Conventions of Research & Academic Inquiry

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  • 0:01 Research Writing
  • 1:05 What is a Research Paper?
  • 3:20 Researching the Research Paper
  • 5:45 Writing the Research Paper
  • 7:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

Research writing is a common academic writing assignment. In this lesson, we will define what a research paper is, the patterns it may use, and how to plan and research a topic.

Research Writing

This is Casey, a student in English 101. The semester is coming to an end, and so far things have gone pretty smoothly. She has successfully written several papers, participated in peer reviews, and feels more confident as a writer overall. Until this moment; this is the moment that she hears the dreaded words: research paper. Casey immediately gets nervous, she begins to bite her nails and looks around the room anxiously. Everyone else looks so calm. Why? Why are they not panicking like she is? Why are they so confident about writing a research paper?

Research paper anxiety is very common among students. Many of them face the assignment with worries about developing a topic, finding sources, developing a point of view, formatting the paper, and presenting a good analysis. However, research papers are nothing to be feared! With some simple steps, research papers can become a process that all students can feel confident exploring.

What Is a Research Paper?

Research papers analyze perspectives by presenting your point of view supported through experts in the field. A research paper requires the writer to spend time not just finding sources, but evaluating whether those sources are credible and how they could be used in the paper.

There are two main types of research papers that a student may be assigned. In an argumentative research paper, the student will have to persuade the reader. This paper takes a position on a debatable topic, shares the reasons to support the argument, and finds sources to present facts and evidence to these reasons. Let's say Casey was assigned this type of research paper. She decides to present the argument that families should have dinner together every night. This is her point of view. Casey then decides on her reasons why this is true. She brainstorms a list that includes family time, healthier eating, and more active parenting. From there, she researches and evaluates what the experts say about her reasons.

The second type of research writing is analytical research, which offers a critical viewpoint. The student is not looking to persuade the audience of a viewpoint, but to present findings, as if the audience was going on an exploration journey with the writer. This type of research is very common in literature classes. Let's go back to Casey. She decides to write a research paper on a poem that she read during the course. She really liked the voice of the poem, and she decides to explore who the voice represents. She follows the poem and the changes that she sees in the speaker. From there, she researches what other literary critics have said and uses them to support her point of view.

The first step to research writing is to understand the assignment itself. It should be made clear what kind of argument is required. From there, a student can begin the second step, choosing a topic. In some classes, an instructor may have a list of approved topics to choose from. In other cases, the students may be free to choose. In either scenario, be sure that you are choosing a topic with which you are familiar. You want to be comfortable beginning the research process! If you are writing an argumentative paper, you also need to be sure that you use a debatable topic. An argument paper is much more than a summary of facts.

Researching the Research Paper

Now that the assignment is understood and the topic is chosen, it is time to research! Let's go back to Casey. Earlier, she decided to write an argumentative research paper on eating as a family. She had previously brainstormed her reasons for her choice, and now she is ready to start the third step, researching her reasons.

To begin research, first know what is being researched. Are you looking for facts? Statistics? News stories? Expert opinions? If you know what type of evidence you want to find, you can limit your research further and decide on the type of source you may need. It is important that you have a narrow search in mind. For Casey, she is researching her specific reasons rather than the large topic of family dinners. Just imagine how many articles she would find if she looked up that topic!

When researching, there are many different types of materials that can be used. These include books, periodicals, journals, government records, interviews, and many more. You also have the option to find sources online or to use print sources.

Before using any research, the sources that you find should be evaluated. Not everything you come across in your research will be valuable. Some of your sources may not even be credible!

To evaluate and determine whether a source is credible, find an author with experience, choose current information, and look for unbiased platforms. If Casey reads an article in a magazine at a grocery store, chances are it is not an academic source. To help with this, focus the research to scholarly journals and articles. You want to find people who have experience in the field and have a background on writing about your topic. You may have to make sure that the statistics you find are accurate and up to date - a study done in 1972 will not be as helpful to Casey as a study done in 2009!

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