Research Paper Writing
10 Steps to Writing an Effective Research Paper
- Broad-based search – After you have carefully read your primary source, more than once, if necessary, find as much information as possible on your primary text. Be sure to get all the bibliographical information on sources; you will need it later for your works cited page. Databases are the most effective, at this time, for finding literary analysis and criticism. It will take a little time, but you need to sit down and actually read your sources to get an idea of what the experts are saying about your primary source. Print out four secondary sources from the database. Create a working works cited page that includes all of your secondary sources and also your primary source. (MLA style, alphabetical).
- Formulate a working thesis and essay map. (3 points and the reasons why) Ask yourself: “What is the author of my primary source trying to say?” “What is the major theme of my primary source?” Once you decide that, you can decide if you are going to analyze the theme of your text or some other element. See the Critical Analysis packet and Theme and Thesis handout for ideas. Create a working thesis and essay map that states what you are planning to examine or prove in your essay. (But, of course, do not say “In this essay, I will prove that…”) Here’s an example: “In Aesop’s ‘The Tortoise and the Hare,’ the tortoise is successful because of his persistence, humility, and calm demeanor.” With different colors highlight the main thesis point “1. The tortoise is successful,” and then the three or more supporting points, 2. persistence, 3.humility, and 4.calm demeanor.
- Now, you are ready to narrow down your sources. Throw out the articles that do not support your thesis or that you know you will not use. Keep at least four sources. At this point, you may also want to make a photocopy of your primary source and put it on top of your stack. If it is really long, and photocopying is out of the question, just know that you need to use it and mark it up as well.
- Put sources in order and staple—number pages of sources. Use four or more different color highlighters. Go through sources (including your primary source) and highlight important information. (Go through looking for information that supports point #1 in thesis and essay map. Do the same for points #2 and #3 and #4. Highlight the evidence using the color code that you have determined in step 2 above. Hint: Colored flags and “post its” are helpful for organizing your sources.
- Make decisions about how to put highlighted information into an essay (quote, paraphrase, or summarize the information). Put a Q in the margin by the highlighted information you are planning to directly quote, a P for paraphrase, and an S for a summary. This takes the place of those old note cards where you decided how you were going to record the information and then divided your cards into quotations, summaries, and paraphrases. It is just easier this way. Use the following criteria when deciding if you should directly quote particular source information.
- Important evidence from your primary source. (Choose carefully; you do not want to over-quote)
- Short key statements from your secondary source. (Most information from secondary sources is paraphrased or summarized in order to enhance essay flow)
- Controversial statements. If you are afraid that your reader may doubt your interpretation of the information, you may want to quote it directly.
- Formulate personal responses to the information. Write these responses on the back of the printed sheet or attach notebook paper. Explain the relevance of cited material to the thesis. Say to yourself, “This statement supports my thesis because Then write your answer. You may even paraphrase or summarize your highlighted material. It is important not to skip this step because it serves two important functions: If you cannot answer your own question, you may not want to use this evidence in your essay. If you can answer this question, you can use your answer to introduce your evidence or explain it. Either way, it is your job as a researcher to connect the dots for your reader. You will not just throw evidence out there without explaining to your reader its relevance and connection to your thesis.
- Scratch Outline—Now that you have formulated a thesis, found evidence to back up your thesis, decided how you are going to present your evidence, all you have to do now is make the final decisions on the order in which you will present your evidence. You do not have to do a formal outline. You may even get by with an abbreviated form, using your own page numbers from your packet. Just decide where you are going to place each piece of evidence you have selected. Your thesis and essay map guide your general essay order; the scratch outline will guide each paragraph.
- 1st Rough Draft—It is now time to write, or should I say type. The real hard work is done. With your research packet and outline before you, as your guide, type your essay, one paragraph at a time. I like to begin with my thesis, then type the body paragraphs, and lastly, my introduction and conclusion. But the order you type your essay is a personal choice. While you are typing your essay, go ahead and include your in-text citations. Some students try to save that for later, but that only increases your chance of plagiarism. Also, do not forget your works cited page.
- Edit, Proofread, print, repeat! Use the research editing checklist and the essay directions to check off each requirement.
- Have a friend proofread again, make last edits, and print (submit) final draft. Use tutor.com or the campus tutor to ensure the highest quality.
Citations and Body Paragraphs
You must acknowledge your sources of information to avoid plagiarism and to help your readers located your sources if they want to read more about your topic.
Sources are acknowledged in two places – within the body of the paper and at the end of the paper.
- Cite a source when you quote an author’s exact words.
- Cite your source if you paraphrase or summarize an author’s words.
- Cite a source when you give figures or facts from a source.
NOTE: You do not need to cite a source when:
- an idea that you present is your own.
- An idea that you present is common knowledge.
- The date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is common knowledge.
MLA (Modern Language Association) Procedure:
- A citation within the body of a paper consists of the author’s last name and the page number on which information is found.
- Ex. (Jones 336).
- If there is no author, abbreviate the title of the work.
- Ex. “Trains Around the World” would be cited as (“Trains” 33)
- Omit the page number when citing an article that is only one page in length.
- Ex. (Smith)
- If a newspaper has a section letter as part of the page number, include the section letter.
- Ex. The governments of Japan and West Germany have spent billions of dollars to develop and build magnetic levitation train prototypes (Farr D10).
- If the author’s last name is used within the introduction to the quotation, list only the page number.
- Ex. John Thompson says that a Japanese high-speed rail operation “can carry a given number of passengers for about one-sixth as much energy per mile as a narrow-body aircraft” (37).
Citation Placement Strategies:
- Place a citation at the end of a sentence after quotation marks but before the final period.
- Ex. “A second, faster train was put into daily operation” (May A16).
- If you need to place a citation in the middle of a sentence to avoid confusion, place it at the end of a clause but before any punctuation.
- Ex. In tests, a German magnetic levitation train reached the speed of 302 miles per hour (Smith 389); in operation, it travels at 211 miles per hour (Farr D1).
- If you have four or more lines, indent the quotation as a block of ten spaces from the left margin of the paper.
- Do not enclose the quotation in quotation marks.
- Place the citation at the end of the quotation two spaces after the final.
Example: In response to the government’s concern that magnetic levitation trains might be too expensive to operate, Henry Koln, the “inventor” of the trains, had this to say:
The government won’t fund anything that isn’t demonstrably cost-effective. Well, if you consider all the great innovations in humanity, all the great ventures – the polar expeditions, the cathedrals, the pyramids – none of those things was demonstrably cost-effective. If nothing is done, that isn’t cost-effective in advance, nothing is done. (Gladwell C3)
- The quotations must be copied exactly as the quoted author has written it.
- Any alteration must be noted:
- Additions: Sometimes, it is necessary to add words for clarity to a quotation. Additional words are placed in brackets [ ].
- Omissions: As long as the quoted author’s meaning is not distorted by the omission of words, it is permissible to do so. This is indicated by the use of three spaced dots called ellipsis marks… If the omission follows a mark of punctuation, the punctuation mark is used, followed by the ellipsis.
- For example,…
- Errors: If there is an error in the quoted material, it is important to insert [sic], which means “thus” or “so” after the mistake or misspelling.
- Quotations always begin and end with the punctuation marks and capital or small letters appropriate to the grammatical requirements of the writer’s sentence.
- When a quotation functions as a part of the researcher’s sentence, no ellipsis marks are used at the beginning or the ending of the quotation, even if there are omissions from the beginning or the ending of the quoted material.
- When quoting an author who is quoting someone else, use double quotation marks for the author you are quoting and single quotation marks for the inner quotation
(i.e., “ ‘…’ ”).
Research Essay Guidelines
- Lead-in sentences – general statements are leading into the main idea of the essay.
- Thesis: One sentence that sets forth the main idea of the essay.
- Essay Map: One or more sentences that set forth three or more points supporting the thesis.
- Body Paragraph One – First point of the essay map – to prove the thesis statement.
- Begin with your own ideas.
- Quote from secondary source and document.
- Paraphrase from secondary source and document.
- Tie quotes and paraphrases together with their own ideas and observations to prove the thesis statement.
- Body Paragraph Two – the Second point of the essay map – to prove the thesis statement.
– Repeat a, b, c, and d of Section II.
- Body Paragraph Three – the Third point of the essay map – to prove the thesis statement. Repeat a, b, c, d.
- Conclusion –
- Draw points together and make a statement of how they prove your thesis.
- A possible way to end:
- What was learned or the importance of the essay’s subject
- A call to action
- A statement of the essay’s broader implications.
- A story that sums up the main point.
- Restatement of the thesis and essay’s major points (for long essays only).
- Do not conclude with a quote unless it sums up the entire essay.
- It is not necessary to repeat A, B, C, and D in every paragraph. You may mix quotes and paraphrases as well as your own ideas in any paragraph and in any order. However, you should use at least one direct quote in each paragraph, but do not begin or end with a direct quote.
- Do not drop in quote unannounced. Always introduce. Examples: According to John Doe, “One should start his or her research early” (32). Or, John Doe feels it is important not to procrastinate when it comes to research: “One should start his or her research early” (32). Or, a noted critic says, “One should start his or her research early” (Doe 32).
- Documentation is required for direct quotes, paraphrases, and summaries.
- MLA Style uses parenthetical documentation linked to a list of works cited at the end of the paper. At the end of a direct quote or paraphrase, the author’s last name and page number are inserted in parenthesis. If a work has no author (such as an unsigned article in a magazine), then a shortened form of the title is used with the page number. Only a page number is needed in parentheses when the author’s name is used in the sentence. The works cited are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name on a separate page.
- MLA Handbooks are available in the classroom, library, or in the campus bookstore.
- Plagiarism will not be tolerated. A zero will be assigned for partial or complete plagiarism.
Research Editing Checklist
- What is the thesis statement or claim? (Write down the one sentence that sets forth the main idea of the essay). What is the essay’s purpose?
- Does the writer prove his or her claim? Has he or she chosen enough specific evidence from the sources to prove his or her point? Give one example.
- Has the writer supported his or her claim with secondary sources? Give one example.
- What is the best part of the essay?
- Is the overall content effective? Does the essay make sense? How might the essay be improved?
- Has the writer adhered to MLA style? Does he or she use the author’s last name and page number in parentheses at the end of a direct quote or paraphrase? Is the end-line documentation tied to a list of works cited?
- Did the writer follow directions? Is the paper correct in length (number of pages assigned), plus works cited? Do the works cited page include the number of sources assigned?
- Is the essay free of grammatical errors? (Run-ons, fragments, subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, etc.).
- Is the essay free of punctuation errors? Are commas used after introductory words, phrases or clauses, and before coordinating conjunctions when an independent clause follows, etc.?
- How does the essay end? Is the conclusion appropriate, or does the essay merely stop?