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Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University

This handout will include the following sections related to the process of writing a research paper:

Choosing a topic
Gathering Information
Revising, Editing, Proofreading

The Research Paper

Research: What it is.

A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking,
source evaluation, organization, and composition. It is, perhaps, helpful to think of the research paper as a
living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to
a specific topic. Primary and secondary sources are the heart of a research paper, and provide its
nourishment. The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide
the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field. It is also possible to
identify a research paper by what it is not.
Research: What it is not.

A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary
sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one's
interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend
time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not
unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what
others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the
sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished
through two major types of research papers.

Two major types of research papers.

Argumentative research paper:
The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the
topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as
the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means
the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial.
Analytical research paper:
The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question)
on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. For
example, perhaps one is interested in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has read the poem intently and
desires to offer a fresh reading of the poem to the academic community.
A. Choosing a Topic
The first step of any research paper is for the student to understand the assignment. If this is not done, the
student will often travel down many dead-end roads, wasting a great deal of time along the way. Do not

Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University

hesitate to approach the instructor with questions if there is any confusion. A clear understanding of the
assignment will allow you to focus on other aspects of the process, such as choosing a topic and identifying
your audience.

A student will often encounter one of two situations when it comes to choosing a topic for a research paper.
The first situation occurs when the instructor provides a list of topics from which the student may choose.
These topics have been deemed worthy by the instructor; therefore, the student should be confident in the
topic he chooses from the list. Many first-time researchers appreciate such an arrangement by the
instructor because it eliminates the stress of having to decide upon a topic on their own.
Methods for choosing a topic

Thinking early leads to starting early. If the student begins thinking about possible topics when the
assignment is given, she has already begun the arduous, yet rewarding, task of planning and organization.
Once she has made the assignment a priority in her mind, she may begin to have ideas throughout the
day. Brainstorming is often a successful way for students to get some of these ideas down on paper.
Seeing one's ideas in writing is often an impetus for the writing process. Though brainstorming is
particularly effective when a topic has been chosen, it can also benefit the student who is unable to narrow
a topic. It consists of a timed writing session during which the student jots downoften in list or bulleted
formany ideas that come to his mind. At the end of the timed period, the student will peruse his list for
patterns of consistency. If it appears that something seems to be standing out in his mind more than others,
it may be wise to pursue this as a topic possibility.
B. Researching (Gathering Information)
We live in an age overflowing with sources of information. With so many information sources at our fingertips,
knowing where to start, sorting through it all and finding what we want can be overwhelming! This handout provides
answers to the following research-related questions: Where do I begin? Where should I look for information? What
types of sources are available?
Before you begin your research, you should ask yourself some questions. These will help narrow your search parameters.

What kind of information are you looking for?

Do you want facts? Opinions? News reports? Research studies? Analyses? Personal reflections? History?

Where would be a likely place to look?

Which sources are likely to be most useful to you? Libraries? The Internet? Academic periodicals? Newspapers? Government records?
If, for example, you are searching for information on some current event, a reliable newspaper like the New York Times will be a useful source.
Are you searching for statistics on some aspect of the U.S. population? Then, start with documents such as United States census reports. Do
you want some scholarly interpretations of literature? If so, academic periodicals and books are likely to have what youre looking for. Want to
know about commercial products? Will those companies have Web sites with information? Are you searching for local history? Then a county
library, government office, or local newspaper archive is likely to be the most useful.

How much information do you need?

How many sources of information are you looking for? Do you need to view both sides of the issue?

C. Outlining
Four Main Components of an Effective Outline
a. ParallelismHow do I accomplish this?
Each heading and subheading should preserve parallel structure. If the first heading is a verb, the second heading should be a verb. Example:

Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University





("Choose" and "Prepare" are both verbs. The present tense of the verb is usually the preferred form for an outline.)

b. CoordinationHow do I accomplish this?

All the information contained in Heading 1 should have the same significance as the information contained in Heading 2. The same goes for the
subheadings (which should be less significant than the headings). Example:





A. Note important statistics
B. Look for interesting classes

(Campus and Web sites visits are equally significant. They are part of the main tasks you would need to do. Finding statistics and classes
found on college Web sites are parts of the process involved in carrying out the main heading topics.)

c. SubordinationHow do I accomplish this?

The information in the headings should be more general, while the information in the subheadings should be more specific. Example:



A. Favorite high school teacher
B. Grandparent

(A favorite teacher and grandparent are specific examples from the generalized category of influential people in your life.)

d. DivisionHow do I accomplish this?

Each heading should be divided into 2 or more parts. Example:


A. List relevant coursework
B. List work experience
C. List volunteer experience

(The heading "Compile Rsum" is divided into 3 parts.)

Technically, there is no limit to the number of subdivisions for your headings; however, if you seem to have a lot, it may be useful to see if some
of the parts can be combined.

D. Drafting
Drafting is one of the last stages in the process of writing a research paper. No drafting should take place without a
research question or thesis statement; otherwise, the student will find himself writing without a purpose or direction.
Think of the research question or thesis statement as a compass. The research the student has completed is a vast
sea of information through which he must navigate; without a compass, the student will be tossed aimlessly about by
the waves of sources. In the end, he might discover the Americas (though the journey will be much longer than
needed), orand what is more likelyhe will sink.

Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University

E. Revising, Editing, Proofreading

Revising is the process consisting of:

Major, sweeping, changes to the various drafts of a project

An evaluation of word choice throughout the project

The removal paragraphs and sometimes, quite painfully, complete pages of text

Rethinking the whole project and reworking it as needed

Editing is a process interested in the general appearance of a text, and includes the following:

Analysis of the consistency of tone and voice throughout the project

Correction of minor errors in mechanics and typography

Evaluation of the logical flow of thought between paragraphs and major ideas

This process is best completed toward the final stages of the project, since much of what is written early on is bound
to change anyway.

General style
Specific editorial requirements for submission of a manuscript will always supersede instructions in these
general guidelines.
To make a paper readable

Print or type using a 12 point standard font: Bookman Old Style

Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2" x 11" paper with 1 inch margins, single sided

Number pages consecutively

Start each new section on a new page

Adhere to recommended page limits (minimum of 10 pages including the title page)

Writing a Bibliography: APA Format

a. Books
Author's last name, first initial. (Publication date). Book title. Additional information. City of publication:
Publishing company.
Allen, T. (1974). Vanishing wildlife of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University

Boorstin, D. (1992). The creators: A history of the heroes of the imagination. New York: Random House.
Nicol, A. M., & Pexman, P. M. (1999). Presenting your findings: A practical guide for creating tables.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Searles, B., & Last, M. (1979). A reader's guide to science fiction. New York: Facts on File, Inc.
Toomer, J., et. Al. (1988). Cane. Ed. Darwin T. Turner. New York: Norton.
b. Encyclopedia & Dictionary
Author's last name, first initial. (Date). Title of Article. Title of Encyclopedia (Volume, pages). City of
publication: Publishing company.
Bergmann, P. G. (1993). Relativity. In The new encyclopedia britannica (Vol. 26, pp. 501-508). Chicago:
Encyclopedia Britannica.
Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). (1993). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
Pettingill, O. S., Jr. (1980). Falcon and Falconry. World book encyclopedia. (pp. 150-155). Chicago: World
Tobias, R. (1991). Thurber, James. Encyclopedia americana. (p. 600). New York: Scholastic Library
c. Magazine & Newspaper Articles
Author's last name, first initial. (Publication date). Article title. Periodical title, volume number(issue number
if available), inclusive pages.
Harlow, H. F. (1983). Fundamentals for preparing psychology journal articles. Journal of Comparative and
Physiological Psychology, 55, 893-896.
Henry, W. A., III. (1990, April 9). Making the grade in today's schools. Time, 135, 28-31.
Kalette, D. (1986, July 21). California town counts town to big quake. USA Today, 9, p. A1.
d. Website or Webpage
Online periodical:
Author's name. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number, Retrieved month
day, year, from full URL

Writing a Research Paper

Prepared by Mr. Alfonso M. Samillano II (Instructor)

Lifted from Purdue University

Devitt, T. (2001, August 2). Lightning injures four at music festival. The Why? Files. Retrieved January 23,
2002, from
Dove, R. (1998). Lady freedom among us. The Electronic Text Center. Retrieved June 19, 1998, from
Alderman Library, University of Virginia website: