Guide to the Research Project Liberal Studies Gateway Experience Overview of the Research Project The Research Project for Liberal Studies Gateway involves several different steps as well as the submission of the following: 1. A thesis based on preliminary research 2. An annotated bibliography of five sources (maximum of two web sources). 3. A detailed summary of the project including an outline, a fully developed introduction, and a fully developed conclusion. Each of the topics you’ve been given is based on one or more of the California Content Standards for Grades K through 6. Your job is to refine the general topic into a researchable argument or thesis that can be developed in a 5-6 page paper. You will undertake research by familiarizing yourself with the work of “experts” and compare your own ideas on the topic to theirs. You will not write the whole paper; instead you will write a detailed annotated bibliography and a detailed outline of the argument you would develop if you were to write out the whole paper. Refining Your Topic Once you have your general topic, you need to narrow it down to a researchable question. This involves brainstorming ideas and developing a research question that is neither too broad nor too narrow for a 5-6 page paper. To illustrate this, we’ll work through a sample topic. Let’s say you’ve been given the following topic for your research project: The First Great Awakening: a source of transformation (Grade 5, Social Science 5.4.4) Identify the significance and leaders of the First Great Awakening, which marked a shift in religious ideas, practices, and allegiances in the colonial period, the growth of religious toleration, and free exercise of religion. First, you may need to find some background material on your topic. In this case, the First Great Awakening was an evangelical movement that started in the 1730s in New England which was an attempt by many ministers and laypeople to return to the religious beginnings of the American colonies in the 17th century. It marked a shift in the way Colonial Americans perceived religion and in many ways changed the nature of religion in the period. The following two resources were provided for this topic: http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us:8080/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm and Butler, Jon. “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction.” The Journal of American History 69 (1982) 305-325. First, you would read these two resources, one of which (the web site) is a general overview of the period and the other of which (the article) is a criticism of such general overviews. (In the case of a book, you would skim the introduction, table of contents and key chapters to determine the relevant parts for your topic, and probably just read key sections.) As you read, try to formulate an idea in your mind for a research question. Next, you will probably want to explore other materials. You might start looking for other web sites on the topic, and do library/print research in the Oviatt Library on-line catalog, using the SUBJECT search option. You will encounter a number of different ideas before a single idea for a research question finally gels. Don’t be afraid to formulate a list of questions. For the sample topic on the First Great Awakening, questions might include: Was the movement a radical one that advocated and precipitated change? Was the movement a conservative one that attempted to return to an earlier way of religious life? Indeed, framing your own questions and searching for responses is an essential part of this process. Also remember that research itself often generates more questions. Experts often disagree but this can help you to focus and or clarify your own thoughts on the topic. So, back to our sample topic and let’s assume you’ve conducted preliminary research. An Idea: Was the First Great Awakening a radical movement in colonial history? Sounds like a good question. Is it? Well— Did you find articles that address that question? Did your initial sources take a stand on it? Can you formulate your own ideas about the answer to the question based on your preliminary research? Is there evidence to support your claim? Are there scholars that argue the opposite point? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you probably want to clarify your own ideas and/or conduct more research. If the answer to these questions is yes, then you’ve got a good research question. Developing a Thesis Once you’ve got a good research question the next step is developing a preliminary thesis. The thesis is an answer to the question that argues a position or point of view. It may not be a simple answer, but it should reflect your reading and thinking on the topic. A Possible Thesis: The movements often described as the First Great Awakening were radical in their approach to faith and in their implications toward Colonial American ideology and life and predicted the social changes inherent in the Revolution and the early 19th century. Ok, sounds like a thesis. It takes a stand, makes a case. It’s not too broad or too vague. It might be narrow enough for a 5 - 6 page paper. The articles you’ve found have evidence that allow you to support it, but don’t make that same case themselves. So, you’ve probably got a preliminary thesis suitable to submit to your instructor for approval. Congratulations!
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