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In English 101, a research paper is required. The research paper is usually a longer piece of writing of at least five to eight pages in which the student, under the careful guidance of the professor, chooses a very specific topic and uses both primary and secondary sources in order to support a main point or thesis. Most often, the research paper presents an argument, meaning that the writer uses evidence in support of a specific statement or claim clearly announced in the thesis. The purpose of an argument is to convince the audience through logical appeal which consists of facts, statistics, and experts’ statements. That is why most of the paper consists of evidence given in support of the main claim; in addition, towards the end of the essay, the writer also includes a counterargument, which anticipates the reader’s objections and thus serves to convince the audience. In addition to this more conventional type of argument, some professors teach Ken Macrorie’s “I-Search” model of research writing, according to which writers start from a specific problem or a cultural and historical issue related to their community and emphasize primary sources, broadly defined texts, personal interviews, and questionnaires. The latter type of research paper tends to be more open-ended and thus allows students to research a topic related to their major or some aspect of their life or community in which they are genuinely invested.
Usually, the professor schedules an orientation at the library designed in collaboration with one of the reference librarians, which is meant to introduce students to the challenges of finding, evaluation, and incorporating sources correctly. Usually, in a paper of this length, students use at least four to six sources that are meant to support the main argument. The sources may be found in the textbook, other books, periodicals, newspapers, personal interviews or questionnaires, the Internet, or on the Databases available at DCC, especially on Academic ASAP and Proquest. Students can access these databases both on campus and from the convenience of their own homes; however, they must first speak with the reference librarians to get a password in order to access the databases from home. A valid student ID is required.
The most difficult part of the paper is actually incorporating the sources correctly. That is why professors usually schedule at least a month in order to teach the research paper and usually classes are set up in the workshop format, so students learn how to summarize, quote, and paraphrase sources correctly and thus have time to revise their drafts. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook (5th edition) has a whole chapter on strategies for integrating sources (294-352) and a separate chapter on compiling the Works Cited page (354-398) according to the MLA format.
As in all the other essays, in the research paper each paragraph should be well developed, following a clear topic sentence. Students should learn to use the sources only in order to support a point that they make in their own words. Thus, the research paper is not a series of summaries of sources; it is not a string of quotations of a compilation of sources. On the contrary, in the research paper the writer is the primary voice and sources should not be overused.
The purpose of the research paper is to teach students that writing is a recursive, not a linear process. This means that students should be prepared to revise their thesis as they formulate their understanding of their topic and be willing to change their mind during the process. The research paper works better when professors schedule all the necessary steps of the research papers through installments, so that students have deadlines for submitting an annotated bibliography, a tentative thesis, an outline, and especially several successive drafts. Faculty should contact the DCC Reference Librarians if they have any specific questions about identifying reliable sources at DCC. In the past, the Writing Center has presented workshops on writing the research paper.
The most common pitfalls of the research paper are choosing a topic that is too broad and unfocused, overusing sources, incorporating source material incorrectly, and especially, committing intentional or accidental plagiarism. In order to evaluate students’ use of source material, many professors require that they submit, along with the final version of the research paper, a source folder containing their drafts, notes, outlines, and peer responses, as well as printouts and photocopies of the source material used in the paper. Both intentional and accidental plagiarism result in failure of the assignment, so students should contact their professors if they have any questions.