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. Your library research into the state of the question you are exploring is reviewed near the beginning of the paper in a section called Literature Review (see earlier discussion in this chapter). That role depends somewhat on the research question you posed. As you consider some of the writing strategies discussed in Chapter 3, "Thinking Strategies and Patterns of Writing," think about 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.

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 the detective to solve them:


You may remember that much of 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.

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. Your research in this case would probably be reviewed near the beginning in a section called literature review (see earlier discussion in this chapter). Original research questions often suggest appropriate writing and thinking strategies.

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.

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