Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Work Your Sources into Your Research Writing

Working your sources into your writing has at least two aspects you should consider. First, you must know what your researcher’s stance will be regarding the use of your sources. Second—a more practical matter—you must decide whether you will quote or paraphrase. The nature and purpose of your research assignment will guide your decision about your researcher’s stance. As for quoting and paraphrasing, your thesis and purpose, as well as good writing principles, will help you make those decisions.

The Researcher’s Stance

Depending on their purpose, researchers can take several stances relative to integrating their source material. As a researcher, you must know what your instructor expects of you as you present your research. Does she want your opinion of the research resources or, at the other extreme, only the content of your sources? What is the level of involvement for you, the writer? How does your instructor expect you to use your judgment and opinion? Always ask your instructor about his expectations regarding stance. To help you understand, we will discuss four levels at which you can handle your sources.

  1. Strict objectivity: At this level, you are expected to remain objective and impartial, rigorously presenting the research. You report the information, taking on the role of an experimental researcher or even an investigative reporter. Strict objectivity requires you to withhold your own opinions.

  2. Creation of context: Here, you are expected to put your sources in the context of a greater issue or debate. You have to offer enough explanation and discussion to help your reader see the connection between the material you are researching and the other references. Creating a context requires your comprehension and interpretation.

  3. Analysis or interpretation: At this level, you help the reader understand the relationship, significance, and authority of the reference material by introducing and discussing its sources. As you can see, this level calls for your judgment of the material, involving you even more.

  4. Evaluation: Here, you are asked to judge the source materials and their usefulness for this research project. This last position, most commonly found in literary, musical, or other fine arts criticism, involves you, the researcher, as a critical thinker in assessing the sources.

These categories offer you a way to discuss your instructor’s expectations for your research assignments.

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

How you work your sources into your writing depends on why and how you are using them. Many students have difficulty deciding when to quote, when to paraphrase, when to summarize, and when to cite a source. Equally difficult is figuring out how to work the quotations and paraphrases into your own prose style. You want to avoid using lengthy blocks of quotations or paraphrases of the sources. Too much quoting and paraphrasing give the impression that you are reproducing the sources, rather than controlling how you use them. The thinking and writing strategies we have discussed in this guide should help you avoid such an error of inexperience. Many students hesitate to include their opinions in their research papers, believing their instructor wants to read the opinions gleaned from secondary sources. If you believe this to be true, ask your instructor to clarify the expectations for your research. More details about the practical aspects of quoting and paraphrasing are presented in Chapter 5, “Academic Integrity and Documentation.”

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