy, and relevant. Be sure to discuss the quote, and do not place two block-quote together, or one after another in concatenation. Your discussion should make connections between your primary thesis, the subtopics, and any new or interesting insights you have or discoveries that you have made.
VII. Debate points or controversial aspects. Discuss the issues and present new ways of looking at the primary thesis, and its three or four primary sub-categories. This is your original work. Begin to undermine or question the underlying assumptions that may problematize your investigation, and your conclusion, approaches, solution.
Overview: This is the "fun" part of the paper. Here you have a chance to bring up all the controversial points, points of debate, and potential conflicts and/or contradictions. A good way to get started is to address any stereotypes or myths that might be associated with your topic, and which get in the way of a clear-headed, down-to-earth, and rational analysis of the facts. You may also wish to dig into the underlying assumptions in your work. These can be cultural assumptions, or underlying ideas about the nature of people, ideas about society and government, or ethical issues. In addition, you have a chance to explore the impact of current trends or ways of thinking and explore those. If there are troubling and potentially contradictory underlying issues that often come to the surface as you are thinking about your research problem, please be sure to address them here. If they occur to you, they will most certainly occur to at least some of your readers. By addressing them, you are making a concession to them, and demonstrating that you are in full command of the facts and the issues. This will help your credibility. In addition, you have a chance to explain why the approach you used is the most appropriate, and why you selected the case studies and/or examples that you did. You can also explore the implications that the subject you explored have on the future.
Keys to Success: Be direct, and don't be afraid to address controversy. Lay your cards on the table. Demonstrate why this topic is fascinating, and why your research problem is so intriguing that you would choose to devote a good segment of your valuable time and resources to it. If you're excited, your audience will be excited, too.
VIII. A concluding summary that is more than a conclusion. Insights, recommendations, probable issues vis-a-vis the future. This can include a vision of the future, an illustrative scenario.
Overview: In this section, you bring together your research, your analysis, and your insights, and you lead your reader to a brief contemplation of where they have been as they traveled through your paper. You have a chance to explain why this paper is relevant to future studies and investigations. If you are making a recommendation which would require the reader or someone to take action, then you can develop action steps, and even develop an illustrative scenario to help the reader envision your ideas.
Keys to Success: Do not be too reductive or narrow. Instead, reinforce the importance of the research. Be specific, and avoid being too universal or general.
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