Find Sources To Support Research Paper Idea

Resources for Writers:  
Drafting & refocusing your paper

Once your Research is underway you will need to be able to refocus yout thesis and check to make sure you are using your source material correctly.  Below you will find hints and suggestions to help you in this porcess.

Refocusing your research question into a thesis
Summarizing & paraphrasing source material without plagiarizing
Introducing summarized, paraphrased, and quoted material
Integrating quotations (ellipses and square brackets)
Connecting your evidence to your thesis
1
Refocusing your research topic and developing a thesis

You've chosen a topic, asked questions about it, and located, read, and annotated pertinent sources. Now you need to refocus your topic. What changes do you need to make in order to account for the available sources? If you chose the topic "Business on the Internet" and focused your efforts on the question of how commercial uses of the Internet are affecting the entire Net, you might not have discovered sufficient sources for your research. While trying to find them, though, you might have located plenty on the question of how businesses are using the Internet; thus it would now be advisable for you to refocus your topic.

Having done so, you must think about what you are going to say in your research essay. Remember that in college writing, research papers, term papers, and research essays are not simply a repetition of what you have read. Rather, they are essays: in them, you express your beliefs about the topic and explain how your research has led you to those beliefs citing that research material to support your argument. Once the topic has been refined sufficiently for the research to begin, the student gradually formed an opinion on the subject, answered the research questions, and refined the topic into a thesis:
 

Figure 3:8--focusing your research question into a thesis

1. Private citizens on the InternetGeneral topic
2. Censorship on the InternetMore focused topic
3 (i). Is the Internet used by pornographers?Broad yes/no question
3 (ii). How is the Net used by pornographers?Fact-only question
4. What attempts have been made to prevent the distribution of pornography on the 'net, and how have Internet users responded to them?Final research question
5. Many Internet users condemn use of the Net by pornographers, but the arguments they make against government intervention or censorship are not persuasive. Any limitation on the use of the Internet will undermine its power.Thesis -- This thesis both makes a claim and sets that claim within the context of the research. The writer will use the arguments of other Internet users to support the thesis that censorship or restrictions will undermine the power of the Internet.



2
Summarizing and paraphrasing 

If you can summarize and paraphrase effectively, you will be able to use the information you discovered in your research to support your thesis. As we have already explained, in college-level research papers, as in published papers, it is unacceptable to put large chunks of other people's prose into your own words without citing them. Nor can you take sentences, substitute a few synonyms and call them summaries. Correct summary and paraphrasing is difficult--but it can be learned. Once you have learned how to summarize and paraphrase, you need to read Section 3 so that you also know how to incorporate the material into your paper without accidentally plagiarizing.


Summarizing

While the summaries you will incorporate into research papers are not usually as long as formal summary papers, you will use similar strategies when you write them, and you must avoid similar dangers. You might find yourself summarizing an argument so that you can respond to it, summarizing other researchers' findings, or summarizing events. Whatever reason you have for needing to summarize, the guidelines below will help you:

  • The summary must be significantly shorter than the source. Your purpose is to report the key elements of the argument, or the essential aspects of the thesis, not to represent every detail of it.
  • The summary must support your argument, not make it for you. If you find yourself stitching together long summaries of what other people say with little or none of your own analysis or discussion, or if you write a thesis in your introduction and then support it entirely by summarizing what other people say or by repeating the plot of a piece of literature, again with little or no explanation or discussion of your own, the chances are that you are simply "proving the known"--that is, that your thesis is not really a thesis. In both of these cases you are not ready to write the paper: although you are familiar with the material, you can't synthesize or critique what you know; therefore, you are not yet ready to join the academic conversation on this topic. Reread your notes, look for connections, similarities, contradictions, subtle differences in interpretation, and so on, and spend some more time thinking about your thesis.
  • The summary must be in your own phrases and sentences. Of course you may use joining words like "when," "and," and so on; however, any key terms must be placed in quotation marks the first time you use them.
  • The summary must be an objective report of the source. Do not misrepresent someone else's argument by ignoring the context of the argument. Your purpose in an incorporated summary is to report what other texts have said on this topic and then discuss that topic yourself. If you misrepresent a source, readers will assume that you didn't understand it or that you are somehow gravely biased.
You will find the guidelines for summary essays  helpful as you learn to incorporate summaries into research papers.
Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but it uses different words. Unlike the summary, which reports the argument, thesis, or event, the paraphrase also reproduces the attitude and tone of the original text. Before you can write an effective paraphrase, you must fully understand the original text. It might help to think of it as translating the passage. Like a translation from one language to another, a paraphrase remains close to the original but uses totally different words. This metaphor also helps answer the obvious question, "Why would anyone paraphrase instead of quote?" Good scholars paraphrase complex material and material that uses disciplinary or technical terminology into more accessible prose when they are writing for an audience less knowledgeable than they. Paraphrase also helps readers follow the argument, because they don't have to adjust from one prose style to another, which is what happens to your readers when you quote. The smoother your prose, the easier it is to read the paper and follow the argument.

These points will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your paraphrases:

  • Keep the paraphrase about the same length as the original. Remember that you are "translating" rather than summarizing or describing.
  • Maintain the mood and tone of the original. For this you must pay careful attention to the words you use. For example, "mentions" implies a casual relationship to the material, almost an aside; "defends" indicates that the author of the source takes a supportive position to the material; while "observes" suggests an objective or at least less impassioned position. Use a dictionary to check the actual meanings of words that you use as synonyms.
  • If you must use terms from the original, quote them. Even translators of foreign languages must do this when there is no equivalent word in the new language. If the term is important, or you will discuss it at length later, or if no other word will replace it, simply place the word in quotation marks the first time you use it.


3
Introducing and citing quotations, paraphrases, and summaries
Once you have decided which information you will paraphrase, which you will summarize, and which you will quote from, you need to ensure that the material is cited correctly into your paper. If you paraphrase or summarize, you still need to tell readers where the information comes from.

Introducing and citing the sources that you use allows other scholars to follow the research thread that you followed as they try to answer their own questions. For example, we could tell you about a study that says that everyone needs to get eight hours sleep a night and for every hour one is sleep deprived (every hour below 8) one's IQ falls one point. You might decide that you would like to read that study, too, but we didn't provide citations so you don't know where to find it. You don't even know for sure that such a study exists. Because we did not cite sources, we prevented you from joining that academic conversation, and perhaps gaining some important information about sleep. If you feel frustrated now, that's how other scholars feel when you don't cite sources!

Although each academic discipline has a different way of citing paraphrases, summaries, and quotations, the underlying principle is the same. A citation reveals the name of the author, the name of the text, its publication date, the name of its publisher, and the page number(s) of the material to which you refer. The full or partial citation might be provided in parenthesis at the end of the borrowed material, or it might be provided in a numbered footnote or endnote, but it must be provided. At the end of this chapter we describe five different guidelines (style sheets) for citing material. A great many others are also used in academic writing, e.g., The Chicago Style Manual or the style known as "Turabian" after Kate Turabian, the author of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. If your instructor does not indicate a preference, you may choose the style yourself. But you should choose and use a recognized method; don't make up your own system. The purpose of citations is to convey a large quantity of information in a very small space; thus even the punctuation of citations conveys meaning, and that punctuation varies from one style sheet to another. Readers familiar with the style sheet that the writer has chosen do not have to puzzle over citations in order to decipher the information in them. But if you make up your own style sheet, however consistent it may be, you are forcing your readers to decipher not only the information in the citations but also the means of transmitting that information. 


Paraphrased and summarized material must be introduced as well as cited, so that readers know where that material begins and where the author of the paper's ideas end. Consider the example from Michael's first draft of his synthesis paper using material from Unit i of "The Evolution Debate" (Tim Beardsley's "Darwin Denied" pp.000-000).

Figure 3:9--sample of incorrectly introduced summary
 

It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).
By placing the citation at the end of the paragraph and not identifying where Beardsley's ideas begin, he makes it seem as if the whole paragraph is a summary of Beardsley, whereas really only the last sentence is. This both implies that Beardsley said something that he did not, and prevents Michael from getting credit for his thoughtful analysis. The revised paragraph below makes everything clear.

Figure 12:10--sample of summary correctly introduced with a signal phrase
 

It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet, as Beardsley explains, even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).

You must also introduce quotations in addition to citing them; however, this is for a different reason. If you recall our discussion of your papers as part of a conversation, the reason may be clearer. When you are telling someone about the reactions of two of your friends to a movie, you might say, "When we got out of the movie, Tom's first comment was 'that was really boring,' but Alex said that she enjoyed it." There is no doubt as to who thought what about the film. Tom's comment is introduced and quoted, while Alex's is introduced and summarized. The prose flows smoothly. On the other hand "After viewing the movie: 'that was really boring,' Tom observed" just doesn't sound right. It isn't.
4
Integrating quotations (using ellipses and brackets)
Ellipses:
Sometimes you will want to use a longer quotation. If it is over four lines it should be set apart from the text, indented, and not placed in quotation marks (almost all methods of citation require it to be double spaced and in the same font as the rest of the paper). Sometimes, though, you will really only need to refer to parts of a long paragraph. In such cases you should use ellipses to indicate that material has been omitted. Use three ellipses if part of a sentence is missing, and four to indicate that you have also cut a period.  An example of successful use of ellipses can be seen in the following quotation from Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye in an essay by theorist Deborah McDowell:
Jars on shelves at canning, peach pits on the step, sticks, stones, leaves . . . . Whatever portable plurality she found, she organized into neat lines, according to their size, shape, or gradations of color . . . . She missed without knowing what she missed--paints and crayons (Bluest Eye 88-89).
This passage describes a set of related activities of Paula Breedlove, and is used by McDowell to show that Paula's "obsessive ordering" is related to her artistic tendencies. This means that readers don't need the additional material about how she ordered the things; they only need to know that she did. By cutting the inessential material, McDowell makes her point clearer. Notice that she uses capital letters after the four ellipses to show that these are new sentences in the original.
Note: You do not need to use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation. If you say that you are quoting from a novel, your readers know that some of it must have omitted if you just include one sentence. Ellipses are necessary only when readers can't work out that something has been cut.

Square Brackets
Sometimes you will need to add "and" or "however" to make a quotation fit smoothly into the sentence you include it in. You can do that as long as you put the added word in square brackets. Another common use of square brackets to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence is the addition of square brackets around "ed" or "s" to indicate past tense or plural. You might quote and alter the previous sentence this way:

The authors claim that square brackets are often "use[d] . . . to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence."

You will see many examples of ellipses and square brackets used in the extracts throughout this text. Pay attention to them and you will find it easier to use them in your own prose.


5
Connecting your evidence to your thesis

Once you have worked out your thesis and decided what evidence you will use to support it, it might seem clear how the evidence and the thesis are connected. You need to remember, though, that your readers haven't immersed themselves in the conversation as much as you have. They may not be able to immediately see the connection between two ideas, just as you probably couldn't when you began your research. Your task in the paper is to guide your readers toward the same interpretation or explanation of the data as you have reached. This means that once you have drafted the paper, you need to go back over it and make sure that each piece of evidence does its job and supports the thesis. Sometimes this will necessitate adding sentences or phrases to connect a paragraph or series of paragraphs back to the thesis; sometimes a few connecting words like "although," "however," "another example of this," or "in spite of such findings" will be sufficient. Remember that your reader should be able to follow your argument with ease and see at a glance exactly how the evidence supports it. The transitional phrase or topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph will often provide the necessary connection, and will also help your reader move from one idea to the next without confusion.

You can make clear how your evidence supports your thesis by explaining their relationship in your introduction to the paper. The introduction functions like a little map of the paper that shows where it will end up, how it will proceed, and what it will pass on the way. Each main point is listed in the order it will appear in the paper so that readers may see how the points (evidence) relate to each other.



Web Resources     |     Composition at Drew
 C.  Sandra Jamieson, Drew University. 1999
For permission to print and use this page, please contact me by e-mail.
 

Do not assume that choosing a research problem to study will be a quick or easy task! You should be thinking about it at the start of the course. There are generally three ways you are asked to write about a research problem: 1) your professor provides you with a general topic from which you study a particular aspect; 2) your professor provides you with a list of possible topics to study and you choose a topic from that list; or, 3) your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic and you only have to obtain permission to write about it before beginning your investigation. Here are some strategies for getting started for each scenario.


I.  How To Begin:  You are given the topic to write about

Step 1: Identify concepts and terms that make up the topic statement. For example, your professor wants the class to focus on the following research problem: “Is the European Union a credible security actor with the capacity to contribute to confronting global terrorism?" The main concepts is this problem are: European Union, global terrorism, credibility [hint: focus on identifying proper nouns, nouns or noun phrases, and action verbs in the assignment description].

Step 2: Review related literature to help refine how you will approach examining the topic and finding a way to analyze it. You can begin by doing any or all of the following: reading through background information from materials listed in your course syllabus; searching the USC Libraries Catalog to find a recent book on the topic and, if appropriate, more specialized works about the topic; conducting a preliminary review of the research literature using multidisciplinary library databases such as ProQuestt or subject-specific databases found here. Use the main concept terms you developed in Step 1 and their synonyms to retrieve relevant articles. This will help you refine and frame the scope of the research problem. Don’t be surprised if you need to do this several times before you finalize how to approach writing about the topic.

NOTE: Always review the references from your most relevant research results cited by the authors in footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography to locate related research on your topic. This is a good strategy for identifying important prior research about the topic because titles that are repeatedly cited indicate their significance in laying a foundation for understanding the problem. However, if you’re having trouble at this point locating relevant research literature,ask a librarian for help!

ANOTHER NOTE:  If you find an article from a journal that's particularly helpful, put quotes around the title of the article and paste it into Google Scholar. If the article record appears, look for a "cited by" reference followed by a number. This link indicates how many times other researchers have subsequently cited that article since it was first published. This is an excellent strategy for identifying more current, related research on your topic. Finding additional cited by references from your original list of cited by references helps you navigate through the literature and, by so doing, understand the evolution of thought around a particular research problem.

Step 3: Since social science research papers are generally designed to get you to develop your own ideas and arguments, look for sources that can help broaden, modify, or strengthen your initial thoughts and arguments [for example, if you decide to argue that the European Union is ill prepared to take on responsibilities for broader global security because of the debt crisis in many EU countries, then focus on identifying sources that support as well as refute this position].

There are least four appropriate roles your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis:

  • Sources of criticism -- frequently, you'll find yourself reading materials that are relevant to your chosen topic, but you disagree with the author's position. Therefore, one way that you can use a source is to describe the counter-argument, provide evidence from your review of the literature as to why the prevailing argument is unsatisfactory, and to discuss how your own view is more appropriate based upon your interpretation of the evidence.
  • Sources of new ideas -- while a general goal in writing college research papers in the social sciences is to approach a research problem with some basic idea of what position you'd like to take and what grounds you'd like to stand upon, it is certainly acceptable [and often encouraged] to read the literature and extend, modify, and refine your own position in light of the ideas proposed by others. Just make sure that you cite the sources!
  • Sources for historical context -- another role your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis is to place issues and events in proper historical context. This can help to demonstrate familiarity with developments in relevant scholarship about your topic, provide a means of comparing historical versus contemporary issues and events, and identifying key people, places, and things that had an important role related to the research problem.
  • Sources of interdisciplinary insight -- an advantage of using databases like ProQuest to begin exploring your topic is that it covers publications from a variety of different disciplines. Another way to formulate how to study the topic is to look at it from different disciplinary perspectives. If the topic concerns immigration reform, for example, ask yourself, how do studies from sociological journals found by searching ProQuest vary in their analysis from those in law journals. A goal in reviewing related literature is to provide a means of approaching a topic from multiple perspectives rather than the perspective offered from just one discipline.

NOTE: Remember to keep careful notes at every stage or utilize a citation management system like EndNotes or RefWorks. You may think you'll remember what you have searched and where you found things, but it’s easy to forget or get confused.

Step 4: Assuming you've done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature, you're ready to prepare a detailed outline for your paper that lays the foundation for a more in-depth and focused review of relevant research literature [after consulting with a librarian, if needed!]. How will you know you haven't done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature? A good indication is that you start composing your paper outline and gaps appear in how you want to approach the study. This indicates the need to do further research on the research problem.


I.  How To Begin:  You are provided a list of possible topics to choose from

Step 1: I know what you’re thinking--which topic from this list my professor has given me will be the easiest to find the most information on? An effective instructor should never include a topic that is so obscure or complex that no research is available to examine and from which to begin to design a study. Instead of searching for the path of least resistance choose a topic that you find interesting in some way, or that is controversial and that you have a strong opinion about, or has some personal meaning for you. You're going to be working on your topic for quite some time, so choose one that you find interesting and engaging or that motivates you to take a position.

Once you’ve settled on a topic of interest from the list, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed above to further develop it into a research paper.

NOTE: It’s ok to review related literature to help refine how you will approach analyzing a topic, and then discover that the topic isn’t all that interesting to you. In that case, you can choose another from the list. Just don’t wait too long to make a switch and be sure to consult with your professor first that you are changing your topic.


III.  How To Begin:  Your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic

Step 1: Under this scenario, the key process is turning an idea or general thought into a topic that can be configured into a research problem. When given an assignment where you choose the research topic, don't begin by thinking about what to write about, but rather, ask yourself the question, "What do I want to know?" Treat an open-ended assignment as an opportunity to learn about something that's new or exciting to you.

Step 2: If you lack ideas, or wish to gain focus, try some or all of the following strategies:

  • Review your course readings, particularly the suggested readings, for topic ideas. Don't just review what you've already read but jump ahead in the syllabus to readings that have not been covered yet.
  • Search the USC Libraries Catalog for a good, recently published book and, if appropriate, more specialized works related to the discipline area of the course [e.g., for the course SOCI 335, search for books on population and society].
  • Browse through some current journals in your subject discipline. Even if most of the articles are not relevant, you can skim through the contents quickly. You only need one to be the spark that begins the process of wanting to learn more about a topic. Consult with a librarian and/or your professor about the core journals within your subject discipline.
  • Think about essays you have written for past classes and other coursework you have taken or academic lectures and programs you have attended. Thinking back, what most interested you? What would you like to know more about?
  • Search online media sources, such as CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, or Newsweek, to see if your idea has been covered by the media. Use this coverage to refine your idea into something that you'd like to investigate further but in a more deliberate, scholarly way based on a particular problem that needs to be researched.

Step 3: To build upon your initial idea, use the suggestions under this tab to help narrow, broaden, or increase the timeliness of your idea so you can write it out as a research problem.

Once you are comfortable with having turned your idea into a research problem, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed in Part I above to further develop it into a research paper.


Alderman, Jim. "Choosing a Research Topic." Beginning Library and Information Systems Strategies. Paper 17. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Digital Commons, 2014; Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research. London: Sage, 2013; Chapter 2: Choosing a Research Topic. Adrian R. Eley. Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher. New York: Routledge, 2012; Answering the Question. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Brainstorming. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Brainstorming. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Chapter 1: Research and the Research Problem. Nicholas Walliman. Your Research Project: Designing and Planning Your Work. 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011; Choosing a Topic. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University;  Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; How To Write a Thesis Statement. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Identify Your Question. Start Your Research. University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

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