Whether assigned or selected by students, the purpose of research is to discover the answers to questions. "The Hodges Harbrace Handbook" authors Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray remind writers that when writing research papers, "your purpose may be to entertain your readers, to inform them, to explain something to them, or to persuade them to do or think something." While keeping the audience and purpose in mind is important, ultimately all research begins with questions formulated by writers.
Begin by asking who, what, where, when and why about your topic, writing down all answers you can come up with as quickly as possible. Starting with these basic questions helps writers discover how much they currently know, how much research may be needed and often generates a focus for research.
Importance to Self
Make the assignment relevant to your life, such as school or work. "Thinking about your professional goals may suggest additional topics that will not only fulfill the assignment requirements but also help you develop professional knowledge" write authors Rebecca Howard and Amy Taggart in "Research Matters: A Guide to Research Writing." Discovering where where you are worried, concerned or angry can also lead to narrowing down a research topic.
Importance to Others
Connect your experiences to those of others. Find out how your peers, neighbors or community may also be affected by your topic by conducting research at local levels, such as newspapers. Do research to discover how others' opinions intersect with your own. Integrate these and different ideas into your essay and offer counterarguments and concessions.
Questions about Locating Sources
Use credible sources only, which can more easily be located by searching a library database. Weigh the value of sources by considering how up to date the source is, whether or not the source and its sponsoring agency seem objective, and the extent and accuracy of the source's research and the source's authority, as all ultimately reflect on a writer's credibility as well.
Questions about Integrating Sources
Ask whether a direct quote is really needed. In her book "Writing Matters," author Rebecca Howard states, "in most cases, you should put borrowed information into your own words, using either a paraphrase or summary." Use quotes sparingly and make use of key phrases or words. Limit the use of sources, aiming for once citation per paragraph or one citation per page, whichever maintains focus on the student writer's original words.
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