Research Guide

This Research Guide presents the basic steps in conducting research and writing a research-based essay. Each step listed below is linked to further information that will help you in your research and your writing. Within each step are explanations, examples, and models, in addition to links to other helpful websites and resources. Remember that the information presented here is just a start. Your teacher may ask for something beyond these guidelines or may modify them to fit a particular assignment.

Conducting research and producing a research paper accomplishes a number of important goals. The project allows you to pursue a topic in depth and expand your knowledge and understanding. It requires critical analysis and evaluation of both primary and secondary sources. You will take advantage of resources in the library and on the Internet to encourage the development of your independent scholarship and responsibility. This self-disciplined approach to research reinforces your writing skills, especially in the development and support of a thesis. These experiences contribute significantly to your growth as a student and will, in the end, add to your understanding of the world.

Step  1: Topic Selection  
Step  2:  Exploratory Reading  
Step  3:  Research Question  
Step  4:  Preliminary Thesis  
Step  5:  Working Bibliography  
Step  6:  Note-taking  
Step  7: Organizing Notes  
Step  8: Outline  
Step  9:  First Draft 
Step 10: Revision  
Step 11: Final Submission  

Topic Selection

  • Pick a few topics of interest within the guidelines set by the teacher.
    Consider choosing topics you don't know much about but are interested in learning more.
    One object of research is to learn!
    Check availability of library material; confer with the teacher and/or librarian.
  • Choose the most promising topic that can be explored for weeks to come.
  • Narrow the topic to meet assignment requirements.
    What questions do you have before you begin reading? Jot these down.

Exploratory Reading

  • Read a general reference source for an overview (e.g. periodical databases and reference databases).
  • Read from several different kinds of sources (articles, encyclopedias, books, etc.); don't rely entirely on the Internet.
  • Find and maintain a list of key words for cross-referencing.
  • Note bibliographic information for these sources.
  • Annotate sources with notes of possible usefulness in writing your research question

Research Question

  • What questions arose in your mind while you were reading?
  • Formulate a specific research question based on the reading.
  • Continue reading to answer the research question.
  • What new questions do you have about the topic? Why is this topic important?

Preliminary Thesis

  • According to Diana Hacker, a thesis states the paper's central idea and points both the writer and the reader in a definite direction. A thesis states a claim that will be supported in the body of the paper.
  • Think about your general topic, the narrowed topic, and then your research question.
  • Convert the question into a position statement that can be supported.

    Example:
General topic:   gender bias
Narrowed topic:   gender bias in education
Research question:   Is it more advantageous for girls to have single-sex classes than coed classes?
Thesis:    Research shows that single-sex classes are better for girls and, therefore, should be encouraged.

 

Working Bibliography

  • Before you begin taking notes, compile a list of all available sources appropriate to your topic.
  • Not all the sources will prove helpful, but you need to compile a wide range of possibilities to guarantee a thorough investigation of your topic.
  • Compile a working bibliography on note cards or regular paper.
  • Use the examples below and Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual to get all the important publishing information about the source.
  • For books from the library, include the call number and the name of the library so you can find the book again.

View sample bibliography cards.

Download a  sample working bibliography .

Note-taking

General Considerations

  • Check the table of contents and the index of the source to identify the sections that pertain to your topic.
  • Note the copyright date to see that the source is recent. For many topics there may be developments that an older source may not address. However, an older source can provide important background information.
  • A bibliography from a current source (usually found at the back) may suggest other resources for further investigation.
  • Determine the reliability of your source. Keep in mind that some periodicals and Internet sites may distort or oversimplify information. Be sensitive to the writer's possible bias. Generally, scholarly journals are careful to document information and encourage responsible scholarship from their contributing authors.
  • Investigate key words found in background reading, and look for new ones in other sources.
  • Determine relevance to thesis. To what extent does this source address your research question?
  • Use a variety of sources, such as: reference works (TreviAC, CD-ROM)
    books and audio-visual materials (TreviAC)
    periodicals (InfoTrac, ProQuest, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times)
    Internet Web sites
    interviews with authorities on the topic
  • Continue to maintain accurate bibliographic information.

Presentation

  • Consistently use the same sized lined note cards (3x5 or 4x6).
  • Write only one point, idea, quotation, or statistic per source on a single card. Remember: New source, new card; new idea, new card.
  • Use direct quotations, paraphrases, summaries, and a combination of these methods.
  • Write the author's or editor's last name and page number in the upper RIGHT-hand corner.
  • Indicate the subtopic or subject covered on the card in the upper LEFT-hand corner. This word or phrase is also called a "slug."

Direct Quote Card

  • Enclose all borrowed language in quotation marks, even a single unusual word. Not your words? Use quotation marks!
  • Incorporate quotations smoothly.
  • Use "[sic]" immediately after an apparent error in a direct quotation.
  • Quote only the portion of the sentence that relates to your point.
  • Place commas and periods inside closing quotation marks, except when using internal citation format.
  • Place colons and semi-colons outside closing quotation marks.
  • Place exclamation and question marks inside closing quotation marks when part of the original quotation, outside when part of paper's sentence.
  • Do not quote a capital letter in the first word of a quotation when it becomes part of a sentence in your paper.
  • Use an ellipsis (3 spaced periods) to indicate the omission of a word, phrase, or sentence from a quotation; be careful not to alter the grammar or meaning of the quotation.
  • When blocking off more than three lines of prose in long quotation form:
        omit quotation marks
        make single-spaced
        indent ten spaces from each margin.

Paraphrase Card

Paraphrases cite ideas or information even if you have not quoted directly because altering the wording does not make the idea your own (i.e., if information comes from a notecard, it needs a citation).

Examples:

Original Passage
"Universally acknowledged is that girls' schools promote leadership, because all positions of power are held by girls. Female teachers provide strong, intelligent role models and prove it's okay for women to be smart" (Sajbel 92).

Unacceptable Paraphrase
The following paraphrase is unacceptable because there are only minor changes in the forms of some words, and the sentence structure and word choice are nearly identical to the original passage:

Without a doubt, single-sex schools encourage leadership as all positions of power are held by girls. Women faculty offer positive role models and show it is all right for girls to be intelligent (Sajbel 92).

Acceptable Paraphrase
The following paraphrase is acceptable because the author has used her own words to express the ideas of the original passage.

In all girls' schools, girls learn to be leaders because they fill all the leadership roles and because all of the staff positions, including the administration ones, are filled by females. The smartest students are girls and there is no pressure to let males hold superior positions (Sajbel 92).

Organizing Notes

  • This step is crucial in preparing your preliminary outline.
  • Group note cards by subtopics (each group generally becomes a body paragraph).
  • Arrange groups in logical order (e.g. chronological order, spatial order, order of importance).
  • Organize note cards within subtopics. 

Outline

The outline is the plan of the written paper and will serve as a table of contents. Outlining is not just a diagram; it is a description of logical thinking that leads to clear and effective writing. Outlining should not inhibit creativity. On the contrary, form will only make it easier to be both creative and clear.

There are two types of formal outlines. The topic outline reduces every entry to a phrase, making it more concise with major examples and supporting details. The sentence outline includes a complete sentence for each entry. It is more conclusive because each entry makes a declarative statement. Each sentence can then serve as a topic sentence for each paragraph or larger unit in the paper.

There should be a logical and clear relationship among the parts of the outline. You should be able to see how each heading pertains to an important aspect of the thesis, and how each subtopic develops that heading. If there is any doubt about the relation of a heading to the thesis, or about the relation of a subtopic to the heading, that statement is a potential trouble spot in the outline.

Topic Outline

  • Type the thesis at the top of the outline.
  • Follow parallel form (e.g., every entry is a noun or single type of phrase).
  • Keep subdivisions equal in importance (e.g., all Roman numerals equal paragraphs; A's, B's, and C's under a Roman numeral are major points within that single paragraph, etc.).
  • Divide entries into at least two subdivisions as needed.
    Download   an  example topic outline  (PDF).

Sentence Outline

  • The last step before writing the paper is to create a sentence outline in which each statement corresponds with a topic sentence for each of the potential body paragraphs.
  • Each Roman numeral, letter, and number needs to be a complete sentence.
  • Careful and complete outlining saves time and energy, for having conquered the task of organizing the paper, you will then be able to concentrate on writing and developing paragraphs.
  • A good sentence outline can also help overcome problems getting started on your paper (i.e. writer' s block).
    Download an  example sentence outline  (PDF).

First Draft

General Considerations:

Conducting research and producing a research paper accomplishes a number of important goals. The project allows you to pursue a topic in depth and expand your knowledge and understanding. It requires critical analysis and evaluation of both primary and secondary sources. You will take advantage of resources in the library and on the Internet to encourage the development of your independent scholarship and responsibility. This self-disciplined approach to research reinforces your writing skills, especially in the development and support of a thesis. These experiences contribute significantly to your growth as a student and will, in the end, add to your understanding of the world.

  • Cite author and page number when incorporating information from a note card into the paper ("Cite as you write!").
  • Write an accurate and complete draft.
  • Balance research material and analysis.
  • Include both quoted, paraphrased, and summarized source material.
  • Common knowledge is the product of your total reading, not borrowings from any specific source. It does not need to be cited if it meets ALL of the following tests:
    1. found in several books on the subject
    2. written entirely in the student's words
    3. not paraphrased from any particular source  

Plagiarism:

  • Do not plagiarize (use another's writing as your own); this is both dishonest and illegal, so it's mandatory to acknowledge the work of others.
  • Cite all borrowed ideas, including paraphrases and summaries.

Download  integrating quotations handout  (PDF).

Revision

  • Your final draft should reflect several revisions.
  • Revise paper based on evaluators' recommendations.
  • Assess your final draft based upon your teacher's requirements.
  • Start text one-third of the way down on page 1.
  • Include page numbers starting on page 2.
  • Change "Working Bibliography" to "Works Cited" omitting all sources not in final draft (1-to-1 correspondence between works in citations and sources on Works Cited page)
  • Create title page following manuscript format.

Manuscript Format

  • Arrange the paper in the following order:
  • The title page should include the following information:

A. The title, centered in the middle of the page (not underlined or quoted), no larger than 12 point type.
B. Your name, course, teacher, and date in the bottom right corner

  • Pages should be numbered in the margins (either in the top center or the upper right of the page), except for the title page, the outline page, the endnote page, the bibliography page, and the first page of the text. Begin numbering on the second page of the text with the number 2.

Download a  sample research paper (PDF).

Final Submission

  • The final paper must be submitted on the due date at the beginning of the period. Deadlines are absolute!
  • All rough drafts and supporting materials, including note cards, should be submitted with the final paper.
  • Final paper should include the following components:

Title page
Outline
Final text
Works Cited page