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Topic Fundamentals

9 of Writing a
Research Paper
LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain the criteria for choosing a research topic;
2. Write a literature review on a topic that has been decided;
3. Identify the steps necessary to write a good research paper; and
4. Use the right format to effectively write a research paper.

INTRODUCTION
At some point in your tertiary education, you may be asked to write a research
paper. Those who have done so know that this is no easy task. Even those who
write well are usually able to produce a good research paper only after many
attempts and much practice. However, this should not intimidate you. Most
university students are unprepared to write a research paper simply because they
have not had the opportunity to do so during their secondary school days or
when they were in college. They do not know the components of a research paper
and are unsure and bewildered when assigned to write one.

This topic attempts to remedy the situation. It provides you with an overview of
the fundamentals of writing a good research paper, highlighting its major
elements and explaining some of these elements in detail. In addition, it includes a
list of dos and donts applicable to most research papers. Finally, the topic also
offers some tips and strategies on how to get the grade that you are aiming for.

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9.1 WHAT IS A RESEARCH PAPER?


Let us begin by asking ourselves two questions who needs to write research
papers, and what makes a good research paper?

The answer to the first question is simple.

Writing research papers is an essential skill, not only for students and academics
but also for people working in organisations and institutions, who may need to
present ideas to others in decision-making positions. In todays increasingly
competitive society, all organisations and businesses need to innovate. To do that,
they need ideas. The best ideas, however, can go nowhere unless they are shared
and turned into reality. This is where research and research papers come in to
allow ideas to be shared, so that they can be implemented and translated into
reality.

To answer the second question, we need to understand what a research paper is


all about.

Basically, a research paper is a form of an extended essay, usually between 10


and 25 pages in length. It is a sustained inquiry in a particular subject. It presents
summarised information about the subject to prove a point. To do this, it cites
outside sources of information to support its stand. In a normal research paper,
three to 10 outside sources are cited.

You need to substantiate your claims when you write a research paper. Look at
the following sentence:

Many women are no longer contented to be just housewives.

This sentence is just an opinion unless you are able to back it up with other
sources that support the statement. For instance, you could cite articles that
explain why women are no longer contented to be just housewives. Or, you could
highlight cases of women with high profile jobs as proof that they are no longer
contented with being mere housewives.

All this is research and a crucial part of writing a good research paper. Remember
that you may come across a lot of facts but only some of these facts will be
relevant to your paper. It takes skills to separate the chaff from the grain, and
write a good research paper.

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ACTIVITY 9.1
Some of you may have had the experience of writing research papers.
Share this experience with your friends.

9.2 STEPS IN WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER

If any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him first be clear in his
thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style let him first possess a
noble soul.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As the above quote shows, clarity in writing is very important. This is especially
true when writing a research paper. Remember that if the paper fails to
communicate its message well, then the research no matter how well done will
have little impact.

There is an old piece of advice that says: Write like you speak. This is good
advice to get you started on writing. However, when writing formal research
papers, you need to write a little differently. A good research paper is usually
written in the third person. This means that it is not presented from the
standpoint of I or you but rather from the standpoint of a narrator. The
writing of the paper is facilitated by using the outline for organisation and the
note cards for the recollection of facts.

Tip:
Give yourself time to work on a research paper. A good reserach paper does
not come out perfect the first time for anyone. Even the best writers have to
struggle to organise their papers and everyone needs to go through several
revisions before they reach the final product. So, do not feel bad and do not
skimp on revisions!

Next are key steps you can take to guide you in writing a good research paper.

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9.2.1 Selecting a Topic


The first step in writing a research paper is to select your topic. Put careful
thought into this decision. It should be clear not only to yourself, but also to your
reader, why you have selected the topic. Pick one that you are interested in so that
writing the paper will be fun. However, the topic should also be one that you can
handle adequately, in the time frame that you have been given. Avoid topics that
are too broad or narrow in scope. Generally speaking, it is better to write on a
narrow topic in depth, rather than on a wider subject superficially.

Besides fufilling course requirements, the topic should be doable. A brief hunt on
the topic in the library and on the Internet will provide clues as to whether it is
doable or not. Be sure that the topic you choose has enough resources available.
You should decide on your topic as early as possible; brainstorm with your
lecturer for topic ideas if necessary.

Selecting a good topic is not easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to
be interesting, yet broad enough for there to be adequate information for
your research.

Below are tips to help you select your research topic:

(a) Brainstorm for Topic Ideas


Choose a topic that interests you. You might want to use the following
questions to help you generate topic ideas.

(i) Do you have a strong opinion on a current educational, economic or


social controversy?

(ii) Have you read a newspaper article or seen a TV broadcast recently that
excites your curiosity or makes you angry or anxious?

(iii) Do you have a personal issue, problem or interest you would like to
know more about?

(iv) Do you have a research paper due in a class this current or the
following semester?

(v) Is there an aspect of one of your courses that you are interested in
learning more about?

Write down words or phrases that may be of interest to you. Avoid


overused topic ideas.

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(b) Read for Background Information


After you have decided on some topic ideas, read generally on the top two
or three topics you are considering.

(c) Narrow Down your Topic


A topic is difficult to research if it is too broad or too narrow. One way to
narrow down a broad topic such as The Environment is to set limits such as:
(i) Geographic regions;
(ii) Culture;
(iii) Time frame;
(iv) Discipline; and
(v) Population group.

Remember that a topic will be more difficult to research if it is too locally


confined, recent, broadly interdisciplinary or immensely popular. If you
have uncertainties about your topic, discuss with your tutor.

(d) Make List of Useful Words


Keep track of the words used to describe your topic. Look out for synonyms
of key words used in order to expand your search capabilities. Keep a list of
these words because you can use them again when you search in catalogues
and other online databases later on.

(e) Be Flexible
It is common to need to modify your research topic during the research
process. Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper or project.

(f) Restate Topic as Focused Research Question


You will probably begin with a word, then develop a more focused interest
in an aspect of something relating to that word and then start to frame
questions about the topic. For example:

(i) Idea: Zaba or modern Malay literature.

(ii) Research Question: How has Zaba influenced modern Malay


literature?

(iii) Focused Research Question: What structures used by Zaba are


common in contemporary Malay sentence structures?

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(g) Brainstorm for Topic Ideas


Read, read, and read around the topic until you are sure of what you wish to
research on. It takes time and hard work but remember that selecting the
right topic is an important part of the research process.

(h) Formulate a Thesis Statement


Write your topic as a thesis statement. The title of your research paper may
not be exactly the same as your research question or thesis statement but it
should clearly convey the focus, purpose and meaning of your research.

(i) Discuss with Your Peers/Tutor


Remember to follow any specific instructions from your tutor.

These steps to choosing a research topic are summarised in Figure 9.1 below.

Figure 9.1: Key steps in choosing a topic

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ACTIVITY 9.2
1. In your opinion, what is the best way to brainstorm for your topic
ideas?

2. How do you go about choosing a topic for your research paper?


What are the aspects that you need to take into consideration?

9.2.2 Planning the Research Design and Process


After choosing your topic, you need to come up with a good research design. A
strong research framework, sound data collection methods and rigorous data
analysis are the cornerstones for a good research paper.

Remember that the whole idea of writing a research paper is to provide new
ideas, or fresh insights, on a topic. Your research must provide evidence to prove
your hypothesis. How you go about collecting this depends on your research
methodology. Choose your methodology carefully you can carry out laboratory
testing, surveys, close textual analysis, psychoanalytic search, etc. Do read up on
what other researchers have said about your topic.

Bear in mind that your work is supposed to be new, not a repetition of other
peoples work. In the end, the best research papers combine good research with
original thinking. Try to maintain a critical attitude towards what you are reading
or examining; do not accept an argument just because it has ended up in print.
Ask yourself if you agree with it or not, and why.

One of the places to do research is the library. Do not be intimidated if the library
on your campus or in the city is big and unfamiliar. Even the most experienced
researcher needs help sometimes, particularly when handling specialised sources
such as government documents. The good news is you can ask the library staff for
such assistance. When you are lost, as we all are sometimes, ask the nearest
librarian for help. Sometimes, just standing around and looking confused is
sufficient to summon aid.

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When you are doing your research, it is important to be creative. Below are some
tips to help you get started:

(a) Start by Reading Research Studies on Your Subject


This will give you a broad grasp of your topic and help you identify what is
important and what you need to focus on. Simply jumping in and starting
your research immediately may end up in you wasting a considerable
amount of your time. Textbooks can also be helpful.

(b) Treat Research Like a Detective Story


Search under various subject headings when looking for resources in the
physical or computerised card catalogue. If, for example, you are doing a
paper on tsunami, do not limit yourself to looking under T for tsunami.
Other likely subject headings might be earthquakes, typhoon,
hurricane and volcanic eruptions.

(c) Look At the Most Recent Books and Journal Articles First
These resources will usually contain a bibliography and notes that list earlier
works on the subject. This can be an invaluable, time-saving step in locating
supplementary resource material.

(d) Photocopy Important Material


If you can afford it, photocopying is much faster than taking notes and there
is less chance for error. If you must make written notes, use index cards.
Larger cards are better than smaller ones. Use one card for each quote,
statistic or other piece of research information that you collect. Cards work
well because they can be arranged and rearranged easily. For topics with
distinct parts, you might even want to try a different colour card for each
part. Some people use portable computers to take notes. If you do, be sure to
make a backup copy.

(e) Make a Careful and Complete Notation of the Source of Your Material
This is necessary to avoid problems in the future when and if you need to
look up a citation that you should have noted and completed.

SELF-CHECK 9.1
How would you go about, starting out on your research project?

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9.2.3 Compiling Research Resources


Your library contains myriad resources that you can use in your research project.
The list given below is just a starting point. Make time to explore the library and
ask librarians about what is available. You may be surprised at how many new
resources there are in your library.

(a) Reference Works


One of the most important places in your library is the reference section. The
materials in this section are often useful to help you kickstart drafting the
outline of your topic. Encyclopedias and dictionaries are some of the main
resources you may want to check out.

(b) Books
Use your librarys computer access system or card catalogue to search for
books on your subject. A good place to start with is the OUM Virtual System
(VLS) Headings for ways to cross-reference your search for books. As soon
as you switch on your computer in the Virtual Library System and perform
the necessary steps, you will see hundreds of books on display. Some books
are available in their entirety while others only partially. If you wish to
check these books out, just inform the librarian on duty.

(c) Journal Articles


Some issues, especially recent ones like the tsunami disaster of 26 December
2004, may be so recent that there are few or no books yet available. In such
cases, journals are more likely sources of information. You should consult
journals even on older topics because scholars may have found new
information or conducted new analyses on the subject. The places to
search for journal articles include the Ministry of Information Malaysia,
Government Printers, the Social Sciences Citation Index and the Social
Sciences Index. You should be able to find most, if not all of these, in your
librarys reference room or any of the major book shops in town, like
Kinokuniya, Popular and MPH.

(d) Government Publications


You may also find valuable information published in the form of reports
by government agencies, reports by a parliamentary committee or the
PAC (Public Accounts Committee), or in the transcript of proceedings of
Parliament sittings. The United Nations and other international organisations
also publish proceedings and reports. There are several indexes available. At
some universities, accessing government documents can be a challenge. See
your librarians for help with government publications.

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(e) News, Magazines and Newspapers


If you are researching a current topic or need a day-by-day account of events,
you may be forced to turn to news, magazines and newspapers. However, be
sure to check that these are acceptable sources of data for your project. They
are usually useful for facts or contemporary quotes but less acceptable if you
are looking at data for analysis. Your library may have a computerised access
system to assist you. The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature also helps
access this material. In addition, major newspapers like the New Straits
Times, The Malay Mail, The Sun, The Star, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian
are indexed. Some are now available in the form of CDs, allowing you to use
the computer to search by subject and then print out the relevant articles.

(f) Electronic Resources (World Wide Web)


Over the past few years, it has become increasingly easy to find research
information on the Internet. Until recently, the Gopher system of data
archives was the dominant form of Internet information access, but now,
most governmental and non-governmental organisations, universities and
even businesses have developed access to their research resources on the
World Wide Web.

There are many useful websites that can get you started in searching for
information you need to write your research paper. Although some of the
Uniform Resource Locators (URL) are for specific information sources, most
provide you with hot-linked lists that will get you to where you might
want to look for information. It is important to note that URLs change
frequently. If they do not work, double-check the URL or contact the
organisation sponsoring the page.

When using Internet articles, put in the name of the author, date, and title of
the web page, the URL and the date you accessed the articles.

Every reference in your main text must appear in the list at the end of your
paper and every reference in the list must be mentioned in your main text.

(g) Miscellaneous Sources


The listing here covers what is in your library. In addition, your library may
have a map room or an audio-visual section. Some libraries also contain
archives or a rare book collection. Talk to a librarian, lecturer or tutor
for additional information. You should also realise that no library has
everything. Consequently, you may find references to resources that are not
in your library. You can usually borrow such resources from other libraries
through the inter-library loan programme. Check with your librarians to
learn how to use this service. Be advised, however, that inter-library loans
take some time. So, order any needed resources as early as possible.

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(h) External Sources


Knowledge is not confined to libraries. A lot of people have valuable
knowledge at their finger tips. Do not be afraid to speak to people whom
you think can help you. Even if they cannot help you, they may know others
who are experts on a certain policy or issue. You can try to conduct an
interview with a decision-maker or some other relevant person that you
may not know well. One person has been known to call Wisma Putra
directly for information and gotten what he wanted successfully. Others
have called the High Commissions and Embassies of foreign governments
involved to get information from them.

SELF-CHECK 9.2

Where can you obtain your research sources in Open University


Malaysia? What are the options open to you?

9.3 GETTING STARTED


You do not have to dread writing research papers; all you have to do is take time
to plan and prepare yourself for it. Keep this Chinese proverb in mind when you
start: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Do not let the fear
of the paper keep you from writing what may be one of the best pieces of writing
that you will ever produce.

9.3.1 Outlining and Organisation


When it comes to actually writing the paper, being organised is crucial. Being
disorganised can ruin a paper but fortunately, there are guidelines to help you:

(a) Start with an introduction in which you establish your topic and state your
thesis statement. A thesis statement is a sentence that explicitly identifies the
purpose of the paper or previews its main ideas it is the crux of the
research paper everything else is included to support it;

(b) Move on to the body of your paper where, in a clear and logical manner,
you prove your thesis statement, step by step to convince your reader; and

(c) End with a conclusion where you do not just restate your thesis statement,
but give new findings and fresh insights as well.

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Introductions which tend to be too general, and trite conclusions can ruin a paper.
Remember, these act as orientation marks for your reader. You tell him at the start
where you are heading, guide him along the way and tell him when you have
arrived. Bad organisation can cause you to lose your reader halfway through the
paper, so try to pick the best path to prove your thesis statement and guide him
along carefully.

9.3.2 Support Your Argument


When writing a paper, you have to convince your reader that your view of the
topic is correct. You have to organise your thoughts, present them logically and
provide evidence to back them up. You can say whatever you want, but if it is not
backed by evidence or logic, it means nothing. Be detailed and cite resources to
clearly ground your argument.

Another tip is to anticipate counter-arguments or counter-evidence, and argue


against them in your paper. Look for gaps in your own argument and try to fill
them in, but do not be afraid to acknowledge complications in your argument.
Honesty is better than putting up a good front without basis. Avoid errors in
reasoning such as using stereotypes, invalid assumptions, hasty generalisations or
appeals to the emotions.

9.3.3 Writing Tips


Smooth, clear, easy-to-read, creative writing can do wonders to a paper but not
everyone is born a Hemingway. However, there are some rules everyone can
follow.

(a) First, you should not write in a colloquial style unless absolutely necessary;
a professional, authoritative tone is important in academic writing.

(b) Second, avoid choppy short sentences and paragraphs.

(c) Third, make sure each paragraph has a central idea and connect the
paragraphs clearly.

(d) Fourth, avoid using the same words; look for synonyms to make your
writing more interesting.

(e) Fifth, and most important, check and double check your paper for
grammatical, punctuation, spelling and other errors.

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There are some general house rules for writing style. For instance, titles of films,
books, TV shows and magazines are written in italics (thus, Utusan Malaysia);
titles of individual articles or entries and songs are put in quotations (for example,
Widuri). With the exception of such titles, keep capitalisation of words to a
minimum. Use quotation marks for short quotations and block quotes for ones
over three lines in length.

ACTIVITY 9.3

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until


drops of blood form on your forehead. (Gene Fowler, American
journalist, author and dramatist).

What is your opinion of this statement? Personally, what are the


challenges you encounter in writing and how do you handle them?

9.3.4 Citation Styles


To cite is to point to evidence, authority or proof. To cite correctly, you need
to collect and assemble details of where your information comes from and
note this in your text. There are two main styles of citing (author-date and
footnote/endnote) although there are many variations.

There are different styles for citing. These include:

(a) Harvard: An Author-Date Style


The Harvard style is a type of author-date style. Generally, when using the
Harvard style, a citation in your paper requires only the name of the author
(or authors) and the year of publication (with no punctuation between the
two items). Citations should, whenever possible, be placed at the end of a
sentence (before the concluding punctuation).

Example 1:
as one writer puts it the darkest days were still ahead (Weston 1988: 45).
Alternatively, the authors surname may be integrated into the text, followed
immediately by the year of publication in parenthesis, as in Example 2.

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Example 2:
Adnin (1990: 564) has argued that
If there is more than one reference by the author in the same year, they are
generally labelled in order of publication with a lower case letter, as in Example 3.

Example 3:
Other researchers face this problem (Adnin 1996a: 89, Ali 1994: 102) while
Adnin (1996b:6) recognised
If the authors name is unknown, you should give the title of the article, book or
webpage, as in Example 4.

Example 4:
the worst election loss in the partys history (Utusan Malaysia 4 May, 2004: 10)
The references made in the text are listed in alphabetical order by author(s) at the
end of the paper. If the author is unknown, use the title.

(b) Vancouver: A Footnote/Endnote Style


Using this system, references are numbered in the order in which they are
cited in the text.

Example 1:
as one author has put it the darkest days were still ahead [1]
this has been well documented in the literature [2 6]
The authors name can also be integrated into the text, as in Example 2.

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Example 2:
Adnin [2] has argued that
However, there are variations to the in-text citation format:
Either square [ ] or curved brackets ( ) can be used as long as it is consistent.
Superscript is sometimes used rather than brackets, for example, was
discovered1.
References are listed in numerical order at the end of the paper, as in Example 3.

Example 3:
1. Adnin S. A., Aliana S. A. Tourism Management. Malaysian Tourism Board
Journal. 2004; 88 90.
A good way is to prepare cards with the full details of each source.
The cards can then be sorted when you are writing your reference list/
bibliography.

Make sure you keep track of the information sources you use and record the
necessary details in full, even if you are not sure whether you will actually
be using the source. This saves time as it is often difficult and time
consuming to find detailed information at the last minute.

(c) Styles Recommended by Journals and Professional Associations, e.g.


Modern Language Association
This was discussed in Topic 5.

General Guidelines for Citation


Remember that the terms citation and reference are often used to mean the
same thing. Citing your sources of information is important for various reasons:
(a) To protect against charges of plagiarism;
(b) To prove that your work has a substantial, factual basis; and
(c) To help your readers to identify and retrieve the references for their own use.

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Citing your sources is a form of honesty in which you admit an idea is not your
own. When you use ideas or even sections of writing you got from somewhere
else but do not clearly mark them as not your own, you are committing
plagiarism, which at some universities is an offence worthy of expulsion.

Never use the ideas or writing of others without citing them!

Not citing your sources can hurt your paper as, for instance, when you refer to
statistics without stating the source. To the reader, these could seem as made-up
numbers if you do not say where you got them. You can provide a bibliography
of the sources you use, but it is important to detail in the text where each idea or
quotation comes from.

(a) What Details Do I Need for a Source Citation?


The following details are usually required, but note that not every detail will
be applicable in every case:
(i) Author(s)s or editor(s)s names in full; or the group, body, organisation
responsible.
(ii) Title of article or chapter.
(iii) Name of the journal, periodical or book.
(iv) Edition (if applicable).
(v) Place of publication (for book).
(vi) Year of publication.
(vii) Volume number (for journal).
(viii) Issue number (for journal).
(ix) Page numbers.

(a) What Details Do I Need for an Electronic Citation?


When you are citing an electronic resource like a web page, you should note
the following details. However, some web pages do not contain all these
details, so do not be stressed out if you cannot find them all:
(i) Name of author or editor.
(ii) Title of the page (look at the bar at the top of your browser).

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(iii) Title of the site (go to the sites homepage).


(iv) Date the page was last updated or the copyright date.
(v) The full Internet address (URL) of the page (i.e. http://www. etc).
(vi) The date that you accessed the page.
(vii) Any other details that might help someone else find the part of the
page that you used.

(b) How Do I Put a Citation Together?


In order to make your citation or reference easy to follow, all the details
needed should be put together in a specific order. The order of the details
and punctuation can vary with the style you are using. Remember that once
you have chosen a style, you need to use it consistently throughout your
piece of work. That does not mean you have to use one style for the rest of
your life, just till the end of your assignment.

(c) How Do I Put a Bibliography Together?


The bibliography contains a list of all the sources you used to research your
paper. List your sources in alphabetical order by author and where there
is no author, by title or numerical order by file. Names of books and
magazines may be underlined or typed in italics. Specific article titles should
be placed within quotation marks. The bibliography can follow the MLA or
APA style of citation (as explained in Topic 5). The important point is to
choose the style that you find easy and comfortable to use, and then use it
consistently.

9.3.5 Presentation
A well-researched paper loses much of its impact on readers if it is not well
presented. To present your paper well, you must write it clearly. Your sentences
need to be clear and concise. The paragraphs and sentences should flow easily
and this can be achieved after some practice. Always make sure the paper is
cleanly typed or printed without any missing pages or errors. If you have any
figures or illustrations, make sure they are clearly labelled. Adding illustrations to
your paper is important if you want to make specific arguments about a visual
text, but images inserted just for appearances sake would not serve any purpose.
In the end, it is your words that count.

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Other things to consider are your sentences. They should be checked for possible
errors in syntax, punctuation and style. This is not difficult with the spell-check
function in your word processor but you should also do it manually because no
matter how good your spell-checker is, there are always a few things that a
machine will fail to pick up or miss or not recognise, for example, the wrong use
of a word.

If your research paper has fulfilled all these characteristics, you have yourself a
good research paper.

9.4 TIPS AND GUIDELINES


Below are some important considerations that you should bear in mind to help
you come up with a good research paper.

9.4.1 Read, Read, Read


The first step to writing a good research paper, as mentioned earlier, is to look for
a good topic to research on and to write about. This means that you have to do
lots of background reading around your area of interest. A good starting point, if
nothing else comes to mind, is the Encyclopedia Britannica. Read books or articles
on topics that interest you. Follow up with the suggested reading found in the
course syllabus or bibliographies of the texts you read. Always bear in mind that
you should do this as early in the course as possible.

9.4.2 Organise your Discussion


The purpose of the discussion is to fit your work into the rest of the worlds state
of knowledge. Here is a typical structure to get started.

(a) Start with a paragraph that summarises the key results in the context of the
question(s) you asked in the introduction. In laymans terms, explain why
the results are important.

(b) Compare and contrast your study with others in the literature review. What
contributions did your paper make?

(c) List the limitations of the study and suggest other studies that might resolve
them.

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142 TOPIC 9 FUNDAMENTALS OF WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER

(d) Discuss the implications of your study in other fields such as culture and
religion.

(e) Hypothesise and speculate on the data. If possible, provide a model for what
the data might suggest.

(f) Proofread, check your references, do a final literature search to add new
information and hold a discussion with your instructor again before you
submit your paper.

9.4.3 Categorise Information


Your work should show some depth of thinking. A mere summary of the
materials you have researched is generally not acceptable. Your research is only
the starting point or framework for you to display your own ideas. Unless you
add something to what has already been written on the subject, there is not much
point in writing anything at all. A computer can be programmed to paraphrase
somebodys writing faster and cheaper than you ever could. Your contribution
lies in being able to come up with something new and better.

In the course of doing your research, you will be inundated with facts but only
some of these facts will be relevant to your paper. It takes skills to sort out the
necessary information from the trivial and the irrelevant.

Basically, you need to remember that information related to your research is


necessary to validate your opinion and it can be organised into three categories:

(a) Background Information


Background information should be brief and to the point. It explains why
the topic you chose is significant or provides a brief history of your chosen
topic.

(b) Supporting Information


Supporting information helps to drive your argument forward and validates
your point. This category of information helps to make your opinion more
believable and plausible to the reader.

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(c) Opposing Information


Opposing information is useful if it is used to strengthen your position on an
issue. You must remember that the reason you are including opposing
information is to counter it. After stating the opposing information, you
have to explain why it is not valid. This is a useful tactic to persuade readers
to take your side.

ACTIVITY 9.4
In writing your paper, how do you distinguish between relevant facts
and unnecessary information?

9.4.4 Develop Note-taking Skills


Note-taking is an essential skill to help you sieve through information. You can
begin by taking notes from the most valuable source and then progress through
all the sources available. One note card should be used for each major point.
Information about the source can be written in a corner of the note card: the name
of the book/article, the place and year it was published and the company that
published it. This will be useful later when you are organising the bibliography.

Incident notes should specify the people involved, the place, event, date and time.
Summary notes should recapitulate general information in concise phrases and
sentences that can later become a part of the body of the paper. Facts should be
written in the writers own words.

Here are some tips for note-taking:

(a) Be accurate and honest when you take notes. Take care that you do not
distort the authors meaning.

(b) Remember that you do not want to collect only those things that will
support your thesis and ignore other facts or opinions. The reader wants to
know the other side of the question too.

(c) Get facts, not just opinions.

(d) Note methods and procedures and do not be afraid to criticise them.

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144 TOPIC 9 FUNDAMENTALS OF WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER

9.5 LOOKING AT EXAMPLES


This section offers you some samples of the Table of Contents page in several
research studies. The aim is to give you an idea of the sections and sub-sections
that should be found in every research paper. As a researcher, you would
definitely want to read the abstract to know what the research study is about, the
literature review, research methodology, discussions and research findings.

Check out the sample Table of Contents (Figures 9.2, 9.3 and 9.4) and comment on
them in your next tutorial session.

Figure 9.2: Outline of content (a)

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TOPIC 9 FUNDAMENTALS OF WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER 145

Figure 9.3: Outline of content (b)

Figure 9.4: Outline of content (c)


There is no short cut to writing a good research paper. It is hard work, but the
journey is a highly satisfying one.
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146 TOPIC 9 FUNDAMENTALS OF WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER

To recapitulate, Table 9.1 summarises the steps that you need to take to come up
with a good research paper:

Table 9.1: Steps to writing a good research paper

Steps Activity
Step 1 Choose a topic.
Step 2 Find information.
Step 3 State your thesis statement.
Step 4 Make a tentative outline.
Step 5 Organise your notes.
Step 6 Write your first draft.
Step 7 Revise your outline and draft
Checklist One*
Checklist Two**
Step 8 Type final paper.

*Checklist 1:
Is my thesis statement concise and clear?
Did I follow my outline? Did I miss out anything?
Are my arguments presented in a logical sequence?
Are all sources cited to ensure that I am not plagiarising?
Have I proved my thesis with strong supporting arguments?
Have I made my intentions clear in the paper?

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**Checklist 2:
Did I begin each paragraph with a proper topic sentence?
Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
Are there run-ons or unfinished sentences?
Are there unnecessary or repetitious words?
Does one paragraph or idea flow smoothly into the next?
Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?
Are the quotes accurate in source, spelling and punctuation?
Are all my citations accurate and in correct format?
Have I made my points clear and interesting but remained objective?

ACTIVITY 9.5

1. When you write a research paper, you cannot run away from doing
a fairly comprehensive literature review. Imagine that you are
planning to research bullying in schools. State the steps that you
would take in order to produce a good piece of literature review.

2. Choosing a researchable topic is always a problem for a novice


researcher. In small groups, discuss the steps that you can take to
help you come up with a good research topic.

This topic discusses the fundamentals of writing a research paper.

It covers almost every aspect of writing a research paper, beginning with


defining what is meant by a good research paper, steps in writing a research
paper, useful tips and guidelines, to looking at samples of the Table of
Contents of good research papers.

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148 TOPIC 9 FUNDAMENTALS OF WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER

There are eight steps in writing a research paper: choose a topic, find
information, state thesis statements, make an outline, organise notes, write the
first draft, revise the outline draft and finally write the final paper.

Among the tips and guidelines in writing a research paper are to read a lot
around the area of interest, organise the discussion, categorise the information
and develop note-taking skills.

Argument Outline
Background information Presentation
Brainstorming Referencing
Electronic citation Research paper
Government publication Supporting information
Journal article Source citation
Note-taking Thesis statement
Opposing information Topic

Ferris, S. (2000). How to be a writer. Chichester, UK: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.

Nunan, D. (1989). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge:


Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. (2003). Practical English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge


University Press.

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