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Writing a Paper


Writing a Paper Research Methods and Data College of Advancing Studies Brendan Rapple * 38 66 * * * 19 19 44 * * * 55 55 87 * * 57 56 38 * 58 * 59 58 36 * * 60 59 37 ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Writing a Paper

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
  • Television and radio programs
  • Web pages
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Email, etc.

One Should Certainly Provide Ones Own Ideas in a
  • Still, researchers must assess and present their
    own ideas in the context of existing knowledge
    and established thinking.

Researcher must be a skilled information
processor and evaluator
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 1 Specifying the Research Question
  • What is the precise research question being
  • What's the essential PURPOSE of the research

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

Appropriate/Manageable Topics
  • "Freud's Theory of Personality Applied to Mental
  • "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

More Examples of Topics
  • Too broad a topic may be unmanageable, for
  • Euthanasia
  • "Life and Times of President Barack Obama

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

Yet More Examples of Topics
  • Unlimited Topic (TOO BROAD)
  • The School Principal in the Modern School
  • The History of Down Syndrome
  • Special Education as a Field of Study
  • Slightly Limited Topic (STILL TOO BROAD)
  • Improving the Effectiveness of the School
  • The Teaching of Children with Down Syndrome in
    Bostons 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
  • 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
  • Say youre applying for a research grant.
  • Is the research politically acceptable? (to the
    funding agency or the individual/committee who
  • Is the research socially acceptable? (to the
    funding agency or the individual/committee who
  • 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 Ones 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 Democratization We
    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.

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/Files

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
  • 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 its doable,

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
  • 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

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
  • 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
  • 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.

  • Set out a timetable -- should be a realistic
    estimate of time required to complete the

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

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, textbooks
etc. very useful to get beginning and broad
  • a) introduce unique vocabulary and terminology
  • b) identify key authors and extent of research
  • 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 ptliterature review.
  • Sociological Abstracts Database
  • KWeuthanasia and KW(literature review)

Classic and Landmark Studies
  • Sociological Abstracts Database
  • DEsuicide and ABclassic

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
Some Useful Sites http//www2.bc.edu/rappleb/ev

Phase 4 Recording 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

Important to know when to stop the research
Phase 5 Organizing 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,
  • 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 movements legacy.

Another Example of a Thematic Organization
  • A paper on aspects of standardized testing might
    be organized according to the following themes or
  • Background
  • 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
  • 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
  • Less attention focused on the content of the
  • Rather more attention is paid to the "methods"
    used by the researcher.

Researching your Paper -- Tips
  • Begin with most recent studies and work
  • Dont try to read EVERYTHING in its entirety.
  • If the report/article has an abstract, read it
  • Before taking notes, skim the document to get to
    the most relevant part.
  • Most important part of a scholarly book is the
  • Write out complete bibliographic citation for
    each work. Add library call no.

  • Indicate carefully any direct quotations and your
  • Generally, paraphrase is better than lengthy
  • 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
  • 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

Format of Paper
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

Table of Contents
Executive Summary
  • Include one!


  • Normal scholarly process.
  • Should include all resources used in the
  • 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
  • Writing is perhaps the most important skill in
    todays workplace.

  • Keep paragraphs short


  • Use subheadings to clarify the structure
  • they break up the material into more readable
  • 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
  • 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
  • Write something each day no matter how little.
  • Set a routine. Try writing at the same time every
  • 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
  • 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

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.
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