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How to Write a Research Paper
Transcript of How to Write a Research Paper
Searching for keywords and topics
Once you know what your general topic will be, brainstorm some keywords to help you search for information.
For example, if your topic is the Civil War, you could start thinking about:
the cause of the war
soldiers of the North/South
women during the war
Black soldiers in the war
weapons and their effect in the war
politics of the war
Brainstorming keywords can help lead you toward a more specific topic for your paper.
Narrowing Your Topic
On that note, let's practice narrowing down a topic.
Too broad: the Civil War
Just right: Causes of the Civil War
Too specific: How many people died
If you were asked to research something about the food industry, what are some more specific topics you could research?
Let's narrow down the following topics:
Being assigned a research paper (aka) PANIC MODE
Where do I even start?
Understand the prompt.
Scope and approach
You want to find sources that will fit within the scope of your paper. For example, if you are writing about a specific Mark Twain novel, you won't need general sources about his life or about Southern literature as a whole.
Also, if you're writing about the battles of the Civil War, you won't need sources about personal slave narratives.
In other words, you don't want sources that are too broad or too narrow. You want sources that will support you throughout your paper.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Writing a Rough Outline
Once you have started researching and have picked a topic, write a rough outline to give direction to your paper. At this point, it is okay if some of your topics are undeveloped. As you research, you can create a more solid plan for your paper.
Keeping an Open Mind (for now)
Establish your thesis
After you have had time to research, digest the material, and determine your focus, it's time to write out a thesis statement or hypothesis.
Your paper should not only loosely connect what others have said about the topic. Your research should help you form opinions and arrive at conclusions about your topic. Readers want to find
and your ideas in the paper.
Develop a working thesis as soon as you can, and make lists of supporting evidence and specific details from what you know and what you read.
Once you decide you have something to say about what you think and what your sources say, make a plan and start a rough first draft.
How to Locate Sources
Using Delta's Database System
Don't panic! Tackling a research paper only seems intimidating. But today, we will discuss an easy step-by-step approach to planning and writing a research paper.
Identify the Topic(s)
Identify the Task(s)
Read your instructor's prompt thoroughly and highlight any words that inform you what your task is.
Typically, your instructor will provide you with a prompt. This prompt will usually give you a vague direction in which to go.
The prompt might specifically instruct you to: "Trace the causes of the Civil War and discuss how the war ended."
Your instructor might provide you with a general topic and ask you to form your own research question.
The first step is to understand the assigned task and topic.
Words to look for:
Before you spend hours doing research, understand exactly what your instructor wants you to DO.
Let's talk about the word analyze. What might it mean to analyze something in a research paper?
(It's okay to look these words up in the dictionary to clarify. That way you will have a firm understanding of what you need to do in your paper.)
According to the online Merriam-Webster
Dictionary, to analyze is "to study (something) closely and carefully : to learn the nature and relationship of the parts of (something) by a close and careful examination."
If we must analyze, how might we plan to structure the research paper?
Read your prompt and identify the topic(s).
It might be something simple like:
an historic event like the Civil War, the Jazz Era, prohibition, or 9/11
a specific novel, play, or poem like The Great Gatsby
a specific person like Albert Einstein or Abraham Lincoln.
It could be a more complex topic like:
-the moral of a story or stories
-the cause of a specific event
-the relationship between two people, events or issues
If you brought your own prompt, work on identifying both the task and the topic. If you did not bring in a prompt, use the sample prompt on your RWLC handout.
Try not to rush into an answer or opinion on the research topic. During this next step, you will be gathering information and possible sources. You will also find your way toward a position.
It is MUCH more difficult to start with a pre-formed answer and find sources to support you, so in the beginning, stay open.
A research paper is generally 5-8 pages, so you do not want to pick a topic that is too broad to fit into a paper that length. On the other hand, you do not want a topic too specific that you will run out of things to say.
One of the best places to do research is through the San Joaquin Delta College's database system. The articles in the database system are reliable and peer-reviewed so you know that your sources are accurate.
Let's look at the database system together.
You can also do research at the library. Search for materials through the library catalog. You can even save your searches on My List, so you won't need to remember specific book titles.
Selecting relevant sources
You will need to decide which types of primary or secondary sources you need. Allow yourself large blocks of time for carefully finding these sources.
What is a Primary Source?
A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:
ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS: diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records
CREATIVE WORKS: poetry, drama, novels, music, art
RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings
Examples of primary sources include:
Diary of Anne Frank
- Experiences of a Jewish family during World War II
The Constitution of Canada- Canadian history
A journal article reporting NEW research or findings
Weavings and pottery- Native American history
- Women in Ancient Greece
What is a Secondary Source?
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes, or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:
PUBLICATIONS: textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias
Examples of secondary sources include:
A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews findings
A history textbook
A book about the effects of WWI
Write drafts: Revise, revise, revise
Write more than one draft. You should not expect to produce perfect first draft.