It's time to write a research paper. You've thought about your topic, and gathered many sources. How do you present those sources in your paper? You'll learn about how to structure your sources, include your own analysis, and use sources to support an argument. This focuses on how to incorporate sources into a research assignment at the college or university level.
Throughout history, all well-known figures have drawn ideas from those that came before them to formulate their own ideas. Isaac Newton famously said, "If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." All sorts of famous figures have used ideas that came before them to create their own original ideas including activists and speakers, businessmen, artists. Building on sources makes your own ideas better.
MAKE AN ARGUMENT
You can think of writing a research paper as presenting an argument or a point of view. Every scholarly research paper contains a thesis, and the thesis is the central argument of your paper.
Example Thesis: "Though some argue that there is a lack of evidence suggesting a future decline in polar bear populations, studies have shown that climate change will cause a significant decrease in their numbers."
All of the sources included in your paper must relate back to your thesis in some way. It's your job to use these sources to support your central thesis. It's often good to include sources that agree with your central thesis as well as those that don't agree with your central thesis. Examining and addressing multiple sides of the argument often makes your own argument stronger.
Think about sources on a given topic as a conversation between people you haven't met. First you listen to the conversation for a while. As you listen, you develop an understanding of the people participating in the conversation. You think about how the characteristics that you've observed might impact the arguments that the other people are making. Examples:
“Human abuse of natural resources has caused drastic climate change. Polar bear populations will rapidly declining due to climate change.” –environmental activist, passionate, urgent
“Data supports the theory that climate change will contribute to a decline polar bear populations.” –well-known environmental researcher, arguments based on studies, factual
“Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Environmentalists are using polar bear population statistics as a scare-tactic.” –background in business, calm tone, minority opinion
After listening to the conversation for a while, you jump in. When one person presents their ideas, you respond with your own thoughts. This is one of the main differences between scholarly research papers and other papers that you might have written in the past. It is not enough just to present sources. You also have to present your own ideas and responses in relation to those sources. Sometimes this is called presenting analysis.
COMPONENTS OF SOURCE INCLUSION
Whenever you present ideas from an outside source, there are three main components that you need to include:
First, provide an introduction. It may include source info, background info, transition phrases. The introduction is a way for you to setup the information that you'll be presenting from the outside source.
Next, include the idea from the source as either a direct quote, paraphrase or summary. Make sure to always properly cite ideas from other sources.
Finally, include an analysis of the ideas that you've presented. An analysis will include your response, interpretations or arguments in relation to the idea from the outside source. Analysis is crucial for a good research paper, and it is probably the most important step in this process.
There are three primary ways to present ideas from another source in your research paper: direct quote, paraphrase and summary.
Direct quote: Exact words from a source. Include quotation marks (depending on quote length) and citation.
Paraphrase: Idea from a source written in your own words. Usually about the same length as original quote. Often used to simplify language. No quotation marks BUT citation is necessary.
Summary: Ideas from source written in your own words. Shorter than original quote. Used to give an overview of many ideas. No quotation marks BUT citation is necessary.
Be sure to cite correctly! See Willamette's Citation Guides for more info.
RELATE TO THE ARGUMENT
Remember that ideas that you present from outside sources must always relate back to your central thesis in some way. Make sure that you clearly present how these outside ideas relate to your thesis in your analysis.
Take a look at the example below. Notice that this example includes an introduction, a direct quote and some analysis. Keep in mind that this is just a snippet of the analysis that would be necessary to include in a paper discussing this quote.
Amstrup et al. (2009) conclude their rebuttal, stating: "The effects of global warming on polar bears, if it continues as projected, will be severe; by mid-century, polar bears will most likely be limited to a small portion of their current range" (366). This conclusion is well supported by scientific evidence supplied in the report unlike the arguments set forth in Armstrong et al. (2008)...
You might find that resources provided by your library can be really helpful, and you can access many of these resources online through your library's website.
Don't forget that our librarians are excellent resources!