Writing a Paper AD140 Spring 2010 College of Advancing Studies Brendan Rapple
Resources Used for a Research Paper Resources may be anything written or recorded. They might include: • Books • Articles in journals • Articles in magazines • Articles in newspapers • Television and radio programs • Web pages • Interviews • Letters • Email, etc.
One Should Certainly Provide One’s Own Ideas in a Paper Still, researchers must assess and present their own ideas in the context of existing knowledge and established thinking.
RESEARCHER must be proficient in • locating • accessing • evaluating • organizing • analyzing • synthesizing • writing
Timeliness/Currency of Material Cited • Timeliness is more significant for some subjects than others. • Scientists generally need timely material. Just think of AIDS research or research in nuclear physics or cancer research. • Scholars in many of the arts and humanities, however, often need not worry about timeliness. • An historian researching some aspect of Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy might, for example, find research written in 1920, or even 1820, more relevant than recent literature.
Research Paper Process Five Phases
Phase 1Specifying the Research Question • What is the precise research question being studied? • What's the essential PURPOSE of the research study?
To know what is DIRECTLY RELEVANT to the research question, one must know precisely what the research question is.
Topic Should have a Precise Focus • "The Teaching of English as Revealed in the Courses of Study of the English-Speaking Nations of the World.“ [Too broad] • “English Language Teaching in Massachusetts’ High Schools.” [Better – but still broad] • Video in the English Language Curriculum of a Brighton secondary school.” [Good focus]
Unlimited Topic (MUCH TOO BROAD) • "Life and Times of Sigmund Freud"
Slightly Limited Topic (STILL TOO BROAD) • "Psychological Theories of Sigmund Freud" • "An Examination of Different Emphases in the Psychological Views of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung"
Appropriate/Manageable Topics • "Freud's Theory of Personality Applied to Mental Health" • "Freud's Theory of Infantile Sexuality" • "An Analysis of the Relationship of Freud and Jung in the International Psychoanalytic Association, 1910-1914"
Another Example of an Excessively Broad Topic "Who Gossips and Why?"
Slightly Limited Topic (Still Too Broad) "When Do People Gossip?"
Adequately Limited Topic • Content Analysis of Selected Gossip Columns in Five Women's Magazines During the Decade 2000-2008.
More Examples of Topics • Too broad a topic may be unmanageable, for example • “Euthanasia” • "Life and Times of President Barack Obama” • On the other hand, too narrow and/or trivial a topic, e.g., "My Favorite Teacher", is uninteresting and extremely difficult to research.
Slightly Limited Topic(STILL TOO BROAD) • “Euthanasia in the Netherlands" • “The Political Views of Barack Obama”
Potentially More Manageable Topics • “Death and medical power: an ethical analysis of Dutch euthanasia practice” • “A comparative study of the political communication styles of Barack Obama and George Bush”
Yet More Examples of Topics Unlimited Topic (TOO BROAD) • “The School Principal in the Modern School System” • “The History of Down Syndrome” • “Special Education as a Field of Study” Slightly Limited Topic (STILL TOO BROAD) • “Improving the Effectiveness of the School Principal” • “The Teaching of Children with Down Syndrome in Boston’s Educational Institutions” • “Special Education in Boston Schools”
More Appropriate/Manageable Topics • "Texas school principals knowledge and perceptions of bullying: A descriptive study of bullying in seventh and eighth graders in Houston, Texas” • “Temperament and behavior problems in young children with Down syndrome at 12, 30, and 45 months” • “The link between funding a mandated program (special education) vs. a non-mandated program (regular education) in two Massachusetts' public school districts during the 1980s”
An Error to Avoid • Choosing a topic that is not manageable • Important factors to bear in mind • time • resources • energy • travel • researcher's knowledge and experience (e.g. do you speak Chinese?)
Another Possible Error • Choosing a topic that will not keep your interest, enthusiasm.
Questions to Bear in Mind • Is the research politically acceptable? (to the funding agency or the individual/committee who decides) • Is the research socially acceptable? (to the funding agency or the individual/committee who decides) • What about an advocacy of euthanasia to raise the per capita income? (a joke!) N.B. Remember the Audience
Definition of Terms • STATEMENT OF PROBLEM:How is intellectual potential and performance in high school related to success in college? • Is this a good topic for a paper?
Important to Define One’s Terms Intellectual potential: student's scores on the verbal and quantitative components of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Performance in high school: G.P.A. combined with assessment of activities outside the classroom (e.g. editing the school paper, playing the cello in the school orchestra). Success in College: G.P.A., length of stay in college, extracurricular activities.
Another Example • STATEMENT OF PROBLEM: "An Examination of How Feminist Organizations in West Berlin Helped in the Reunification and Democratization of Germany during the latter part of the 1980s."Possible problem words:Feminist DemocratizationWe must know how the RESEARCHER defines the term.
Yet Another Example of Need to Define Terms • Title of Thesis/Dissertation: “Christianists, Islamists, Theocons: Harbingers of Apocalyptic Violence” • Clearly there are some “problem” words here. • We must know how the RESEARCHER defines the term.
Parameters of Your Topic • If research question is specified too broadly or defined too vaguely or abstractly, researcher may be overwhelmed with information. • If research question specified too narrowly or defined too concisely or concretely, researcher may miss out on peripheral and more general info. • If research question is very current, scholarly books and articles may not be up to date. • Certainly choose a “good” topic, one that interests you. But make sure that it’s “doable”, manageable.
Keep Your Audience in Mind • Keep the type of audience in mind • Your writing should be pitched at level of expected readers • Use the terminology appropriate to them • Physics terms for physicists; sociology terms for sociologists • No jargon, e.g., for ordinary reader • Generally, "plain English" is the best strategy
Researchers must avoid tendency to shun info. that contradicts preconceived notions • They must keep open minds • They must look at question from different vantage points.
Scope of the Paper • What exactly will you aim to cover in your paper? • How comprehensive will it be? How detailed? • Some topics might demand a review of all relevant material; others might limit the survey to recently published material, e.g., the last five years. • Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?
Scope of the Paper • Will you need to broaden your search to seek literature in related fields or disciplines? • Clearly, deciding length will be important. • About how many citations will you use? • What type of material/documents will you use? • Will you confine your material to that written in English or will you include research in other languages too?
Limitations of Study • Important to state precisely what you intend to do. • Important to state precisely what you do NOT intend to do.
Limitations May Be, e.g., Of • time • personnel • gender • age • geographic location • nationality • (and an infinite number of others)
Advantages of Precisely Limiting • Makes the topic more focused. • Researcher covers herself from possible criticism for ignoring areas.
Schedule/Timetable • Set out a timetable -- should be a realistic estimate of time required to complete the project.
Phase 2 Locating and Accessing Information
Some Difficulties -- Leading to Anxiety • not understanding information; • overwhelmed by amount of info.; • not knowing if certain info. exists; • not knowing where to find info.; • knowing where to find info. but not having key to access.
Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, textbooks etc. very useful to get beginning and broad overview: a) introduce unique vocabulary and terminology; b) identify key authors and extent of research available; c) reveal approaches taken to previous research e) Often have good basic bibliographies
Using Existing Literature Review • Literature reviews may already exist on some aspect of your topic. • It is useful to search online databases for literature reviews. • ERIC Database: DE=(Literature Reviews) and standardized tests. • PsycInfo Database: DE=(Monozygotic Twins) and pt=literature review. • Sociological Abstracts Database: KW=euthanasia and KW=(literature review)
Classic and Landmark Studies • Sociological Abstracts Database: DE=suicide and AB=classic
Next Logical Research Steps • Use Quest: to find materials in BC libraries. • Use WorldCat:to find books in other libraries. • Use subject specific databases: to locate journal articles and chapters in books. • Use multidisciplinary databases: to locate journal articles and chapters in books. • Use the Web.
Phase 3Evaluating the Information Some Useful Sites: http://www2.bc.edu/~rappleb/evaluatingwebsites.html
Phase 4Recording the Information • We all have different ways of recording info., making notes etc. • But particularly useful is the Web-based bibliographic citation management tool RefWorks • http://bc.edu/refworks
Phase 5Organizing the Information • When writing a paper the researcher must • categorize • compare • make connections among various forms and sources of information
Perhaps She Groups Findings According to Whether They Provide • strong support . . . • medium support . . . • low support to her own hypothesis/theory
Perhaps She Groups the Material Chronologically • e.g. a paper on the topic: “The Free School Movement, 1967 to the Present: A Study of Countercultural Ideology”might be divided chronologically as follows: • Focus by decades as follows • 1960s • 1970s • 1980s • 1990s • 2000-2008 • But this is quite an arbitrary approach – it may not be particularly informative. • If one does use a chronological method, a “trends” approach with the date periods might be more useful.
Perhaps She Groups the Material Thematically • Organizing about topics or issues rather than passage of time often the best method. • Again, a paper of the topic “The Free School Movement, 1967 to the Present: A Study of Countercultural Ideology”might consider such themes as: • Views of parents, teachers, students, and political activists. • Aims of the schools. • Types of school, curricula, textbooks, pedagogies. • Ideological basis of the free school movement. • New Left; the civil rights movement; student protests; the antiwar movement; other societal, cultural and intellectual contexts. • Divisions within the movement. • Critics of the movement. • Collapse of the movement. • Views on the movement’s legacy.