Proving A Point In A Research Paper

Resources for Writers:  
Drafting & refocusing your paper

Once your Research is underway you will need to be able to refocus yout thesis and check to make sure you are using your source material correctly.  Below you will find hints and suggestions to help you in this porcess.

Refocusing your research question into a thesis
Summarizing & paraphrasing source material without plagiarizing
Introducing summarized, paraphrased, and quoted material
Integrating quotations (ellipses and square brackets)
Connecting your evidence to your thesis
1
Refocusing your research topic and developing a thesis

You've chosen a topic, asked questions about it, and located, read, and annotated pertinent sources. Now you need to refocus your topic. What changes do you need to make in order to account for the available sources? If you chose the topic "Business on the Internet" and focused your efforts on the question of how commercial uses of the Internet are affecting the entire Net, you might not have discovered sufficient sources for your research. While trying to find them, though, you might have located plenty on the question of how businesses are using the Internet; thus it would now be advisable for you to refocus your topic.

Having done so, you must think about what you are going to say in your research essay. Remember that in college writing, research papers, term papers, and research essays are not simply a repetition of what you have read. Rather, they are essays: in them, you express your beliefs about the topic and explain how your research has led you to those beliefs citing that research material to support your argument. Once the topic has been refined sufficiently for the research to begin, the student gradually formed an opinion on the subject, answered the research questions, and refined the topic into a thesis:
 

Figure 3:8--focusing your research question into a thesis

1. Private citizens on the InternetGeneral topic
2. Censorship on the InternetMore focused topic
3 (i). Is the Internet used by pornographers?Broad yes/no question
3 (ii). How is the Net used by pornographers?Fact-only question
4. What attempts have been made to prevent the distribution of pornography on the 'net, and how have Internet users responded to them?Final research question
5. Many Internet users condemn use of the Net by pornographers, but the arguments they make against government intervention or censorship are not persuasive. Any limitation on the use of the Internet will undermine its power.Thesis -- This thesis both makes a claim and sets that claim within the context of the research. The writer will use the arguments of other Internet users to support the thesis that censorship or restrictions will undermine the power of the Internet.



2
Summarizing and paraphrasing 

If you can summarize and paraphrase effectively, you will be able to use the information you discovered in your research to support your thesis. As we have already explained, in college-level research papers, as in published papers, it is unacceptable to put large chunks of other people's prose into your own words without citing them. Nor can you take sentences, substitute a few synonyms and call them summaries. Correct summary and paraphrasing is difficult--but it can be learned. Once you have learned how to summarize and paraphrase, you need to read Section 3 so that you also know how to incorporate the material into your paper without accidentally plagiarizing.


Summarizing

While the summaries you will incorporate into research papers are not usually as long as formal summary papers, you will use similar strategies when you write them, and you must avoid similar dangers. You might find yourself summarizing an argument so that you can respond to it, summarizing other researchers' findings, or summarizing events. Whatever reason you have for needing to summarize, the guidelines below will help you:

  • The summary must be significantly shorter than the source. Your purpose is to report the key elements of the argument, or the essential aspects of the thesis, not to represent every detail of it.
  • The summary must support your argument, not make it for you. If you find yourself stitching together long summaries of what other people say with little or none of your own analysis or discussion, or if you write a thesis in your introduction and then support it entirely by summarizing what other people say or by repeating the plot of a piece of literature, again with little or no explanation or discussion of your own, the chances are that you are simply "proving the known"--that is, that your thesis is not really a thesis. In both of these cases you are not ready to write the paper: although you are familiar with the material, you can't synthesize or critique what you know; therefore, you are not yet ready to join the academic conversation on this topic. Reread your notes, look for connections, similarities, contradictions, subtle differences in interpretation, and so on, and spend some more time thinking about your thesis.
  • The summary must be in your own phrases and sentences. Of course you may use joining words like "when," "and," and so on; however, any key terms must be placed in quotation marks the first time you use them.
  • The summary must be an objective report of the source. Do not misrepresent someone else's argument by ignoring the context of the argument. Your purpose in an incorporated summary is to report what other texts have said on this topic and then discuss that topic yourself. If you misrepresent a source, readers will assume that you didn't understand it or that you are somehow gravely biased.
You will find the guidelines for summary essays  helpful as you learn to incorporate summaries into research papers.
Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but it uses different words. Unlike the summary, which reports the argument, thesis, or event, the paraphrase also reproduces the attitude and tone of the original text. Before you can write an effective paraphrase, you must fully understand the original text. It might help to think of it as translating the passage. Like a translation from one language to another, a paraphrase remains close to the original but uses totally different words. This metaphor also helps answer the obvious question, "Why would anyone paraphrase instead of quote?" Good scholars paraphrase complex material and material that uses disciplinary or technical terminology into more accessible prose when they are writing for an audience less knowledgeable than they. Paraphrase also helps readers follow the argument, because they don't have to adjust from one prose style to another, which is what happens to your readers when you quote. The smoother your prose, the easier it is to read the paper and follow the argument.

These points will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your paraphrases:

  • Keep the paraphrase about the same length as the original. Remember that you are "translating" rather than summarizing or describing.
  • Maintain the mood and tone of the original. For this you must pay careful attention to the words you use. For example, "mentions" implies a casual relationship to the material, almost an aside; "defends" indicates that the author of the source takes a supportive position to the material; while "observes" suggests an objective or at least less impassioned position. Use a dictionary to check the actual meanings of words that you use as synonyms.
  • If you must use terms from the original, quote them. Even translators of foreign languages must do this when there is no equivalent word in the new language. If the term is important, or you will discuss it at length later, or if no other word will replace it, simply place the word in quotation marks the first time you use it.


3
Introducing and citing quotations, paraphrases, and summaries
Once you have decided which information you will paraphrase, which you will summarize, and which you will quote from, you need to ensure that the material is cited correctly into your paper. If you paraphrase or summarize, you still need to tell readers where the information comes from.

Introducing and citing the sources that you use allows other scholars to follow the research thread that you followed as they try to answer their own questions. For example, we could tell you about a study that says that everyone needs to get eight hours sleep a night and for every hour one is sleep deprived (every hour below 8) one's IQ falls one point. You might decide that you would like to read that study, too, but we didn't provide citations so you don't know where to find it. You don't even know for sure that such a study exists. Because we did not cite sources, we prevented you from joining that academic conversation, and perhaps gaining some important information about sleep. If you feel frustrated now, that's how other scholars feel when you don't cite sources!

Although each academic discipline has a different way of citing paraphrases, summaries, and quotations, the underlying principle is the same. A citation reveals the name of the author, the name of the text, its publication date, the name of its publisher, and the page number(s) of the material to which you refer. The full or partial citation might be provided in parenthesis at the end of the borrowed material, or it might be provided in a numbered footnote or endnote, but it must be provided. At the end of this chapter we describe five different guidelines (style sheets) for citing material. A great many others are also used in academic writing, e.g., The Chicago Style Manual or the style known as "Turabian" after Kate Turabian, the author of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. If your instructor does not indicate a preference, you may choose the style yourself. But you should choose and use a recognized method; don't make up your own system. The purpose of citations is to convey a large quantity of information in a very small space; thus even the punctuation of citations conveys meaning, and that punctuation varies from one style sheet to another. Readers familiar with the style sheet that the writer has chosen do not have to puzzle over citations in order to decipher the information in them. But if you make up your own style sheet, however consistent it may be, you are forcing your readers to decipher not only the information in the citations but also the means of transmitting that information. 


Paraphrased and summarized material must be introduced as well as cited, so that readers know where that material begins and where the author of the paper's ideas end. Consider the example from Michael's first draft of his synthesis paper using material from Unit i of "The Evolution Debate" (Tim Beardsley's "Darwin Denied" pp.000-000).

Figure 3:9--sample of incorrectly introduced summary
 

It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).
By placing the citation at the end of the paragraph and not identifying where Beardsley's ideas begin, he makes it seem as if the whole paragraph is a summary of Beardsley, whereas really only the last sentence is. This both implies that Beardsley said something that he did not, and prevents Michael from getting credit for his thoughtful analysis. The revised paragraph below makes everything clear.

Figure 12:10--sample of summary correctly introduced with a signal phrase
 

It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet, as Beardsley explains, even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).

You must also introduce quotations in addition to citing them; however, this is for a different reason. If you recall our discussion of your papers as part of a conversation, the reason may be clearer. When you are telling someone about the reactions of two of your friends to a movie, you might say, "When we got out of the movie, Tom's first comment was 'that was really boring,' but Alex said that she enjoyed it." There is no doubt as to who thought what about the film. Tom's comment is introduced and quoted, while Alex's is introduced and summarized. The prose flows smoothly. On the other hand "After viewing the movie: 'that was really boring,' Tom observed" just doesn't sound right. It isn't.
4
Integrating quotations (using ellipses and brackets)
Ellipses:
Sometimes you will want to use a longer quotation. If it is over four lines it should be set apart from the text, indented, and not placed in quotation marks (almost all methods of citation require it to be double spaced and in the same font as the rest of the paper). Sometimes, though, you will really only need to refer to parts of a long paragraph. In such cases you should use ellipses to indicate that material has been omitted. Use three ellipses if part of a sentence is missing, and four to indicate that you have also cut a period.  An example of successful use of ellipses can be seen in the following quotation from Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye in an essay by theorist Deborah McDowell:
Jars on shelves at canning, peach pits on the step, sticks, stones, leaves . . . . Whatever portable plurality she found, she organized into neat lines, according to their size, shape, or gradations of color . . . . She missed without knowing what she missed--paints and crayons (Bluest Eye 88-89).
This passage describes a set of related activities of Paula Breedlove, and is used by McDowell to show that Paula's "obsessive ordering" is related to her artistic tendencies. This means that readers don't need the additional material about how she ordered the things; they only need to know that she did. By cutting the inessential material, McDowell makes her point clearer. Notice that she uses capital letters after the four ellipses to show that these are new sentences in the original.
Note: You do not need to use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation. If you say that you are quoting from a novel, your readers know that some of it must have omitted if you just include one sentence. Ellipses are necessary only when readers can't work out that something has been cut.

Square Brackets
Sometimes you will need to add "and" or "however" to make a quotation fit smoothly into the sentence you include it in. You can do that as long as you put the added word in square brackets. Another common use of square brackets to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence is the addition of square brackets around "ed" or "s" to indicate past tense or plural. You might quote and alter the previous sentence this way:

The authors claim that square brackets are often "use[d] . . . to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence."

You will see many examples of ellipses and square brackets used in the extracts throughout this text. Pay attention to them and you will find it easier to use them in your own prose.


5
Connecting your evidence to your thesis

Once you have worked out your thesis and decided what evidence you will use to support it, it might seem clear how the evidence and the thesis are connected. You need to remember, though, that your readers haven't immersed themselves in the conversation as much as you have. They may not be able to immediately see the connection between two ideas, just as you probably couldn't when you began your research. Your task in the paper is to guide your readers toward the same interpretation or explanation of the data as you have reached. This means that once you have drafted the paper, you need to go back over it and make sure that each piece of evidence does its job and supports the thesis. Sometimes this will necessitate adding sentences or phrases to connect a paragraph or series of paragraphs back to the thesis; sometimes a few connecting words like "although," "however," "another example of this," or "in spite of such findings" will be sufficient. Remember that your reader should be able to follow your argument with ease and see at a glance exactly how the evidence supports it. The transitional phrase or topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph will often provide the necessary connection, and will also help your reader move from one idea to the next without confusion.

You can make clear how your evidence supports your thesis by explaining their relationship in your introduction to the paper. The introduction functions like a little map of the paper that shows where it will end up, how it will proceed, and what it will pass on the way. Each main point is listed in the order it will appear in the paper so that readers may see how the points (evidence) relate to each other.



Web Resources     |     Composition at Drew
 C.  Sandra Jamieson, Drew University. 1999
For permission to print and use this page, please contact me by e-mail.
 
Most university courses involve some sort of extended writing assignment, usually in the form of a research paper. Papers normally require that a student identify a broad area of research related to the course, focus the topic through some general background reading, identify a clear research question, marshal primary and secondary resources to answer the question, and present the argument in a clear and creative manner, with proper citations. 

That is the theory, at least. But how do you go about doing it all? This brief guide provides some answers. 

Teaching Yourself

From the outset, keep in mind one important point: Writing a research paper is in part about learning how to teach yourself. Long after you leave college, you will continue learning about the world and its vast complexities. There is no better way to hone the skills of life-long learning than by writing individual research papers. The process forces you to ask good questions, find the sources to answer them, present your answers to an audience, and defend your answers against detractors. Those are skills that you will use in any profession you might eventually pursue. 

The Five Commandments of Writing Research Papers

To write first-rate research papers, follow the following simple rules—well, simple to repeat, but too often ignored by most undergraduates. 

1. Thou shalt do some background reading, think hard, and speak with the professor in order to identify a topic. 

At the beginning of a course, you will probably not know enough about the major scholarly topics that are of most importance in the field, the topics that are most well-covered in the secondary literature or the topics that have already had the life beaten out of them by successive generations of writers. You should begin by doing some general reading in the field. If nothing else, begin with the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a wonderful but sadly neglected resource. Read a few books or articles on topics you find of interest. Follow up the suggested reading on the course syllabus or the footnotes or bibliographies of the texts you are reading for the course. After that, speak with the professor about some of your general ideas and the possible research directions you are thinking about pursuing. And you should do all this as early in the course as possible. 

2. Thou shalt have a clear research question. 

A research question, at least in the social sciences, begins with the word “why” or “how.” Think of it as a puzzle: Why did a particular political or social event turn out as it did and not some other way? Why does a particular pattern exist in social life? Why does a specific aspect of politics work as it does? How has a social or political phenomenon changed from one period to another? The question can be general or particular. Why have some countries been more successful in the transition from Communism than others? Why did the Labour Party win the last British general election? How have conceptions of race changed in the US since the 1960s? How do different electoral systems affect the behavior of political parties? 

The point is that you should attempt to identify either: 

  • novel trends, developments or outcomes in social life that are not readily apparent (the “how” questions), or 
  • the causes of a particular event or general trend (the “why” questions). 
Professional social scientists—historians, political scientists, sociologists, international affairs experts—work on both these kinds of questions. In the best published social science writing you will be able to identify a clear “how” or “why” question at the heart of the research. 

“How” and “why” questions are essential because they require the author to make an argument. Research questions that do not require an argument are just bad questions. For example, a paper on “What happened during the Mexican revolution?” requires the author to do no more than list facts and dates—a good encyclopedia entry, maybe, but not a good research paper. “What” and “when” questions are only the starting point for writing research papers. Obviously, you need to have a firm grasp of the facts of the case, but you must then move on to answer a serious and important “why” or “how” question in the paper itself. 

3. Thou shalt do real research. 

“Real research” means something other than reading secondary sources in English or pulling information off the Internet. Real research means using primary sources. What counts as a primary source, though, depends on what kind of question you are trying to answer. 

Say you want to write a paper on the causes of Communism’s demise in eastern Europe. You would begin by reading some general secondary sources on the collapse of Communism, from which you might surmise that two factors were predominant: economic problems of Communist central planning and Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union. Primary sources in this case might include economic statistics, memoirs of politicians from the period or reportage in east European newspapers (available in English or other languages). Bring all your skills to bear on the topic. Use works in foreign languages. Use software packages to analyze statistical data. 

Or say you want to write about how conceptions of national identity have changed in Britain since the 1980s. In this case, you might examine the speeches of British political leaders, editorials in major British newspapers, and voting support for the Scottish National Party or other regional parties. You might also arrange an interview with an expert in the field: a noted scholar, a British government representative, a prominent journalist. 

The point about primary sources is that they take you as close as possible to where the action is—the real, on-the-ground, rubber-meets-the-road facts from which you will construct your interpretive argument. There are, however, gradations of primary evidence. The best sources are those in original languages that are linked to persons directly involved in the event or development that you are researching. Next are the same sources translated into other languages. Then come sources that are studies of or otherwise refer to direct experience. In your research, you should endeavor to get as close as possible to the events or phenomena you are studying. But, of course, no one can speak every language and interview every participant in a political or social event. Part of being a creative scholar is figuring out how to assemble enough evidence using the skills and resources that you possess in order to make a clear and sustainable argument based on powerful and credible sources. 

One other note for Georgetown students: In a city that contains one of the world’s great research libraries, representations from nearly every country on the planet, the headquarters of countless international organizations, numerous research institutes, and scores of other political, economic, cultural, and non-governmental associations and institutions, both domestic and international, there is absolutely no excuse for the complaint that “I can’t find anything on my topic in Lauinger.” 

4. Thou shalt make an argument. 

Unfortunately, many undergraduate research papers are really no more than glorified book reports. You know the drill: Check out ten books (in English) from the library, skim through three of them, note down a few facts or mark some pages, combine the information in your own words, and there you have it. 

This will not do. Your paper must not only assemble evidence—facts about the world—but it must weave together these facts so that they form an argument that answers the research question. There are no once-and-for-all answers in any scholarly field, but there are better and worse arguments. The better ones have powerful evidence based on reliable sources, are ordered and logical in the presentation of evidence, and reach a clear and focused conclusion that answers the question posed at the beginning of the paper. In addition, good arguments also consider competing claims: What other counter-arguments have been put forward (or could be put forward) to counter your points? How would you respond to them? In fact, consideration of counter-arguments is often a good way to begin your paper. How have scholars normally accounted for a particular event or trend? What are the weaknesses of their accounts? What evidence might be marshaled to suggest an alternative explanation? How does your account differ from the conventional wisdom? 

5. Thou shalt write well. 

Writing well means presenting your argument and evidence in a clear, logical, and creative way. An interesting argument cloaked in impenetrable prose is of no use to anyone. Sources must be accurately and adequately cited in footnotes, endnotes or in-text notes using a recognized citation style. The writing style must be formal and serious. Tables, graphs or other illustrations should be included if they support your overall thesis. 

These are only a few guidelines on how to write research papers. You will no doubt develop your own styles, rules, and techniques for doing research, making arguments, and presenting the results of your work. But if you follow the commandments above, you will be well on your way to writing good research papers—and hopefully learn something about an important political or social topic along the way. 

© Copyright 1996, Georgetown University

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