How to Write a Research Paper

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Writing the Research Paper

Handbook and Style Guide

English teachers from both Cranston High School East and Cranston High School West prepared this booklet for students learning the fundamentals of research paper writing. Much of the material was gleaned from sources listed on the acknowledgements page. The information chosen is considered suitable to fulfill the instructional needs of the teachers and to facilitate practical use by the students.

1. Topic Selection

Topic selection will vary with the teacher or the course. If you are given a choice of topic, consider the following questions before choosing:

a.Is the subject you are considering significant/relevant to the assignment? b.Does the subject interest you?
c.Are research materials readily available for the subject? d.Can the subject be presented objectively?

2. Limiting the Subject

If the subject you plan to research is too broad, your paper may exceed the assigned length. If you attempt to develop a broad subject within the confines of the required length, you may also find that you have merely skimmed the surface of the subject. Either case may lead to an unacceptable outcome. Therefore, you must carefully analyze a subject to divide it into its parts. You might consider narrowing it in relation to pertinent time periods or certain examples, features, uses, and causes.

The paper you are usually asked to write in English class is an evaluative research paper which goes beyond mere reporting of facts found in an informational research paper. Rather, it may address solutions to a problem, determine causes or effects, formulate evidence to prove or disprove, compare or contrast, assess, analyze or interpret. By presenting facts, figures, and opinions from both primary and secondary resources in the paper, the reader gains a new point of view or sees information in a new light.

Informational paper topic: The training a meteorologist needs Evaluative paper topic: A contrast of the training a meteorologist needed in l940 to what he/she needs in 2000

Informational paper topic: Benjamin Franklin's political life Evaluative paper topic: The effect of Benjamin Franklin's writing style upon his career

3. Working Bibliography

The first step in researching a topic is to compile a working bibliography of potential sources of information, both primary and secondary. The subject area of a research paper determines, in part, the nature of the source materials. If you have been asked, for example, to analyze the poetry of Anne Bradstreet in relation to the accepted poetic norms of her time, you would use several of her poems as your primary sources. You would then search for secondary information from a variety of mediums such as analyses of Bradstreet's works by other critics, historical information about the conventions of poetry during Puritan times, Bradstreet biographies, etc.

Primary Sources are original words of a writer (novel, speech, eyewitness account, letter, autobiography, interview).

Secondary Sources are works about somebody and about his/her work. These include books and articles about a novel, speech, document, or scientific finding. There are many places to find secondary sources including the card-catalog index, CD-ROMs, the Internet, literary encyclopedias, bibliographies, periodical indices, journals, etc.

4. Preliminary Thesis

Once you have thought through your topic and done some reading, you are ready to write the preliminary thesis, which is one arguable statement that expresses your opinion on your subject. You may need to revise this preliminary thesis several times as you continue your research. Review the following characteristics of a thesis statement before you write your own:

A thesis statement is an assertion, not a statement of fact or an observation.

Fact or observation: People use many lawn chemicals.
Thesis: People are poisoning the environment with chemicals merely to...
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