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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

English Writing Projects

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English Writing Projects: The Research Paper

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If you've had a Composition course, you've had lots of exposure to this paper. Research papers can be very short (mini-research papers that require you to use at least a couple of sources) or very long—semester-long projects that are frequently due at the end of the semester.

The keys to the assignment?—a focused subject, a clear position or controlling question to argue the focused subject from, a group of sources to support the argument, and the careful representation of those sources in the paper and in a bibliography.

General expectations for the research paper

  • An arguable thesis—there's no research without one of these. Otherwise, this paper is a report. That thesis will evolve from focusing a subject that you care about, want to know more about, and want to develop a position on.
  • A well-developed introduction—if this is to be a long paper, you'll need to provide a thesis, a clear reason for writing, a sense of how you're going to proceed, and where you hope to be at the end.
  • Carefully evaluated sources—you'll need check the field of possibilities first, check their reliability, and keep note cards on full bibliographical citations, key quotes and paraphrases and the pages they come from.
  • An organizing principle—particularly if your research paper is going to lengthy, you'll need to develop an organizational pattern that makes sense and reflects what you want and need to do in order to develop and complete your argument.
  • Analysis of your sources to support your argument—it's not going to be enough for you to drop in quotes and paraphrases to support your argument; you'll need to analyze those materials in order to demonstrate how they support your claims.
  • A works cited list—the books, articles, and internet sources that you've actually used in your paper need to be listed in alphabetical format at the end of your paper

Types of Evidence

  • Primary text evidence—if your research revolves around a novel or film and you're building an argument about it, your instructor will ask you to use examples from it. You shouldn't talk about that literary or filmic work—you should talk with and within it.
  • historical and social evidence—depending on your subject, cultural and social and historical information could be very useful in explaining your subject and building your case.
  • Evidence from secondary sources—articles and books and internet materials by scholars about your subject.
  • Personal evidence—depending upon your subject and your instructor's directions, you may be able to use your own experience that relates to your paper's focus. But you should be careful to check.

Methods of Using Evidence

  • Quoting—you'll need the exact words of your sources to make your case; but, you may decide to use longer quotes from your most important sources. Block quotes should follow MLA format.
  • Paraphrasing—you'll be using much more paraphrases than quotes here. And you'll need consistently cite those paraphrases. If it's not your thought or idea, you must give your sources credit for it. And remember that both your source's language and the way it's structured need to be put in your own way.
  • Summarizing—in a longer research paper, you're more likely to find this method useful. If you're summarizing a portion of one of your sources, you can easily indicate your intention to your reader, use short quotes from it, and cite it all at the end of the summary.

Methods of Citing Evidence and Sources

  • Internally—you'll be using parenthetical references most frequently throughout your paper. Because you'll be using a group of sources of varying types, you'll need to keep them straight for your reader by following the MLA format for internal citations.
  • Footnotes—if you'er writing a lengthy and complex research paper, you may find bibliographic and explanatory footnotes useful. The key to using them is whether you can justify taking the reader out of the text of your paper for the specific information in your footnotes that would be distracting if you included it within the body of your paper. When using footnotes, be sure that proper
    MLA formatting is used.

What's Valued in Research Papers...

  • A clear and focused subject—a subject too large or too small will doom your project from the start.
  • An arguable position—most often, research papers are all about argument: establishing a position, stating claims, and assembling proof.
  • Use of the first person—this is your position and argument; it's a subject that you're passionate about. Why shouldn't you get behind it with your own voice?
  • The use and analysis of evidence—you'll need proof for your claims, but, more importantly, you'll need to "work" those sources in order to show that they demonstrate what you want them to.
  • Careful citation of sources—your credibility and integrity as a writer and arguer will improve exponentially if you do.

...and What's NOT

  • Lack of a clear thesis or position to argue from.
  • The use of unreliable or suspect sources—seek credible sources, particularly when you're using the internet to gather them.
  • A disconnect between claims and evidence to prove them—the key here is analyzing your evidence to show how and why they support your claims.
  • Failure to consistently CITE YOUR SOURCES.
  • Careless editing and formatting—remember to care enough to send your very best.

Sample Research Paper Assignments

Links to research assignments

Sample student research papers

Links to Sample Student Research Papers

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