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Run-On Sentences

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Writing a Research Paper

For many students, just hearing the phrase “research paper” is enough to send chills up their spines.  For a host of reasons, research papers have acquired an overwhelmingly negative reputation among those assigned with them.  As we hope to explain, research papers really are nothing to fear.  If you are skeptical of this claim, it is worth going forward with an open mind, as almost every student will be tasked with writing a research paper at some point in his or her academic career.  So, it is important to face this challenge with optimism! 

  1. Research Paper Mindset
  2. What Type of Research Paper Should You Write?
    1. Argumentative Research Paper
    2. Analytic Research Paper
  3. What a Research Paper is NOT!

Research Paper Mindset

As previously stated, it is very important to go into the research paper process with an open mind.  A big part of this is allowing the research you come across to actively influence your approach to your topic of discussion.  You should never begin the research process with a pre-formed argument you want to make and exclusively focus on research that supports and confirms this already established belief.  The more you discover and learn about your research topic, the more your mind and your paper should change. Because of this, your initial expectations about a research paper will likely require adjustment, refinement, or an altogether transformation – do not be discouraged by this, it is simply part of the process!

What Type of Research Paper Should You Write?

Research papers can be categorized into two broad types: Argumentative and Analytic.  Your instructor will likely specify which type of research paper they expect you to write.

Argumentative Research Paper         

Just like its name would imply, argumentative research papers set out to argue clearly where the author stands on an important topic within a field.  The overall goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion; by the conclusion of this type of paper, the reader should be convinced of the merit of the author’s position.  Argumentative research papers typically begin with an informative introduction of whatever topic is being discussed, followed by a clear articulation of what specific aspect of the topic the author intends to argue.  It is very important to make sure that the argument you will be making is an actually debatable stance.  Thus, the thesis sentence of an argumentative research paper cannot be a statement of an unquestioned fact or a claim that is largely agreed upon:

Incorrect Example:  World War II was a destructive military conflict between the Allied Powers of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, and the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

This is not an arguable point – no one could successfully contest the claim made.  Here is an example of a more contestable claim

Correct Example: The destruction ravaged across the whole of Europe in World War II set the stage for the 20th century to be dominated by the United States of America, the sole industrialized participant in the war whose homeland infrastructure and industrial capacity remained largely intact. 

While this thesis statement contains numerous concrete facts, the crux of the argument being made is one that can be debated – that the rise of the US in the 20th century was in large part due to the destruction of other industrialized states during World War II.  Having a claim that can be legitimately questioned is the most important part of an argumentative research paper.   Here is an additional incorrect and corrected example

Incorrect Example:  Although levels have dropped markedly, experts agree that smoking tobacco causes long-term damage to your respiratory system.

Again, no legitimate medical authority is going to argue that smoking does not harm your respiratory system.  This is an unarguable fact.

Correct Example: The precipitous decrease in cigarette smoking in the recent decades can be attributed to the provision of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, passed in 1970, that banned radio and television advertisements of tobacco products.

Inarguable facts are included in this thesis – there was a provision in this act that banned radio and TV advertisements – but the claim being made, that this specific act is largely responsible for the general decrease in smoking over the last several decades – is definitely arguable.  What about warning labels on packs?  What about anti-smoking press campaigns?  What about the further research that was conducted on the damaging health of effects of tobacco?  See?  There are many additional claims that might be raised to argue the point of this thesis.

Analytic Research Paper

The second type of research paper you might be asked to write is the analytic research paper.  These papers differ from the more commonly assigned argumentative research paper in several important yet subtle ways.  The whole of an analytic research paper should center on providing an answer to a general question posed in the introductory paragraph.  Rather than arguing in favor of an answer to this question, an analytic research paper should explore, interpret, and evaluate existing sources and opinions regarding the question at hand.  For example, an analytic research paper might address questions similar to the following:

How did World War II alter the average American citizen’s perception of his/her country’s role in global affairs? 

What effect did enlistment and participation in World War II have on African-American veterans’ perception of their American citizenship?

What can be learned from the successful anti-smoking campaign waged by various U.S. health organizations in the last three decades?

As you can see, the questions addressed in analytic research papers rarely have a simple right or wrong, yes or no, answer.  They require deep engagement, tactful consideration, and extensive familiarity with primary and secondary sources concerned with the subject.  Unlike argumentative research papers, persuasion is not the goal of analytic research papers.  Evidence is not gathered to convince the reader of one particular point of view or interpretation.  Rather, evidence and sources are amassed in order to provide support for the author’s analysis, not to confirm a single form of understanding. 

What a Research Paper is NOT!

A research paper is not simply a summary of the topic you are investigating.  When writing, you are not merely restating all of the interesting facts and claims that you have absorbed during your research.  Instead, you must take all of the information, facts, analysis, and interpretations you have picked up during your investigation of primary and secondary sources, and combine them into a single, coherent analysis or argument.  Avoid the temptation to write a “review” or an “opinion piece” about the topic you are addressing.  Remember, the point of a research paper is to provide new interpretation and analysis – not to simply reinforce already established or proven beliefs!