As stated in the first lesson, by the end of the course you will have produced a portfolio that contains several research activities, including a bibliography related to your research paper, an introduction that reviews source material, a draft of your paper, and a revised research paper. The process will involve the following steps:
- select a topic developed in one of the essays written for Lessons 2, 3 or 4
- determine which research resources address your topic of study
- gather those sources in a way that allows you to hear the various "threads of conversation" taking place within your topic
- create a bibliography that includes ten sources, five of which are annotated
- write a paragraph describing how you will use the sources in your paper
- formulate an introduction that includes a review of source material
- write the 2500-3500 word research paper that incorporates at least six sources from your bibliography
- review comments offered in the Peer Review
- compose a revised research paper
You should assume that your audience has familiarity with the work and that your primary audience includes your classmates and instructor. A potential secondary audience includes the scholars who may be interested in your contributions to the literary body of knowledge.
This unit focuses on developing the research project. For this section, you will complete a short, annotated bibliography and write a six- to eight-page research paper.
This unit assumes that you have a basic understanding of the technical aspects of research, such as evaluating and documenting sources. If you are still uncertain about those procedures, please review mechanics of research and the online sources.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center offers a good discussion of annotated bibliographieshttp://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/AnnotatedBibliography.html.
- Cornell University also provides help with annotated bibliographies.
- Northwestern University http://www.writing.northwestern.edu/avoiding_plagiarism.html. offers a discussion of plagiarism and paraphrasing
- Purdue University's Online Writing Lab http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/index.html offers a wealth of information on researching and documenting sources.
Although the research process is not mechanical, it is nevertheless necessary that you follow the mechanics of research and the MLA documentation guidelines.
While conducting research, you should move back and forth between the general and the specific. You might begin research by viewing general discussions of the topic found in encyclopedias, bibliographies, and reference materials specific to the discipline. The information found in these resources provides an overview of the topic and immerses you in the ways of thinking and writing about the chosen topic. This overview material may also be used at the beginning of the research paper to offer your audience a general introduction to the topic.
You then should move from the general resources to the more specialized material in scholarly books and journals. These sources represent the threads of academic conversation that typically occur among academics. The more recent the publication, the more recent the conversational thread.
For example, a 1960s New Critical approach might have focused on form and symmetry in William Blake's poetry because this type of approach was current in 1960s. However, in the 1980s, the same poetry might have been viewed through a feminist or deconstructionist lens. While being current is not necessarily an end in itself, it is important to know what is being said and what has been said.
Moving back and forth between general and specialized sources is a continuous process. In your research you will cite specialized resources and participate with your sources in a conversation. Because you will also be writing to classmates and your instructor, you will want to be familiar with general perspectives, even though the general background material will not constitute major sources of your research.
The purpose of your first assignment is to help you begin engaging in a conversation about your research. Even though your research has only begun, it is important to get into the habit of using writing to think through your topic. For this reason, you need to write WHILE you research rather than AFTER you have done your research.
Everyone may have an opinion, but not all opinions are equal, and some opinions may be of little or no value. Your English professor's opinion regarding optimum strategic oil reserves may not be worth the time you take listening. On the other hand, your English professor's comments on writing and literature deserve a great deal of attention. You need to consider the source of information and the quality of that source.
Not all interpretations of a text are created equally. Some sources offer highly reasoned arguments and strong evidence for their claims, while others offer broad opinions with little supporting evidence. Part of your task in conducting research is to evaluate potential sources so that your research essay uses only the strongest sources.
The research paper is your opportunity to enter more fully into the conversation that surrounds your topic. So far, you have gathered sources and organized them. As part of your annotated bibliography, you listed the sources and wrote paragraphs that established some relationships among the sources. Now, use at least five of your sources in a draft of a paper that focuses on ONE of the threads of conversation that you identified. A research paper is not a broad summary of research or overview of various elements in the literature being researched. For that reason, it is crucial that you narrow your topic and focus your research on one aspect of the work. As you consider your sources in light of your narrowed topic, you may rely on the following questions as prompts:
- Do you agree or disagree with the other scholars?
- What do you agree with or disagree with in their research?
- What claim* (See URL) might you make?
- What are your reasons for the claim?
- What evidence from the text would you provide?
- What counter-arguments might you anticipate?
- How will you address these counter-arguments?
A humanities-based research paper often follows this format:
- Literature review
- Theoretical approach that offers a different perspective
- Writer's arguments
- The writer's refutation of counter-arguments
While you may consider following another model offered in your text or in the Web Links sites, you have already completed much of the work for the format above. You have a rough draft of the literature review in the material in your Portfolio Bibliography. Similarly, your answers to the above questions will help you formulate your argument and refute counter-arguments.
If you have not done so already, write your claim, reasons and evidence now. Your claim and reasons will function as the thesis of your paper. You may also identify a particular theoretical approach that supports your claim. The evidence you use to support your argument will be selections from the text and the scholarly sources in the bibliography.