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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions



Chapter 36: WHAT IS "RESEARCH"?

Why should there be so much research in college?


On this page:

Definition of Good Research

Widespread Use and Importance of Research

Paper's Appearance


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

[Note: 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 'College Writing'?"]

What 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 Activities

research paper

poster presentation

speech presentation

an experiment

an interview of one or many people

observation and report of an event or process

statistical analyze, charts, and/or graphs

mathematical analysis

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, 1963 "Letter 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 campus.


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The Widespread Use and Importance of Research

Research 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 in the following chapters (also shown in right column):

16. Research Writing

17. Citation & Documentation

18. References & Resources

19. Visual/Multimodal Design

20. Major/Work Writing

Why is 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 Appearance

A "typical" 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 the research

  • main body:
    (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 sections
    (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.

  • concl. paragraph: 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 implications

  • 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 writing:

  • research: the word means to "re-search," "search again," or "look again" (to examine, again, what people have discovered)

  • source: 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 sources.

  • secondary source: a source not present at an event, such as an author of a textbook, an enclyclopedia article, or a news commentator.

  • 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 professional works.

  • 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 below).

  • paraphrase: a source's idea described by your own words.  Paraphrases require citation (see below). 

  • to 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.

  • to 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 required.

  • 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  '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.




E. Revise.





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 sources.

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 the bibliography.

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 doing. 

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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 36. What Is "Research"?

 37. Research Process

 38. Choosing Resources

 39. Developing the Paper

 40. Quoting/Paraphrasing

 41. Avoiding Plagiarism

 42. Critical Thinking



MLA Ppr. Examples:
   Dialogic Args.
   Thesis Args.

APA Ppr. Examples:
   Case Studies
   Mag. Article


 Related Links in

  Examples of Several
  Bibliography Styles

  12. Types of Papers


  14. Online Readings

  16. Research Writing

  17. Citation & Documentation

  18. References & Resources

  19. Visual/Multimodal Design

  20. Major/Work Writing


Updated 1 Aug. 2012 also is at and

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.