Chapter 36: WHAT IS "RESEARCH"?
Why should there be so much research in college?
On this page:
Definition of Good
Widespread Use and
Importance of Research
Process of Researching
Conclusion: What Do You Get
out of It?
What is "good
research"? Why is it important? o is the audience
for these papers? It is excellent
students, such as those majoring in a discipline
in their last two years of college. It may
help you to imagine that that is the level of
excellent for which you are trying to write--and
to learn how to write--when you write papers for
an audience. Ask your instructor for help
in writing well "as if you were a major in that
discipline." Ask for sample papers, if
possible, and as mentioned above, bring your own
writing or other samples to your instructor to
see what works and what does not. Asking
questions of instructors is one of the most
important success methods in college.
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Definition of Good Research
Much of this material in "Definition of Good
Research" is expanded from the "Key 3"
discussion in the chapter in this textbook
called "What Is
is good research? It doesn't include
Wikipedia; last-minute, all-night sessions
researching exclusively on the Internet,
randomly chosen websites, or inattention to
detail. Here is a three-part definition.
First, good research
is thorough and logical. It starts with a
hypothesis--an initial idea or argument--and
proceeds to prove or disprove it. It does
so logically and fairly in a balanced,
consistent manner. It considers opposing
viewpoints and accounts for those logically and
fairly. It also should be easily
verifiable to others if they were to simply
repeat what you have done and said, and the
resulting report (whether in writing or not)
should make your point so clearly that others
usually will not need to repeat it to verify it.
Additionally, good research often requires
peer-reviewed sources (usually this means essays
checked by two or more experts in the author's
field of work) , primary sources (meaning the
author was there, him or herself), or both.
Finally, good research means taking the time to
do these activities correctly, to think about
them in each step, and to re-examine and revise
the first draft of the results.
Second, there are
misconceptions about research for school.
Good research in college is not a quick
looking up of sources the night before a report
is due. The research usually should
not be limited to just the web. It
usually cannot include Wikipedia
and most other online general dictionaries and
encyclopedias (though these sometimes may be
used to generate initial ideas and directions)
because those who write the articles for them
may not be recognized experts in the fields of
work the articles discuss. Good research
also usually does not use famous
quotations or scriptural passages as proofs
(with a very few exceptions). Good
research is not accepting just any web
site, but rather only using certain ones of high
academic or professional quality and integrity. (For
more on some of these issues, see the chapter in
this section called "Choosing
Resources.") Good research also does not always, or exclusively,
require writing a formal paper: there are many
types of research activities.
Third, here are some
examples of research:
Types of Research
an interview of one or many people
observation and report of an event or process
statistical analyze, charts, and/or graphs
results of one or many diagnostic treatments
a journalistic or other objective account of an
event or experience
objective materials in a creative work
One fine example of
research is Dr. Martin Luther King's April 16,
from a Birmingham Jail." Though it is
not as rhetorically powerful as his "I Have a
Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., it is written
for an audience of his academic peers--other
ministers in Birmingham--who were well educated.
Though King did not provide a bibliography--the
letter had a more informal style--still
throughout it he gave strongly persuasive
quotations from famous world thinkers throughout
history, including founders of U.S. democracy.
As he wrote, he cited the author and their books
for his quotations. As a research paper in
the liberal arts, it is brilliant.
Another example of
research is by Francis Crick and James B.
Watson, the scientists who discovered the
structure of DNA. Their April 25, 1953
article in Nature was significant enough
to eventually earn them a Nobel Prize ("A
structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid").
They wrote their article very logically and
thoroughly in typical dry scientific prose using
an understated tone, given the importance of it.
They referred to a number of research studies
that were published before their work and on
which their own work was built. After they
wrote their essay, the issue was so important
and so creatively addressed that it took a
number of years for all of their work to be
validated. But the truth of it was based
on absolutely thorough, careful research.
An example of a
local research study is one done by a student
club on a state college campus about recycling
and beverages. The students interviewed
several dozen other students--through a
purposely-randomized selection process using a
questionnaire showing no bias--about what kinds
of beverage recycling processes the students
would actively use. The club members
discovered that having recyclable coffee cups
and water bottles would be popular and, through
additional research, would save a large amount
plastic, so the students then spoke to the
college's administration and its food service to
develop new programs. Now the food service
sells recyclable coffee cups, students get
discounts on their coffee when they use these
cups, and students also may inexpensive
recyclable water bottles at cost and use them at
special clean-water dispensers throughout the
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The Widespread Use and Importance of
has become much more nationally prominent in recent years. The National
Undergraduate Research Conference (NURC), state and system research conferences,
and a multitude of individual research conferences at universities and colleges
show that both educators and professional workplaces consider the ability to do
serious, balanced research a profoundly important element of undergraduate
education. And required communications courses such as those in writing
and speaking often are college students' first major, introductory experience of learning how to research
in college. A second important introductory location for many students in
their campus writing center, where tutors are well versed in helping students
with their research projects.
There also is an increasingly larger amount
of helpful information on the Web about how to research. Since this web
textbook is about writing, it focuses specifically on research that results in a research paper.
Some of the best of web information about research writing it is summarized in
www.onlinegrammar.org in the following chapters (also shown in right
Citation & Documentation
research so important? The obvious first answer for a practical college
student is, "Because instructors think it's
important." That's one very good reason to
pay attention to learning how to research well.
However, the deeper, underlying reason is that
research represents our individual and society search for truth or
reality. Increasingly, our communication in our society is breaking up
into hundreds of thousands (or, arguably,
millions) of information centers, each with
anywhere from a few dozen to a few million
readers or listeners, each with its own brand of
or angle on what to believe. In addition,
the advancement of society as a whole--and even
such world-important matters as relations
between nations and cultures--depends on
discovering the nature of reality.
Reality--whether we are talking about the
material world that science examines or the
worlds of human relations, ecological
interrelationships, or cultural realities--needs
to not only be understood but also to have
commonly agreed upon definitions. The best
and fairest way to establish those is to have as
many of the facts as possible. In that
way, our world--whether in large part or in our
own small corner of it with our friends and
family--can be based on what really exists and,
therefore, on what is more likely to happen or
be possible. In fact, good research opens
up our worlds to more possibilities. It
tells us not only what really exists but also
what might be additional options and
opportunities open to us. For all these
reasons and more, research is becoming
increasingly important in our educational
systems and our future professional
responsibilities and aspirations.
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A Research Paper's
undergraduate college research paper differs
somewhat from discipline to discipline.
However, the following elements exist in many or
most types of research papers:
length: five to ten or more
double-spaced pages of typing (using one-three papers to reach this total)
intro paragraph: an introductory paragraph
that provides the basic point, hypothesis, or thesis made in the paper, and a
brief mention of how this will be accomplished
background or summary: an introductory
paragraph or section--or a relatively brief background, summary, or abstract
section early in the paper--that provides an explanation of or background for
(a) several body sections appropriate to the discipline, with or without
subtitles, each with its own brief intro and concl. sentences/brief paragraphs
(b) quotations and/or paraphrases placed liberally either throughout all
sections or, in some disciplinary types of papers, in one or two specific
(c) visual elements such as lists, graphs, charts, and/or images
detailing or illustrating statistical, survey, questionnaire, diagrammatic, or
other results, functions, or methodologies. In Internet presentations,
audio files also may sometimes be used.
a concluding paragraph that again the basic point, hypothesis, or these, what
the paper says and thereby concludes, and possibly a brief mention of future
bibliography: five to
ten or more academic and/or professional sources listed in a style appropriate
to the discipline
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Here are some typical terms used in research
research: the word means to "re-search," "search again," or "look again" (to
examine, again, what people have discovered)
a person providing expert or direct knowledge. In a paper, a source
becomes a bibliography entry, which almost always includes both a person or people, and
the words or image that they have spoken, written, drawn or otherwise created.
Both the person or people and the document they have created may be referred to
as a "source."
primary source: a source who was
present--who witnessed or created--the information, such as a journalist who
observed an event or a scientist who performed and reported an experiment.
Primary sources are considered, in general, much more valuable information
secondary source: a source not present
at an event, such as an author of a textbook, an enclyclopedia article, or a
peer-reviewed source: also called "juried"
source. An essay or book, usually scholarly, that has been reviewed by two
or more experts in the same field as the author and found fit for publication.
Peer review is important for a establishing the quality of a source because it
means the source is reasonably accurate, logical, and useful to the academic or
scholarly field as a whole. Scholarly essays and books often are peer
reviewed; professional articles and books usually are not. However,
professional articles' and books' merits can be established through later
critical reviews of the book or high-level mention of the article in other
quotation: the actual words--placed in quotation marks (" ")--or
the actual image (such
as a graph, chart, or picture, whether changed in size and shape or not) that have been spoken, written, drawn, or otherwise made
by a person or people. Quotations or duplicate images require citation (see
paraphrase: a source's idea described
by your own words. Paraphrases require citation (see below).
cite, citation: to proivde a mention of the source. Commonly, this
is done right before and/or after the quotation or paraphrase itself (with
paraphrases, it's more commonly done just after it), by providing the author's
last name (at a minimum), the page number (if it exists and the quotation or
paraphrase is specific to just one or two pages), and, in some situations or
types of papers, the source's year of publication and/or title.
document, documentation: to provide on a bibliography a mention of the
basic in abut the source such that it can be found in a library or online.
This information usually includes (but is not necessarily limited to) the
author's full name; the title of his/her work; the longer work it appears in, if
any; the edition, if beyond the first; the publication's year, publisher, and
city of publication. In some bibliographies, additional information may be
bibliography: typically, a list of your sources placed at the end of your
paper. Different disciplines call it by different names--such as "Works
Cited," or "References"--and use somewhat different styles: e.g., MLA
(literature, the humanities), APA (sociology, nursing), CSE (science),
Chicago/CMS (history), et al. Often in your first two years of college,
you will encounter only two or three styles at most: MLA, perhaps APA, and
sometimes the scientific CSE or the historians' Chicago/CMS. (See
OnlineGrammar.org 's Chapter 17. "17.
Citation & Documentation.")
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Process of Researching
Good research is a process. This is certainly
true--as in all good writing--in the process of writing the final presentation
or paper. However, long before the results are described, the very
research itself involves an important process. In preparing a research
paper in particular, the process flows in and out of the acts of researching and
the acts of writing. Additional steps--beyond writing--may often include
finding information, choosing carefully what is useful and what is not, and
figuring out how and/or where to place or order the information when you are
ready to write.
In addition, as with writing, the research process
is "recursive." This means that at each major step or turning point in the
process, this means going back over what you have done--to "re-ask" and "re-do."
You start acting recursively by asking yourself, "Do I need to do anything more,
or again? Do I need to rewrite or re-research anything?" The natural
major steps or times for asking such recursive questions are, for example, when
you think you are done getting sources from the library and Internet; when you
think you are done summarizing, highlighting, and/or marking the quotations and
paraphrases you will use in your sources; when you think you are done with your
first draft; etc.
Here is both a short version and a long version of
how the steps of research and writing may intermix:
Short & Long Versions of Steps of Research
Research Paper Steps--
A Short Version of the Process
Research Paper Steps--
More Detailed Version of the Process
A. Find and study research sources.
B. Write an initial draft.
C. Find additional sources if needed.
D. Organize the paper well,
including placement and use of quotations and/or paraphrases.
F. Edit the paper and bibliography.
G. Turn it in.
1. Write initial drafts on one
to three ideas.
2. Choose the one you like best
or think will work best.
3. Look for available research
4. Based on what you find, write
another draft or, if sources are unavailable, start over with step "1."
5. Consider how you will include
your research sources.
6. Then look for a little more
research to fill out what is missing in your paper.
7. Organize your rough draft
into a coherent flow with well placed sections and paragraphs.
8. Consider the sources you have
and whether you are using the best quotations/paraphrases possible.
9. Find better quotations,
paraphrases, or even new sources if needed.
10. Revise paragraphs for
maximum flow, clarity, and power.
11. Consider if an additional
source, quotation, and/or paraphrase or two will make your paper--or your
introduction or conclusion--more powerful and respected.
12. Edit the paper, including
13. Read the paper backward, out
loud, to double check editing, and/or ask one or two friends to read it
for flow and/or editing.
14. Will anything else you can
add as research--a graph, picture, or special source--take your paper a
special step beyond a "good" or "excellent" paper? If so, add it.
15. Turn it in.
The research process will be discussed in much more detail in this section's
chapter called "Developing the Paper."
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Conclusion: What Do You Get from It?
So, with good research, do you get A's in college,
make more money in your profession, and win more friends? You'll likely
get better grades and also move farther and faster up the ladder of your
profession--or be more likely to get the job you want. In fact, it can be
worthwhile to note on your resume the specific courses in which you had
important research assignments and/or the types of research you are capable of
As for winning friends, knowing how to research well
is more likely to get you better quality friends, or at least, friends who
believe in marshalling facts, exploring new possibilities with a solid base of
understanding reality, and being willing to search for truth rather than mere
opinion. These kinds of friends, in turn, reflect what you can expect from
yourself when you not only learn to research well but take on the underlying
values of good research.
You become a person who values not just passion
(which can be, in the right circumstances, good in itself), but also reason; not
just emotion (again, in the right circumstances, something good) but also fact;
and not just fantasy (once again, just fine), but also a solid grounding in
reality. The ability to be a good researcher is not only an important
outcome of a good college education but also both ethically and practically of
great value in a complex, expanding world.
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