Introduction to Research
The first thing to keep in mind is that writing a research paper is a separate activity from doing research. A good research paper is built on good research. Many students focus on the paper and skimp on the research. The result is a poorly written paper that simply repeats what other people have already said. This is not research. It is this faulty approach to research that has many students questioning the value of writing a research paper. After all, if a research paper just means copying in your own words what someone else has said, then it is nothing more than busy work.
In a good research paper, a student evaluates the various materials available from sources and makes a decision about what point to make. The student then organizes the information from sources in order to support the point he or she wishes to make.
Most of the problems associated with research papers occur during these initial steps:
- Failure to Find an Adequate Purpose: The result is a paper that lacks purpose or has an inadequate purpose--a paper that just repeats information from sources. Before students can decide on an adequate purpose, they must read up on the subject they have chosen, get a basic grasp of key concepts and issues, and identify significant, important, relevant, or valuable issues about the topic which can be reasonably explored with the time and resources available, and within the constraints of the assignment.
- Failure to Find Sufficient and Reliable Sources: Students have a tendency to focus on the easiest or first sources they find. A good research paper requires students to find, read, and evaluate many more sources than can be used in the paper. A research paper results from a selective process. Unfortunately, most students latch on to the first sources they find, and only enough to fulfill the minimum requirements of the assignment. Inadequate sources can include
- Articles from general encyclopedias like Britannica or Encarta (generally not accepted for college level research)
- Web sites with questionable reliability (student projects, hobbyists, biased or serving a potentially biased interest)
- Materials only tangentially related to the subject under study and which do not provide evidence to examine a single significant, important, relevant, or valuable issue on the topic which the student has identified as a focus for the research.
- Failure to Take Proper, Careful, and Adequate Notes: Students who fail to take proper, careful, and adequate notes will invariably plagiarize their papers (improper or inappropriate use of source material or the use of source material without adequate attribution).
- Materials copied rather than summarized or paraphrased
- Overdependance on quotations (a "cut and paste" paper)
- Faulty or missing attribution (It is essential to keep track of what resources you are using, what information has been used from those sources, and where, specifically, that information can be found in each source.
Basic Notetaking Guidelines
As you take notes,
- Be sure to keep your notes brief (key nouns, summaries of key ideas)
- Label the notes by source and page number
- Keep track of source information--author, titles, pages, publisher, city of publication, date of publication, etc., and
- Mark and carefully record any quotations you may want to use in your research paper, including short phrases. (Use long quotations sparingly).
©2002-3, Bill Stifler
- Note Taking
- Four Kinds of Reading
- Plagiarism & Notes
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Summary Process
- Summary Questions
Shaping the Research
- Notes to Outline
- Introduction to Using Sources
- Logically Presenting Evidence
- Example of Claim, Context, Cite, Connect
- Putting it All Together
- Internal Citations
- Citation Problems
- Library Databases
- Articles in Reference
- Sample Works Cited