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Writing a Paper. Research Methods and Data 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

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writing a paper
Writing a Paper

Research Methods and Data

College of Advancing Studies

Brendan Rapple

resources used for a research paper
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
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
RESEARCHER must be proficient in
  • locating
  • accessing
  • evaluating
  • organizing
  • analyzing
  • synthesizing
  • writing
timeliness currency of material cited
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.
phase 1 specifying the research question
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
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
Unlimited Topic (MUCH TOO BROAD)
  • "Life and Times of Sigmund Freud"
slightly limited topic still too broad
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
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"
adequately limited topic
Adequately Limited Topic
  • Content Analysis of Selected Gossip Columns in Five Women's Magazines During the Decade 2000-2011.
more examples of topics
More Examples of Topics
  • Too broad a topic may be unmanageable, for example
      • “Euthanasia”
      • "Life and Times of President Barack Obama”
slightly limited topic still too broad18
Slightly Limited Topic(STILL TOO BROAD)
  • “Euthanasia in the Netherlands"
  • “The Political Views of Barack Obama”
potentially more manageable topics
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
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
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
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
Another Possible Error
  • Choosing a topic that will not keep your interest, enthusiasm.
questions to bear in mind
Questions to Bear in Mind

Say you’re applying for a research grant.

  • 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
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
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
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
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.
more examples of ambiguity
More Examples of Ambiguity

The following newspaper headlines are ambiguous because of their grammar or diction. What two meanings does each suggest?

a. Student rates high

b. Man eating shark found

c. Nude swims tonight

d. Player shoots ace in tournament

e. Students stoned in Hollywood

f. Men's trousers half off Tuesday only

g. Giraffe tastes sweet

Art of Making Sense http://lhs.kennyiams.com/FilesGeo/THE_ART_OF_MAKING_SENSE.htm

more ambiguous terms essential to define them
More Ambiguous Terms – Essential to Define Them

The following words must be carefully defined to show what you specifically mean by them:

  • Patriotism
  • Freedom
  • Risch
  • Poor
  • Happiness
  • Pornography
parameters of your topic
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 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
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
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 paper35
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
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
Limitations May Be, e.g., Of
  • time
  • personnel
  • gender
  • age
  • geographic location
  • nationality
  • (and an infinite number of others)
advantages of precisely limiting
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
Phase 2

Locating and Accessing Information

some difficulties leading to anxiety
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
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
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
Classic and Landmark Studies
  • Sociological Abstracts Database:

DE=suicide and AB=classic

next logical research steps
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 3 evaluating the information
Phase 3Evaluating the Information

Some Useful Sites:


phase 4 recording the information
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 5 organizing the information
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
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
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
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.
another example of a thematic organization
Another Example of a Thematic Organization
  • A paper on aspects of standardized testing might be organized according to the following themes or issues:


        • History of Standardized Tests
        • Different Types of Standardized Tests
        • Rationale of Standardized Tests
        • Role of High Stakes Tests
        • Standardized Tests and the Law

Standardized Tests in Practice

        • Testing at Elementary School
        • Testing at Secondary School
        • Statistics
Critics and Proponents of Standardized Tests
  • Testing of Students with Disabilities
  • Testing of Minority Students
  • Testing of Students from Different Social Backgrounds
  • Gender Differences in Testing
  • Case for Bias
  • Case against Bias
  • Teachers’ Perspectives
  • School Administrators’ Perspectives
  • Students’ Perspectives

Alternative Assessment Methodologies

perhaps she groups the material methodologically
Perhaps She Groups the Material Methodologically
  • Less attention focused on the content of the material.
  • Rather more attention is paid to the "methods" used by the researcher.
researching your paper tips
Researching your Paper -- Tips
  • Begin with most recent studies and work backwards.
  • Don’t try to read EVERYTHING in its entirety.
      • If the report/article has an abstract, read it first.
      • Before taking notes, skim the document to get to the most relevant part.
      • Most important part of a scholarly book is the index.
  • Write out complete bibliographic citation for each work. Add library call no.
Indicate carefully any direct quotations and your paraphrases.
  • Generally, paraphrase is better than lengthy quotation.
  • Avoid "grandfather" citations. Return to original source.
  • Don't cite references that you haven't read.
  • Use headings and subheadings for clarity.
Evaluate carefully everything you read. Just because a famous scholar argued something, that doesn't mean that you have to accept it uncritically.
  • Research can be time consuming -- usually too much rather than too little to survey (especially in science and in technology).
  • Important to know when to stop the research
title cover page
Title/Cover Page
  • Title
  • Author's name, address, phone no.,

e-mail, fax no., etc.

  • Name of course, the institution etc.
  • Name of instructor
  • Date
executive summary
Executive Summary
  • Include one!


  • Normal scholarly process.
  • Should include all resources used in the proposal.
  • Should adopt a particular style, e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago etc. -- style must be consistent.
  • Helps the reader to form an opinion of quality of the sources available (and your ability to find them).
  • Charts, graphs and other information which may interfere with the flow of the proposal or lengthen it may be placed in the appendices.


  • Always worthwhile to lavish care on a research paper.
  • Writing is perhaps the most important skill in today’s workplace.
  • Keep paragraphs short


  • Use subheadings to clarify the structure
      • they break up the material into more readable units.
      • they give the reader a place to "dive in" if she doesn't want to read all of the material.
  • An effective conclusion ties a research paper together.
  • While your instructor (me!) will read your entire paper carefully, others will often read only the conclusion of a research paper in a professional journal or a report for work.
  • With no time to read everything thoroughly, reading the conclusion suggests whether it is worth reading the text in its entirety.
  • A stimulating and informative conclusion leaves the reader well-satisfied, and informed.
  • An apt quotation in the conclusion is often a good stylistic device.

Writing Drafts

  • Write an outline, maybe in bullet format.
  • Read it carefully.
  • Ask yourself, does it still make sense?
  • Read over your research notes.
  • Arrange them in logical order.
  • Organizing notes against the outline will suggest the necessary outline changes.
  • Revise the outline and start writing.
  • Write the first draft straight through
  • Do it quickly -- this preserves continuity -- gives coherence
  • So easy to revise using a computer
some tips
Some Tips
  • Write something each day no matter how little.
  • Set a routine. Try writing at the same time every day.
  • Don't worry too much about style, grammar, and vocabulary in the first draft. Don't waste time looking for the "right" word.
  • Just write a draft so you can revise later.
  • Don't worry if the first draft exceeds the specified number of words or pages. Cutting back in a later draft is easier than adding data.
  • Write the easiest section first. There is no problem composing the introduction last.
more tips
More Tips
  • Leave large margins. Double or triple-space to leave room for corrections and revisions.
  • Always number pages.
  • Revise the final draft. Then ask someone to proof it. New readers see errors easily.
  • Develop appropriate transitions. Your thoughts should flow logically and coherently from each paragraph or section.
  • Make sure the citations listed in the body of the paper are included in the bibliography, and vice versa.
common errors
Common Errors
  • Unattainable goals
  • Failure to focus -- going on tangents
  • Failure to cite essential pertinent studies
  • Failure to maintain a coherent, logical thesis
  • Poor organization of paper
  • Poor language, grammar etc.