In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Jorge, who is studying health care administration, as he prepares a research paper. You will also plan, research, and draft your own research paper. Jorge was assigned to write a research paper on health and the media for an introductory course in health care. Although a general topic was selected for the students, Jorge had to decide which specific issues interested him. He brainstormed a list of possibilities. If you are writing a research paper for a specialized course, look back through your notes and course activities. Identify reading assignments and class discussions that especially engaged you.
Doing so can help you identify topics to pursue. Set a timer for five minutes. Use brainstorming or idea mapping to create a list of topics you would be interested in researching for a paper about the influence of the Internet on social networking. Do you closely follow the media coverage of a particular website, such as Twitter? Would you like to learn more about a certain industry, such as online dating? Which social networking sites do you and your friends use? List as many ideas related to this topic as you can.
Once you have a list of potential topics, you will need to choose one as the focus of your essay. You will also need to narrow your topic. Most writers find that the topics they listed during brainstorming or idea mapping are broad—too broad for the scope of the assignment. Working with an overly broad topic, such as sexual education programs or popularized diets, can be frustrating and overwhelming. Each topic has so many facets that it would be impossible to cover them all in a college research paper.
A good research paper provides focused, in-depth information and analysis. If your topic is too broad, you will find it difficult to do more than skim the surface when you research it and write about it. Narrowing your focus The process of identifying a specific angle from which to approach a broad topic in order to limit it and make it more manageable. To narrow your focus, explore your topic in writing, conduct preliminary research, and discuss both the topic and the research with others.
Review your list and identify your top two or three topics. Set aside some time to explore each one through freewriting. Simply taking the time to focus on your topic may yield fresh angles. Jorge knew that he was especially interested in the topic of diet fads, but he also knew that it was much too broad for his assignment. He used freewriting to explore his thoughts so he could narrow his topic. Another way writers may focus a topic is to conduct preliminary research Research conducted early in the writing process for the purpose of exploring a topic and narrowing the focus.
Like freewriting, exploratory reading can help you identify interesting angles. Surfing the web and browsing through newspaper and magazine articles are good ways to start. Find out what people are saying about your topic on blogs and online discussion groups. Discussing your topic with others can also inspire you. Talk about your ideas with your classmates, your friends, or your instructor.
Preliminary online research and discussions with his classmates strengthened his impression that many people are confused or misled by media coverage of these subjects. Jorge decided to focus his paper on a topic that had garnered a great deal of media attention—low-carbohydrate diets. He wanted to find out whether low-carbohydrate diets were as effective as their proponents claimed.
At work, you may need to research a topic quickly to find general information. This information can be useful in understanding trends in a given industry or generating competition. You may find it useful to skim a variety of reliable sources and take notes on your findings. The reliability of online sources varies greatly. In this exploratory phase of your research, you do not need to evaluate sources as closely as you will later.
However, use common sense as you refine your paper topic.
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If you read a fascinating blog comment that gives you a new idea for your paper, be sure to check out other, more reliable sources as well to make sure the idea is worth pursuing. Review the list of topics you created in Note For each of these topics, spend five to ten minutes writing about the topic without stopping. Then review your writing to identify possible areas of focus. Set aside time to conduct preliminary research about your potential topics.
Then choose a topic to pursue for your research paper. Please share your topic list with a classmate. Select one or two topics on his or her list that you would like to learn more about and return it to him or her. Discuss why you found the topics interesting, and learn which of your topics your classmate selected and why. Your freewriting and preliminary research have helped you choose a focused, manageable topic for your research paper.
To work with your topic successfully, you will need to determine what exactly you want to learn about it—and later, what you want to say about it. Before you begin conducting in-depth research, you will further define your focus by developing a research question A broad, open-ended question that a writer uses to guide the research process. In forming a research question, you are setting a goal for your research. Your main research question should be substantial enough to form the guiding principle of your paper—but focused enough to guide your research. A strong research question requires you not only to find information but also to put together different pieces of information, interpret and analyze them, and figure out what you think.
As you consider potential research questions, ask yourself whether they would be too hard or too easy to answer. To determine your research question, review the freewriting you completed earlier. Skim through books, articles, and websites and list the questions you have.
You may wish to use the 5WH strategy to help you formulate questions. Include simple, factual questions and more complex questions that would require analysis and interpretation. Determine your main question—the primary focus of your paper—and several subquestions that you will need to research to answer your main question. Here are the research questions Jorge will use to focus his research. Notice that his main research question has no obvious, straightforward answer. Jorge will need to research his subquestions, which address narrower topics, to answer his main question.
Using the topic you selected in Note Check that your main research question is appropriately complex for your assignment. It does not merely state a fact or present a subjective opinion. Instead, it expresses a debatable idea or claim that you hope to prove through additional research.
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Your working thesis is called a working thesis The first, preliminary thesis statement that a writer uses while outlining an essay. As you learn more about your topic, you may change your thinking in light of your research findings. Let your working thesis serve as a guide to your research, but do not be afraid to modify it based on what you learn. Jorge began his research with a strong point of view based on his preliminary writing and research.
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Read his working thesis statement, which presents the point he will argue. One way to determine your working thesis is to consider how you would complete sentences such as I believe or My opinion is. However, keep in mind that academic writing generally does not use first-person pronouns. These statements are useful starting points, but formal research papers use an objective voice.
Write a working thesis statement that presents your preliminary answer to the research question you wrote in Note Check that your working thesis statement presents an idea or claim that could be supported or refuted by evidence from research. Your purpose in writing it is to formalize your plan for research and present it to your instructor for feedback. In your research proposal, you will present your main research question, related subquestions, and working thesis. You will also briefly discuss the value of researching this topic and indicate how you plan to gather information.
When Jorge began drafting his research proposal, he realized that he had already created most of the pieces he needed.
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However, he knew he also had to explain how his research would be relevant to other future health care professionals. In addition, he wanted to form a general plan for doing the research and identifying potentially useful sources. Before you begin a new project at work, you may have to develop a project summary document that states the purpose of the project, explains why it would be a wise use of company resources, and briefly outlines the steps involved in completing the project.
This type of document is similar to a research proposal. Both documents define and limit a project, explain its value, discuss how to proceed, and identify what resources you will use. Now you may write your own research proposal, if you have not done so already. Follow the guidelines provided in this lesson.
The prewriting you have completed so far has helped you begin to plan the content of your research paper—your topic, research questions, and preliminary thesis. It is equally important to plan out the process of researching and writing the paper. Although some types of writing assignments can be completed relatively quickly, developing a good research paper is a complex process that takes time.
Breaking it into manageable steps is crucial. Review the steps outlined at the beginning of this chapter. You have already completed step 1.
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In this section, you will complete step 2. The remaining steps fall under two broad categories—the research phase The first phase of a research project in which the writer gathers and organizes information. A good rule of thumb is to allot half the available time for research. Plan to spend half the time available on this phase. You may spend additional time if your instructor reviews your rough draft and provides feedback.