Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Decide Your Point of View, or Role, for Your Research

Writers usually find that when they envision themselves in a specific role as researchers, it is easier to decide on the thinking and writing strategies that lead to a sophisticated and competent use of resources. Your role and your thinking and writing strategies are related. You provide a review of your library research into the state of the question you are exploring near the beginning of your paper, in a section called Literature Review (see discussion earlier in this chapter). Your role depends somewhat on the research question you posed. As you consider some of the writing strategies discussed in chapter 3, “Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns,” remember the thinking and writing roles discussed here.


In your role as synthesizer, you research the thinking of various experts and relay that information to your reader. Your job here becomes one of drawing together the opinions and positions of the experts under a specific theme or thesis. Some examples of research questions that might call for synthesizing are presented here.

  • According to the experts, what are the specific causes of global warming?
  • What is the current thinking on how high unemployment rates affect the minimum hourly wage?
  • Who do the scholars think Shakespeare really was?

Problem Solver

For this role, you might play the detective, seeking information that will lead to a satisfactory answer to your research question. Sometimes you might find the answer in your reading. Other times, you may be required to analyze the information and draw conclusions about what the answers may be. The following research “problems” call for a detective to solve them:

  • What is the best solution to Fishtown’s groundwater pollution problem?
  • How did monotheism develop from the polytheism of the early Hebrew tribes?
  • Who is the narrator in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”?


You may remember that much college writing involves analysis. That holds true for your research assignments as well. In your role as analyst, you might be called upon to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a particular argument or to apply analysis to primary sources or other data. Here are a few examples of questions that require analysis.

  • Examine the arguments for and against a federally funded health plan. Which do you find more convincing? Why?
  • In the controversy over the tobacco industry’s advertising, is the industry being treated unfairly? What are the issues?
  • How did Bell Atlantic’s corporate culture contribute to its breakup?

Field or Laboratory Researcher

Here, the writer poses a research question and then designs and conducts a research study or an experiment to answer it. The research paper will then report the results in scientific format. As noted above, your research in this case would probably be reviewed near the beginning of your paper in a section called Literature Review (see discussion earlier in this chapter). Original research questions often suggest appropriate writing and thinking strategies.

  • What is the value of family therapy in the treatment of teenage drug and alcohol addiction?
  • What effect has tobacco advertising had on teenage smoking?
  • What is the demographic profile of your classmates?

Reviewer of a Controversy or Advocate of a Position

In a research assignment, you may be asked simply to report the facts about a controversy or to review a controversy and take a position. In the first case, you are asked to demonstrate that you understand the underlying controversy surrounding a particular topic. In the reviewer role, you would be asked to relate the issues in the controversy, giving a balanced view of each. You would include both the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

  • What are the current arguments for including computer applications courses in the information systems curriculum?
  • What are the issues surrounding euthanasia for terminally ill patients?
  • What are the arguments for treating Microsoft as a monopoly?

In the advocate role, you would review the issues and then argue for the position you support.

  • Should forest habitats of endangered species be harvested?
  • Is the universe expanding or contracting?
  • Should the national deficit be paid off?


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