"The Bible of Research"
Research and Report Writing
Choosing a Topic
When you write a research paper, you may have to choose what to write about or your teacher may assign a general topic. In either case, you will have to focus your topic, that is, narrow it down in order to explore a specific idea.
As you narrow your topic, consider who your audience will be. You must provide enough information so that your readers will understand your topic. However, you do not want to simply tell them what they already know.
Consider the purpose of your report. What do you want to learn more about and then share with your audience? One good way to start is to ask yourself some questions about your topic. Of course, before you can ask questions, you must know at least a little about the general topic. Find a book, an encyclopedia or an Internet site and do a little preliminary reading.
→You will be writing a research paper on a famous author. Your paper will be about two pages long, so you will need to decide the part of the author’s life or work on which you want to focus. You will not be able to cover your subject’s entire life and works in two pages.
Setting a Schedule
You will have a timeline that you must follow. Following the timeline carefully will insure that all parts of your research will be completed on time.
STEP 1: Finding Information
After you have chosen your topic, you can begin your research. You will use sources such as books, encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, and Internet sites. As you consult these sources, think about the following facts:
Conducting Library Research
You probably have already used many of the resources available in your school or public library. Nevertheless, each new research project you do gives you another chance to use this invaluable source. Every library collection is a unique combination of printed, computerized, and audiovisual materials. Here are some of the basic types of library resources that you may be using:
*Books: Most books are in circulation, which means you can check them out. Use the library computer catalog to locate books about your topic.
*Reference materials: Most reference materials are not in circulation; you will have to use them in the reference department at the library. The most common reference materials are dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and almanacs.
*Computer resources: Many libraries have computers available to library patrons who want to use the Internet. Other on-line databases or reference materials may also be available. You will be able to use the computers in the Louisiana Room and the Computer Lab.
Searching on the Internet
Through the Internet, a vast electronic communications network that connects computer networks worldwide, you can obtain information from many diverse sources. The Internet is so vast that to get information quickly, you should use the tools described below:
Each search engine or subject directory searches only a small part of the Web. For that reason, it is best to use at least two different search engines or subject directories for a search. (Ex. Google, Yahoo, AllTheWeb, Metacrawler, Ask Jeeves, Kanoodle, Dogpile, Search.com, Altavista, and WiseNut)
The keywords you use must be exact and specific. For example, a student who wants to learn about the history of baseball bats might type this:
Baseball AND bats AND history AND legends NOT manufacture
Typing words such as baseball, bats, history, legends, manufacture limits your search.
Using words such as AND, NOT, and OR, limits your search.
Here are some more tips to help you perform efficient searches on the Internet:
*Most search engines offer advice about themselves. Find a “Tips” button to click on and read what is there.
*Some search engines offer a “More like this” feature. If one Web site listed seems close to what you need, click on “More like this.” The search engine will search for similar sites.
*Even if a Web site is disappointing, look for other links that appear in it. A Web site that is unreliable or not helpful might link you to a more reliable and useful site.
STEP 2: Preparing Note Cards
After you have located your sources, you must begin reading thoroughly and taking notes. Remember, the writing you do later will depend on the quality of these notes and the information they contain. Your notes must be organized, thorough, and accurate.
Here are some important points to consider as you take notes:
*Do not take notes on everything you read. You will end up with too many cards, and the information you find will probably repeat itself. You must choose the information that you believe pertains to your report.
*Read carefully and critically. Start with the most comprehensive sources, such as encyclopedia articles. Then move on the more specialized sources. Record only new pieces of information that you encounter.
* Pay attention to context. Taking a piece of information out of context could lead you to provide false information or reach a faulty conclusion in your paper. When taking notes, make sure you record the supporting information an author provides so that you have evidence to back up your statements.
The following information should also go on your note cards:
Sometimes you may want to quote directly from the resource. Direct quotations, which are taken word for word from the source, should be put in quotation marks (“,”). The other two methods of recording notes from a source, paraphrasing and summarizing, do not require quotation marks. When you paraphrase a statement, you rewrite it in your own words. When you write a summary, your statement contains only the most important pieces of information without descriptive details.
Keep in mind that when you write a note as a direct quotation, you have the option of paraphrasing or summarizing it later. If you take a note in a paraphrased or summarized statement, you cannot turn it into a direct quotation unless you return to the original source and recopy it.
STEP 3: Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism, or presenting someone else’s words or ideas as if they are your own, is a serious issue. Plagiarism carries severe penalties, ranging from failing a course to being expelled from school. It is always best to err on the side of caution. Cite the source if you have any question about whether or not you are using another writer’s words or original ideas. You are plagiarizing if you do any of the following without marking the text as a quotation and giving the author credit:
*Repeat a sentence or more of another person’s words
*Present another person’s original term or phrase as your own
*Present another person’s argument or line of thinking as your own
As a student researcher, you must take particular care to document everything that you borrow. Even summaries and paraphrases should be credited. That is why it is so important to take notes carefully so that you know which sentences, phrases, and ideas are yours and which are the authors.
When you are citing another source in a research paper, you may set up the citation in several ways. If you are using a direct quotation, you will cite the source immediately following the quotation.
STEP 4: Developing an Outline
An outline is a summary of the main points about your topic and the ideas that support them. While you were taking notes from sources, you made notations as to the various subjects or topics regarding your author. As you decided how to classify and organize your notes, you took the first step in making a working outline. At this point, you jot down your first informal outline.
As you conduct further research, you also continue to write and revise your outline. The following steps will help you make a working outline that will eventually become the formal outline you will use to prepare the first draft of your paper:
Here is an example of a section of a workingoutline with a central idea, three main topics, and subheadings:
Central Idea: I will compare and contrast five different types of conservation.
Note how each topic is given a Roman numeral; each subtopic a capital letter. Also, notice the spacing and tabbing (indenting). You will do a topic outline; that is, you will not write complete sentences for each point of your outline. You will write phrases and words. The purpose of an outline is a skeleton on which to build your paper. It also serves as a table of contents for your reader, and it helps you to organize your information in a logical way.
STEP 5: Developing a Thesis Statement
When you chose a topic to research, you also develop a central idea to guide that research. Now is the time to polish the central idea you are working with to use as your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a concise statement of what you will prove, expand on, or illustrate in your paper. Your thesis statement will report primarily the ideas of others.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help develop your thesis statement:
STEP 6: Formatting a Research Paper
As you prepare to write your rough draft, consider how you must format the final paper. If you are typing or using a word processing program, you can set margins and set off quotations, for example. This gives you a good start toward formatting the final draft of your paper.
*Margins: Leave a one-inch margin at top, bottom and both sides of every page. Most word processing programs already have this set as a default.
*Spacing: Double-space every line of text. Do not leave extra space after your title or between paragraphs. Make sure that your word processing program is set to double-space. Do not press return twice to double-space.
*Identifying Information: You will do a title page. Specific instructions will be given as to how to arrange the information on the title page. You will also be given specific information as to what information will go on each individual page.
*Title: Center the title of the paper on the double-spaced line below your identifying information (header and page number).
*Paragraphs: Indent the first line of each paragraph five spaces, or one-half inch. In other words, tab once for each new paragraph.
*Short quotations: Write short quotations (4 lines or less) in with the text, but put quotation marks around them. (Long quotations are in a separate indented paragraph)
*Works cited list: Following the text of your paper, start a new page with the heading “Works Cited” centered below your identifying information. Double-space each entry in your list. For entries that are more than one line long, indent the second and following lines one-half inch from the left margin.
STEP 7: Writing a Rough Draft
You have gathered all your resource materials, sorted through your notes, composed an outline, made adjustments to it, and considered the formatting of your paper. Now it is time for you to start writing your first version of your paper, your rough draft. When you begin, don’t worry about whether the writing is perfect. Just follow your outline and get all you notes and ideas on paper. You can fine-tune later.
Here are some tips to help your rough draft flow smoothly:
*Follow your outline when you write your rough draft. Post the most recent version of your outline where you can see it, and refer to it frequently. Move from topic to subtopic to details one step at a time, constructing your paragraphs so that they follow the model provided by your outline.
* Do not feel that you must start your draft with your introduction. You may be more comfortable writing the body of your paper first. The inspiration for your attention-getting introduction may come as you write the body.
*When you do draft your introduction, think of a way to grab your readers’ attention. You may do this by opening with a startling or unusual fact or anecdote, a question, or a quotation. Whatever you use, it should make your reader want to continue beyond the first paragraph. Your introduction should also include your thesis statement. You may have to alter this statement slightly so that it works in your introductory paragraph.
*Do not get stuck on a word. If you cannot think of just the right word, write down the best one you can think of. Then circle it as a reminder to find a more appropriate word later.
*Try to make transitions and logical connections from one idea to the next and between paragraphs. At the same time, recognize that you probably will not get them all the first time. Just move on, and then come back to them later.
*When you include quotations, statistics, or anything that requires documentation, make a note of this in your draft. The easiest way to do this is to write and circle the number of the note card on which you recorded each piece of information. The circled number will alert you to the fact that you must document the information later, when your draft is closer to your final paper.
*When you write your conclusion, you may use words or phrases such as finally, in conclusion, or to conclude to signal the closing of your paper. Your conclusion will also include a summary of your thesis statement or a restatement of the questions—and the answers—your paper explores. Remember, do not write in first or second person.
STEP 8: Documenting Sources Within the Paper
Referring to the works of others in your text by using MLA style is covered in chapter seven of the MLA Style Manual, and chapter five of the Handbook for Writing Research Papers. Both chapters include extensive examples, so it's a good idea to read them over if you want to become familiar with the guidelines or if you have a particular question.
In MLA style, referring to the works of others in your text is done in two ways. When you refer to someone else's idea, through either paraphrasing or quoting them directly, you:
This allows people to know which sources you used in writing your essay and then be able to look them up themselves, so that they can use them in their work. Here are some basic guidelines for referring to the works of others in your text:
MLA format follows the author-page method of citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear in your works cited list (see Your Works Cited Page, below). The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence.
If the work you are referring to has no author, use an abbreviated version of the work's title. For non-print sources, such as films, TV series, pictures, or other media, or electronic sources, include the name that begins the entry in the Works Cited page.
Sometimes you may have to use an indirect quotation. An indirect quotation is a quotation that you found in another source that was quoting from the original. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source.
Sometimes more information is necessary to identify the source from which a quotation is taken. For instance, if two or more authors have the same last name, provide both authors' first initials (or even her or his full name if different authors share initials) in your citation. If you cite more than one work by a particular author, include a shortened title for the particular work from which you are quoting to distinguish it from the other works by that same person.
When you directly quote the works of others in your paper, you will format quotations differently depending on whether they are long or short quotations. Here are some basic guidelines for incorporating quotations into your paper.
To indicate short quotations (fewer than four typed lines of prose or three lines of verse) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks and incorporate it into your text. Provide the author and specific page citation (in the case of verse, provide line numbers) in the text, and include a complete reference in the Works Cited page. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted passage but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.
STEP 9: Compiling a List of Works Cited
Your Works Cited List
The works cited list should appear at the end of your essay. It provides the information necessary for a reader to locate and be able to read any sources you cite in the essay. Each source you cite in the essay must appear in your works-cited list; likewise, each entry in the works-cited list must be cited in your text. Here are some guidelines for preparing your works cited list.
Formatting your works cited list
Basic Rules for Citations
Author(s). Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.
Book with one author
Henley, Patricia. The Hummingbird House. Denver: MacMurray, 1999.
Two books by the same author
(After the first listing of the author's name, use three hyphens and a period for the author's name. List books alphabetically.)
Palmer, William J. Dickens and New Historicism. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.
---. The Films of the Eighties: A Social History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1993.
Book with more than one author
Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn, 2000.
If there are more than three authors, you may list only the first author followed by the phrase et al. (the abbreviation for the Latin phrase "and others") in place of the other authors' names, or you may list all the authors in the order in which their names appear on the title page.
Book with a corporate author (a group of people, an organization)
American Allergy Association. Allergies in Children. New York: Random, 1998.
Book or article with no author named
“Frost, Robert”. Encyclopedia of Indiana. New York: Somerset, 1993.
"Cigarette Sales Fall 30% as California Tax Rises." New York Times 14 Sept. 1999: A17.
For parenthetical citations of sources with no author named (in your paper), use a shortened version of the title instead of an author's name. Use quotation marks and underlining as appropriate. For example, parenthetical citations of the two sources above would appear as follows: ( Encyclopedia 235) and ("Cigarette" A17).
Basic Forms for Electronic Sources
If no author is given for a web page or electronic source, start with and alphabetize by the title of the piece and use a shortened version of the title for parenthetical citations.
A web site
Author(s). Name of Page. Date of Posting/Revision. Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site. Date of Access <electronic address>.
It is necessary to list your date of access because web postings are often updated, and information available at one date may no longer be available later. Be sure to include the complete address for the site. Also, note the use of angled brackets(< >) around the electronic address; MLA requires them for clarity.
Web site examples
Felluga, Dino. Undergraduate Guide to Literary Theory. 17 Dec. 1999. Purdue University. 15 Nov. 2000 <http://omni.cc.purdue.edu@7Efelluga/theory2.html>.
Purdue Online Writing Lab. 2003. Purdue University. 10 Feb. 2003 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu>.
An article on a web site
Author(s)."Article Title." Name of web site. Date of posting/revision. Name of institution/organization affiliated with site. Date of access <electronic address>.
Article on a web site
Poland, Dave. "The Hot Button." Roughcut. 26 Oct. 1998. Turner Network Television. 28 Oct.
"Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format." Purdue Online Writing Lab. 2003.
Purdue University. 6 Feb. 2003
Use this website for help with MLA style: