TIPS FOR DOING RESEARCH FOR A COLLEGE LEVEL PAPER - talking points by retired librarian Kathryn Stallard.
Professor O'Neill asked me to post my talking points, so here they are:
- High School research tends to focus on “gathering information” Emphasis on WHAT found…casual record keeping track of sources (teachers don’t have time to check) –not much emphasis on judging quality of information/ideas
- College level research expects your obligation to contribute something original to process while scrupulously documenting sources—and these sources should be the best—scholarly
- College level research emphasizes critical thinking – which is why a liberal arts education is so valuable – a skill that will serve you your entire life/career
- But –again – read/study first. A good topic doesn’t just land on your doorstep like morning paper, nor will one spontaneously generate…
- That IDEA that is YOUR OWN will be put forth in your THESIS—your idea/judgment of something you have learned from ideas of others. For your second paper, you have to choose a topic w/in parameters and your original contribution is your considered—based on research—opinion “whether you approve or disapprove” of an official’s politically and ethically significant decision. For your third paper, you are answering a question about 2 congressmen’s stand on abortion: Which congressman was more ethical in his stand? Why? Possibly both ethical and unethical? Your answer is your original contribution.
- Of course, this THESIS (See Tips for a Strong Thesis Statement) -- Writing Center is reached AFTER extensive research—can’t formulate thesis, and then shove facts into place. Can have tentative thesis or a question--and research will establish or answer—or not. Lot of mucking around and hard work BEFORE one has clear thesis that will pull together and organize your paper for you. .
- A possible “framing device” for introducing your original contribution:
“The two basic arguments concerning this issue are…
-- but I see a third way to look at this
--and clearly the evidence supports Jones’s argument
--although neither are compelling and the issue is more complicated
- You must assume AUTHORITY in presenting your research—don't change the verb tense and call it paraphrase. Review the Research HUB Website on avoiding plagiarism.
- Write full source, page numbers etc. and all information to document AS YOU TAKE NOTES/ COPY/etc. You may want to use Zotero to keep track of your sources. Avoid last minute panic of trying to track down a lost source.
- When introducing other’s ideas, whether direct or indirect, mention the name or source by name; “As Smith argues…" "...yet Jones disagrees, stating that…" “I base my conclusions on the description found…." “Patterson makes the same point as I do…."
- You can’t give facts w/o documenting (unless they are obvious or generally known - use common sense here) nor can you ignore contradictory facts…must understand that ARGUMENT is often implicit even in what seems to be factual information, such as statistics related to gun control - think of statistics presented by the Peace and Violence Institute versus the NRA.
- Primary vs secondary—remember that just about any source can be either—depends on how used. An 1870s study of the Civil War is a secondary source for the Civil War, but it might be a primary source for studying Reconstruction (the period after the war).
- Be honest – honest curiosity, honest desire to share knowledge, to engage in intellectual discourse.
It’s not the destination (finished paper), it’s the getting there (research, writing, drafts)….