What is a Research Paper?
The words "research paper" on a syllabus may fill
you with dread. Research papers mean hours spent in the library,
more hours toiling with notes and drafts, and the headache
of dealing with the arcane rules of documentation.
Before you begin working on a research paper in any course,
it is important to understand what a research paper is
- A research paper is not "about"
A research paper should have a thesis -- a clear point of
view. It is not simply a generalized discussion of an issue.
- A research paper is not a summary of
everything you can find
Your goal is not to collect everything you can find out
about a subject and summarize it. Although you should review
as much material as possible, you should select sources
that directly support your thesis.
- A research paper is not a list of quotes
The focus of your paper is your point of view, your commentary.
Direct quotations, facts, and statistics may be woven throughout
your paper, but they should support your position. Your
commentary should do more than simply introduce or link
- A research paper does not support a pre-conceived
point of view
Looking up facts that support what you already believe is
not genuine research. You should examine evidence then form
- A research paper does not present the
ideas of others without documentation
Research papers must use documentation methods to prevent
you from plagiarizing sources. Do not borrow ideas, statistics,
or facts without noting their original source.
A research paper, no matter what the subject, must achieve
- A research paper meets the needs of the assignment
Many instructors give specific requirements for research
papers, detailing topics, use of sources, and documentation
- Make sure you fully understand the scope of the assignment.
- Keep the needs of the assignment in mind as you work
on your paper. Constantly refer to the instructor's
guidelines to keep your research on track.
- A research paper has a clear focus
The more narrow you make your subject, the easier your paper
will be to write. It is better to write about one character
in a novel or a play than attempt to comment on an entire
work. It is easier to focus on one treatment for a single
psychiatric disorder than trying to address mental health.
- A research paper has a clear thesis
A research paper must express a point of view, not simply
report on the ideas of others. The focus of the paper is
not the views of others but your opinions and interpretations.
- A research paper comments on the quantity and
quality of sources
A research paper does not simply summarize and present the
ideas of others. A good research paper distinguishes between
reliable and biased sources, between authoritative and questionable
statistics, between fact and opinion.
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Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark