© Virginia Montecino Jan 1997
FIRST STEP: Before you brainstorm about topics or begin your proposal or research, read "Help with Writing Research Papers (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm)."
I. Research Paper Proposal (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/res-pap-pro.html): You will submit a research paper proposal. See the due date for your proposal on the course schedule. Attach a copy of the final proposal to the end of the final version of your research paper to be turned in with your portfolio).
II. Research Paper: Your research paper must be your own work. Review the Honor Code and Plagiarism (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm) statement and the Copyright and the Internet (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm) guidelines.
Topic: Your research paper project begins with a fact finding search on some current issue in your major to advance your knowledge. After you brainstorm about possible subjects and then select one, narrow your topic down to a manageable issue. Investigate possible approaches to your chosen topic and map out your strategy. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence.
Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts. If you are taking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's).
Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Find 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. In this paper I do not want you to try and solve a problem or necessarily reach a conclusion. What I am looking for is evidence that you can gather a body of knowledge on a particular subject, narrow it down to a particular focus and show that you can synthesize the information and make some intelligent, insightful observations about the subject. What I don 't want is just a regurgitation of information strung together. A significant part of the paper should be your interpretation of the information and how your knowledge about the subject has been enriched.
Your paper should contain these parts:
Introduction: Your introductory material should set up your topic for your audience. Briefly summarize your findings on the subject - If the sources disagree about the value of or perspective on the subject, point out the areas of disagreement. Your introduction should not meander around the point of your paper. It may be more than one paragraph in length, but at some point, very early in the paper you then need to start the substance of the paper. Your thesis should come at the end of your introductory material. State your thesis in the form of a sentence or two. It should not be in the form of a question. Your thesis should be a brief statement, in your own words, that points out the major issues about this topic that you discovered in your research. If you can't articulate in a sentence or two what your main point is then you probably don't have a good idea of what you will be writing about.
Body of Paper: Use subheadings, where appropriate, to separate different aspects of your paper which support your controlling idea (your thesis). The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence to support your thesis, in a logical, fully developed manner. For each new topic which supports your overall thesis, provide a topic sentence or two which is, in effect, the thesis for that sub-topic. If you do not use subheadings, you need to provide transition sentences to move your reader from one paragraph to the next. Your supporting sub-topics should address these issues: How will this knowledge advance science or technology or society - not in broad, abstract ways, but in concrete ways? What is the major impact of these findings? How will they affect people? What are the benefits to people? Are there any disadvantages? For example, if you are a nursing major, you might summarize findings on various treatment options or recent research findings for a particular medical condition. A computer science major might address a particular technology breakthrough with its plusses and minuses in application.
A writer of a research paper should synthesize the information gained from sources and weave them into a well ordered discourse, using the sources as evidence to support key points. A paper which is just a string of quotes shows that the author made no attempt to come to grips with the subject and is relying on the sources to speak for her or him.
Conclusion: Your conclusion should make some "wrap up" statements about what you learned about your chosen topic and the possible impact of your findings on people and perhaps society in general. Also, address any issues that may still not be resolved for you. Don't be reluctant to address any issues that aren't easily resolved or have negative or ambiguous outcomes. I am not necessarily looking for a neatly wrapped up conclusion with no loose ends. I am looking for a conscientious, thoughtful look at some topic in your field, sharing of the major significance of this issue, and any unanswered questions, if any, you are still dealing with.
Audience: Your paper should be understood by a broader audience than scholars in your field - for example, your classmates. You will have to explain concepts and not expect your audience to understand in-house jargon. If you are working on a paper in your major for another class this semester or on the job, we can negotiate the focus of your paper and the audience requirements. Have a target audience in mind. Who would be interested in and benefit from your treatment of the subject? By anticipating your audience you can anticipate the kinds of questions that may arise.
Format: [Web-based papers will approximate these guidelines.]
I prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style. If you want to use another one, check with me. Use one of these APA Research Style Guides (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm).
Length - 5 to 7 double spaced pages of text (not including graphics, cover page, appendices, or reference page). Ten "rambling" pages is not better than 7 clear, fully developed pages.
Margins - 1 inch top, bottom, left, right
Cover Page - in APA style (which should include your name, course and section, date, my name. The title should give your audience a good idea of what your paper is about - not tease your audience. For example, a clear title might be: The Internet - Changing the Way Students Learn and Teachers Teach.
Pagination: Put page numbers in top right hand corner of each page, including the cover page. Also include your last name and abbreviated title: Smith - Internet 2
Sources: Take notes on your sources and photocopy or print out
original source material. I may ask to see them. For long articles, photocopy
the first page, the pages you quote from, and the reference page (if there
is one). Check out the GMU
Libraries online and others ( http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/book-lib.htm).
Don't rely entirely on the Internet for sources. Search
Bank - INFOTRAC (http://www.searchbank.com/searchbank/viva_gmu)
- has the capability to transmit the full text of some article onto your
Web Browser for saving to a file or for printing.) Also check out the Washington
Research Library Consortium
Use a minimum of 7 varied and CURRENT sources (at least three from the past year 1997) - for example, journals in your major, Internet sources, interviews (no textbooks, please or encyclopedias - unless they are specialized encyclopedias in your field of study and you are using them for definitions of concepts. Encyclopedia and similar sources should be in addition to the 7 minimum. Books (often outdated by the time they get published) are generally poor sources for scientific subjects except for background info. Trade magazines or special interest group sources have built in biases, but can have some valuable information. But, for example, if you are writing about the value of advertising on the Internet, a company whose product is Internet advertisements would probably not be an objective source, but might be a good source for showing what is being done with Internet advertising. But you would have to point out the possible biased interest of the source. Check the source of all information for reliability. Is the Internet site sanctioned by a reputable institution or organization? Does the person you interview have credentials and experienced with your subject? Does he or she have a built in bias you need to address in your paper? What biases of your own may you have to be aware of to produce a scholarly look at this subject?
Documentation: Follow the online APA Style Guide (latest version) for documenting the sources in your text and your Reference Page. If you are unsure about a particular source, we can discuss it.
Use parenthetical citations (citation information in text between parenthesis) for information that is someone's opinion and is not common knowledge. Give parenthetical citation information for quotation sand paraphrases. Include page number for direct quotes. APA requires the date be included in in-text citations:
As Smith (1993) stated, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable evidence than scholarly or professional journals" (p. 2).
As Smith said, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable information than scholarly or professional journals" (1993, p. 2).
Paraphrased version: Magazines written for a lay audience tend to have less objective information than that found in scholarly publications (Smith, 1993). NOTE: There are no quotation marks or page number for a paraphrase. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words the original author's EXACT meaning - not just rearranging words in the author's original text. You can embed a short quote of a key phrase in paraphrased material and give the page number of the quote.
It is poor form to begin a paragraph or a sentence with a quotation - letting the source speak for you instead of incorporating the source into your text. For example, here is an example of poor form, which shows no input from the writer of the paper. He or she is just writing what the original author said, without trying to paraphrase the information or, at the very least setting up the quote in context:
"The proliferation of multiple births in this country speaks to the need to formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (Jones, 1997, p. 82).
An example of a more graceful form of setting up a quote is:
Because of significant number of multiple births in the United States, Jones points out that this country needs to "formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (1997, p. 82-84).
All sources in your research paper, like the examples above, are not only documented in the body of your paper, but must also be listed in the proper format on the References page.
Use quotes judiciously. Use them only when paraphrasing will make the statement unclear or a kernel of an idea is so perfectly stated that trying to paraphrase in your own words will ruin the impact of the statement. See the APA Style Guides for how to handle long quotes
Appendices: Graphics or charts should only be used if they can clarify some concept in your paper. Don't use them just for a "flashy" effect or for "gee whiz" value. If you include large graphics or charts, include each on a separate appendix page and label each one A, B, and so on. Refer to such appendices in the text where you discuss that issue. Graphs, charts, and appendices are not included as pages of text. They must be in addition to the 5 to 7 pages.
Final advice - try to relax
Consult me when needed throughout the process - I'm happy to help.