Writing Well: Paper Chase

Paper Chase

In a research paper …

  • They write: It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding …
  • They mean: I don't get it.

By the end of this section, you will get it, all of it. That's because writing a research paper is easy when you take it step by step, which is what you'll learn here. First, I'll explain the difference between a research paper and a term paper, the two major types of investigative reports. Then you'll learn the first crucial steps in the process: selecting a subject, narrowing it to a specific topic, and writing a thesis statement.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

  • Parent: “What do you want to be when you grow up, Billy?”
  • Child: “A researcher, of course.”

Yes, every child dreams of becoming a researcher. Not very likely, eh? However, the odds are great that every child will do hard time in the library or in cyberspace hunting for the facts they need. They'll be standing right next to every adult in town, too. That's because research is essential to our lives.

Whether you're looking for information about a van's safety record, a town's schools, or a company's stocks, you'll need to know how to gather, sort, and track the facts and opinions available to you.

Author! Author!

In America, research papers were first assigned in schools in the 1870s. By the turn of the century, most universities required seniors to write a research paper as a prerequisite for graduation. These essays were four to 12 pages long. Realizing that they had stumbled upon a good way to prepare students to be critical thinkers and responsible citizens, instructors decided to require underclass students to churn out a research paper as well. By the 1930s, high school students were writing term papers, too. Now, students as young as the first grade are learning the basics of writing a research paper. You can run, but you can't hide.

Employees in the public as well as private sector are often required to write research papers, especially in hot fields where information is flying around at dizzying speeds. The logic is strong: If you can gather the facts in a readable format, then you've got the power to make logical decisions and reasonable judgments. That's why you need to know how to write a research paper.

The facts you gather can be presented in two forms: as a research paper and as a term paper. The two types of writing are confused more often than Patty and Cathy, partly because there are no fixed differences between them regarding length, topic, format, or citations. Let's see how they're the same and different.

Meet the Research Paper

A research paper presents and argues a thesis, the writer's hypothesis, theory, or opinion. Therefore, a research paper is an analytical or persuasive essay that evaluates a position. When you write a research paper, you'll use outside evidence to persuade your readers that your argument is valid or at least deserves serious consideration.

Because your thesis will be original and creative, you won't be able to merely summarize what someone else has written. Instead, you'll have to synthesize information from many different sources to create something uniquely your own.

As you reach your own conclusions about the topic, you'll persuade readers that you're onto something good.

Word Watch

A research paper is persuasive, as it argues a thesis. A term paper is expository, as it shows or tells.

In brief, a research paper …

  • Argues a point.
  • Formulates a thesis.
  • Argues/persuades.
  • Evaluates.
  • Considers why and how.

And Here's the Term Paper

A term paper doesn't argue a point or try to convince readers to think or act a certain way. Rather, a term paper is a summary of information from one or more sources. When you write a term paper, you're serving as a conduit, reporting what others have said.

Don't treat the term paper as a dowdy country cousin, however. Term papers are a great way to present a lot of data in an organized and easy-to-use form. That's why government employees often write term papers with information on the economy, demographics, transportation, and so forth.

In brief, a term paper …

  • Presents data.
  • Reports what others said.
  • Explains or describes.
  • Summarizes.
  • Considers what.

We're going to focus on research papers here, because they require more analytical thinking and original thought. As a result, they're more challenging to write.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.