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									                                Research Papers
Considering the Rhetorical Moment
When you write a research paper, you’ll want to begin by considering the rhetorical
moment that you’ve been placed in and how that affects what you can and will write
about in your paper. The questions that you ask and the rhetorical decisions that you
make with regard to the context and subject matter should be governed by a sense of
kairos. Kairos is a Greek concept meaning “timeliness” and “suiting the word to the
occasion.” Do some freewriting about the rhetorical moment that you find yourself in
with this assignment.

      What topics and ideas do you think are particularly well suited to this assignment
       and to the time and place where you are right now?
      How would you characterize and describe the rhetorical moment that you’re in?
      How do you think it will shape your creation of a research paper?

Getting Motivated to Find a Subject
Get motivated by responding in writing to the following questions about a possible
research subject.
    1. What subjects are you passionate about or would you like to learn more about?
       Why do you care about these subjects? (List at least three.)
    2. How did you learn to care about them?
    3. What subjects do you need to know more about? (List at least three.)
    4. How do you know you need to know more about these subjects?

Analyzing Subjects
Take notes as you ponder the following questions for each potential subject you wrote

The Rhetorical Situation
   1. What is going on—on campus, in your community, or in the world—that relates
       to these subjects?
   2. What purpose will you ultimately have in communicating your research? Will you
       teach readers? Persuade them? Delight them?
   3. What period of time do you have to complete the project?
   4. How long should your final project be?
Analyze the Subject
   5. Given the rhetorical situation, is your subject too large and unwieldy? (Be careful
       to focus. Good writers can make sharp ideas go a long way.)
   6. Is your subject too narrow? Or is it irrelevant to the assignment? (For instance,
       why you like the color blue may be personally interesting, but you’ll find it hard
       to prove that you do or convince anyone else that learning more about why you do
       is worth the effort.)
   7. Is this subject something that you can find information about—more than what is
       commonly known? (For example, many book writers have tried to explain the
       Kennedy assassination but at some point run up against the fact that much of the
        information is still protected in the National Archives or otherwise not easily
        retrieved. In the film JFK, director Oliver Stone had to invent a character, X, who
        would reveal top-secret information.)
    8. Will your subject interest your readers and fulfill the assignment? (For instance,
        how sneakers are made in Asia by children who are paid meager wages in horrible
        working conditions might just be a subject that you can learn more about and that
        will be interesting to sneaker-owners and those concerned about the exploitation
        of children.)
You can choose one of the three potential subjects from “Finding a Subject” to work on
now, or take more time to think about it. Remember that your research subject should
interest you because you will be working on it in depth and perhaps for quite some time.

Exploring Your Subject
As you refine your subject, use these strategies to help you learn more about it.
   1. Discuss possible topics with your instructor, classmates, friends, family, or other
       interested parties.
   2. If you know people who are knowledgeable about your subject, ask them if they
       know of any hot issues that you could explore.
   3. Do Web and/or library searches for popular news articles about your subject.
   4. Do Web searches using search engines such as Google for Web pages about your
   5. Look through Internet discussion groups such as Yahoo! Groups, located at or L-Soft’s Catalist at
       to see if there are any debates or discussions related to your subject.
   6. Use a search engine such as the Google Glossary on terms or phrases. Go to, then in the search box enter
       Google will return a list of definitions drawn from reliable websites and provide
       links to those sites where you can learn more about the terms and phrases you’re
       looking for. Let serendipity guide you early in the process. Be open to new
   7. Browse the library or a bookstore for magazines, newspapers, or books related to
       your topic.

Focusing Your Subject
As you think about your approach to your research topic, consider these questions, which
will help you focus your subject.

   Brainstorm. What do people think about it? Why? How long has this topic been an
    issue in society? How does it affect peoples’ lives?
   Review texts that discuss your topic. What has already been said? What solutions
    are there to problems surrounding your topic? Have any solutions been tried that
    failed? Are people satisfied with the state of your issue/topic?
   Consider the elements of your issue. How long has it been an issue? Who is
    affected? Where and when does it occur? Does it primarily affect a certain group of
    people? Is money involved in your issue? How? Is money a problem or is money a
    possible solution to a problem?
   Compile ideas about problems and solutions. What have you discovered so far
    about your issue? Jot down answers. Consider your topic once again: What new
    questions do you have in light of your recent discoveries about your topic?
   Rethink whether the problem is important and your response is realistic. Is this
    problem significant? Is your solution feasible? Who will fund your solution if it needs
    financial support? Would you pay extra taxes for the solution? Would others? Where
    and when are the benefits going to emerge? Who will be affected primarily if your
    problem is solved? Are there any secondary benefits?

At this point you may wish to review some brief information on conducting research in
the disciplines. If you are working in the humanities, see 9j; the social sciences, see 9k;
the sciences, see 9l.

Developing a Research Hypothesis
Once you have figured out what subject you want to research, begin considering the
various elements or aspects of that subject. Look for new angles, trends, and ideas
concerning your subject. It may help to consider what local perspectives there may be on
your subject or how your subject affects you, your family, and/or your social group.
Move toward discovering a unique angle or perspective that offers you a problem to solve
or an opportunity to analyze your subject in a new light. This may sound time-
consuming, but it makes common sense: You want to develop a research subject that is
focused enough to be manageable in the limited time you are offered. You also want to
find a way of writing something fresh about your subject.

Considering the Logistics of Potential Research
Consider the logistics of your potential research. Think about how you will handle the
research, from finding information and equipment, to living with your topic, to traveling
to locate information.
 Is the subject currently in the news?
 Which media are covering this topic the most?
 Is the topic so recent that finding sources might be difficult?
 Where will I find the most complete information about the topic?
 How will I initially determine the best sources so that I can learn more?
 Has this topic been selected by half the class already? Will I have to compete with
    others for materials?
 If the subject includes extensive visual elements (such as modern art or film), can I
    find the equipment necessary to view and analyze it? Do I need access to a DVD
    player or a microfiche machine? Can I find and use this equipment?
 Will I need to conduct field research to find more information?

Generating Keywords for Your Subject
Generate a list of ten keywords or phrases about your topic. Then do some quick searches
on the keywords, either in the library or using Web search engines, to determine whether
they generate any specific and relevant information for your topic.
Keeping a Research Journal
A research journal is a place to keep track of all the places you have searched, the
information and sources you have found (and how to find them again), and your thoughts
about your research process.

                                How to Keep a Research Journal
      Keep a record. Sometimes research will cause you to go to different locations, to
       different libraries, to speak with different people. Keep a record of the dates and
       places you went. What you do on Monday, which you think you will easily
       remember, may be forgotten by Thursday. Take a few minutes to record your
       steps so you will not have to retrace your steps later.
      Track your evolving understanding. Record the ways that your research process
       changes your understanding of your subject and your ideas about its key terms.
       You could include running notes under each term, for example, devoting a page to
       each term. Or use a double-entry notebook. Divide the page in half, with factual
       information included on the left side, and running notes and commentary on the
      Write down quotations and ideas that intrigue you on 3” x 5” index cards,
       which are easy to sort. (See 9g.) With portable computers, the process can be
       streamlined with new programs that assist with note-taking and sorting.
       Microsoft’s Outlook has a useful Note function, and standalone programs are
       available. On most Apple computers, you’ll find “Stickies.” For Windows-based
       machines Post-It Notes offers a free “Lite” version of “Post-It Software Notes” at
      Record complete publication information. Always note precise publication
       information about each work that you examine. See 9g.

Creating a Working Annotated Bibliography
As you collect information from a variety of sources, record all the bibliographic
information, as described on pages 107 and 108. One useful strategy is to incorporate a
short summary of the work after the bibliographical information. Normally, annotations
are brief; try to keep an article or book chapter’s summary to a paragraph or so.

Describe and evaluate the potential of the source in your annotation:
 Make your annotations descriptive. Information that might not seem relevant early on
   may become critical later, so try to relay accurately the content and scope of the
 Provide an analysis of the relevance and the quality of the source you are annotating
   for your research project. Discuss how it might fit into your work.
 Don’t focus on your emotional responses to the reading, for instance, don’t write that
   the article “makes [you] angry.” However, do make the annotation serve your
You are likely to review, skim, and read dozens, if not a hundred, sources. Your
annotated bibliography provides you with a descriptive trail back into areas of your
research that you will need later.

Using Online Research Strategies
Consult chapter 10 for strategies for conducting online research effectively.

Using Library and Field Research Strategies
Consult chapter 11, which discusses strategies for conducting research at the library and
in the field.

Using Information Effectively
Consult chapter 12, “Using Sources Ethically,” which provides information on how to
summarize, paraphrase, and quote from your sources in rhetorically effective ways. The
chapter also contrasts ethical and unethical uses of sources.

Documenting Sources
Every source whose ideas or words you end up using in your research paper must be
documented so that readers know where the information came from. Depending on the
field you are studying, you may use different systems of documentation. In composition
and other humanities courses, you will probably cite your sources according to the
Modern Language Association (MLA) style (see chapter 13) or perhaps the Chicago
Manual of Style (CMS) system (see chapter 15). In the social sciences you’ll likely use
the American Psychological Association system (APA); see chapter 14. In the sciences
you may use the Council of Science Editors style (CSE); see chapter 16. If you are using
MLA or APA style but have numerous online sources, or if you will be posting your
work online, you may want to consider using the Columbia Guide to Online Style
(CGOS) system; see chapter 17. It would be smart to ask your instructor which
documentation style you should be using.

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