College English Research Paper Assignment Prompt

Virginia Montecino
 montecin@gmu.edu

© Virginia Montecino Jan 1997
You may use this assignment if you attribute the source and include the URL
http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/researchpap.htm

Research Paper

The goals of this assignment are to help you:

  • become more knowledgeable about finding and using varied research sources in your major.
  • further develop your critical thinking skills and back up your points with evidence.
  • become more adept at synthesizing information and developing informed views.
  • discipline yourself to follow a scholarly research format to document in-text sources and a reference page (bibliography).
  • compose a well organized, clear, concise, research paper to expand your knowledge on a subject in your major.
[You will need to go to a library to do this assignment. Do not expect to get all of our resources off the Internet. Scholarly sources which reside on the Internet and are also in print in a scholarly journal are not considered Internet sources. Many scholarly journals either do not publish on the Internet or have membership only access to journals online. I will not accept papers with only Web material as resources unless you convince me there is a valid reason. You may have to submit a request for some resources, so don't wait until the last minute.]

FIRST STEP: Before you brainstorm about topics or begin your proposal or research,  read "Help with Writing Research Papers(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm)."

I. Research Paper Proposal(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/res-pap-pro.html): You will submit a research paper proposal. See the due date for your proposal on the course schedule. Attach a copy of the final proposal to the end of the final version of your research paper to be turned in with your portfolio).

II. Research Paper: Yourresearch paper must be your own work. Review theHonor Code and Plagiarism  (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm) statement and the Copyright and the Internet(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm) guidelines.

Topic: Your research paper project begins with a fact finding search on some current issue in your major to advance your knowledge. After you brainstorm about possible subjects and then select one, narrow your topic down to a manageable issue. Investigate possible approaches to your chosen topic and map out your strategy. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence.

Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts.  If you aretaking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's).

Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Find 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. In this paper I do not want you to try and solve a problem or necessarily reach a conclusion. What I am looking for is evidence that you can gather a body of knowledge on a particular subject, narrow it down to a particular focus and show that you can synthesize the information and make some intelligent, insightful observations about the subject. What I don 't want is just a regurgitation of information strung together. A significant part of the paper should be your interpretation of the information and how your knowledge about the subject has been enriched.

Your paper should contain these parts:

Introduction: Your introductory material should set up your topic for your audience. Briefly summarize your findings on the subject - If the sources disagree about the value of or perspective on the subject, point out the areas of disagreement. Your introduction should not meander around the point of your paper. It may be more than one paragraph in length, but at some point, very early in the paper you then need to start the substance of the paper. Your thesis should come at the end of your introductory material. State your thesis in the form of a sentence or two. It shouldnot be in the form of a question. Your thesis should be a brief statement, in your own words, that points out the major issues about this topic that you discovered in your research. If you can't articulate in a sentence or two what your main point is then you probably don't have a good idea of what you will be writing about.

Body of Paper: Use subheadings, where appropriate, to separate different aspects of your paper which support your controlling idea (your thesis). The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence to support your thesis, in a logical, fully developed manner. For each new topic which supports your overall thesis, provide a topic sentence or two which is, in effect, the thesis for that sub-topic. If you do not use subheadings, you need to provide transition sentences to move your reader from one paragraph to the next. Your supporting sub-topics should address these issues: How will this knowledge advance science or technology or society - not in broad, abstract ways, but in concrete ways? What is the major impact of these findings? How will they affect people? What are the benefits to people? Are there any disadvantages? For example, if you are a nursing major, you might summarize findings on various treatment options or recent research findings for a particular medical condition. A computer science major might address a particular technology breakthrough with its plusses and minuses in application.

A writer of a research paper should synthesize the information gained from sources and weave them into a well ordered discourse, using the sources as evidence to support key points. A paper which is just a string of quotes shows that the author made no attempt to come to grips with the subject and is relying on the sources to speak for her or him.

Conclusion: Your conclusion should make some "wrap up" statements about what you learned about your chosen topic and the possible impact of your findings on people and perhaps society in general. Also, address any issues that may still not be resolved for you. Don't be reluctant to address any issues that aren't easily resolved or have negative or ambiguous outcomes. I am not necessarily looking for a neatly wrapped up conclusion with no loose ends. I am looking for a conscientious, thoughtful look at some topic in your field, sharing of the major significance of this issue, and any unanswered questions, if any, you are still dealing with.

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Audience: Your paper should be understood by a broader audience than scholars in your field - for example, your classmates. You will have to explain concepts and not expect your audience to understand in-house jargon. If you are working on a paper in your major for another class this semester or on the job, we can negotiate the focus of your paper and the audience requirements. Have a target audience in mind. Who would be interested in and benefit from your treatment of the subject? By anticipating your audience you can anticipate the kinds of questions that may arise.

Format: [Web-based papers will approximate these guidelines.]

I prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style. If you want to use another one, check with me.  Use one of these APA Research Style Guides(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm).

Length - 5 to 7 double spaced pages of text (not including graphics, cover page, appendices, or reference page). Ten "rambling" pages is not better than 7 clear, fully developed pages.

Margins - 1 inch top, bottom, left, right

Cover Page - in APA style (which should include your name, course and section, date, my name. The title should give your audience a good idea of what your paper is about - not tease your audience. For example, a clear title might be: The Internet - Changing the Way Students Learn and Teachers Teach.

Pagination: Put page numbers in top right hand corner of each page, including the cover page. Also include your last name and abbreviated title: Smith - Internet 2

Sources: Take notes on your sources and photocopy or print out original source material. I may ask to see them. For long articles, photocopy the first page, the pages you quote from, and the reference page (if there is one). Check out theGMU Libraries online and others  ( http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/book-lib.htm). Don't rely entirely on the Internet for sources. Search Bank - INFOTRAC (http://www.searchbank.com/searchbank/viva_gmu) - has the capability to transmit the full text of some article onto your Web Browser for saving to a file or for printing.) Also check out the Washington Research Library Consortium
(http://www.aladin.wrlc.org.)  You will be required to do some of your research at a "real," not virtual, library. Much scholarly work and other valuable information still resides only in hard copy. Relying only on the Internet will give you a false impression of what is out there.

Use a minimum of  7 varied and CURRENT sources (at least three from the past year 1997) - for example, journals in your major, Internet sources, interviews (no textbooks, please or encyclopedias - unless they are specialized encyclopedias in your field of study and you are using them for definitions of concepts. Encyclopedia and similar sources should be in addition to the 7 minimum. Books (often outdated by the time they get published) are generally poor sources for scientific subjects except for background info. Trade magazines or special interest group sources have built in biases, but can have some valuable information. But, for example, if you are writing about the value of advertising on the Internet, a company whose product is Internet advertisements would probably not be an objective source, but might be a good source for showing what is being done with Internet advertising. But you would have to point out the possible biased interest of the source. Check the source of all information for reliability. Is the Internet site sanctioned by a reputable institution or organization? Does the person you interview have credentials and experienced with your subject? Does he or she have a built in bias you need to address in your paper? What biases of your own may you have to be aware of to produce a scholarly look at this subject?

Documentation: Follow the online APA Style Guide (latest version) for documenting the sources in your text and your Reference Page. If you are unsure about a particular source, we can discuss it.

Use parenthetical citations (citation information in text between parenthesis) for information that is someone's opinion and is not common knowledge. Give parenthetical citation information for quotation sand paraphrases. Include page number for direct quotes. APA requires the date be included in in-text citations:

As Smith (1993) stated, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable evidence than scholarly or professional journals" (p. 2).

OR

As Smith said, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable information than scholarly or professional journals" (1993, p. 2).

Paraphrased version: Magazines written for a lay audience tend to have less objective information than that found in scholarly publications (Smith, 1993). NOTE: There are no quotation marks or page number for a paraphrase. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words the original author's EXACT meaning - not just rearranging words in the author's original text. You can embed a short quote of a key phrase in paraphrased material and give the page number of the quote.

It is poor form to begin a paragraph or a sentence with a quotation - letting the source speak for you instead of incorporating the source into your text. For example, here is an example of poor form, which shows no input from the writer of the paper. He or she is just writing what the original author said, without trying to paraphrase the information or, at the very least setting up the quote in context:

"The proliferation of multiple births in this country speaks to the need to formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (Jones, 1997, p. 82).

An example of a more graceful form of setting up a quote is:

Because of significant number of multiple births in the United States, Jones points out that this country needs to "formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (1997, p. 82-84).

All sources in your research paper, like the examples above, are not only documented in the body of your paper, but must also be listed in the proper format on the References page.

Use quotes judiciously. Use them only when paraphrasing will make the statement unclear or a kernel of an idea is so perfectly stated that trying to paraphrase in your own words will ruin the impact of the statement. See the APA Style Guides for how to handle long quotes

Appendices: Graphics or charts should only be used if they can clarify some concept in your paper. Don't use them just for a "flashy" effect or for "gee whiz" value. If you include large graphics or charts, include each on a separate appendix page and label each one A, B, and so on. Refer to such appendices in the text where you discuss that issue. Graphs, charts, and appendices are not included as pages of text. They must be in addition to the 5 to 7 pages.

Final advice - try to relax

Consult me when needed throughout the process - I'm happy to help. 


 Virginia Montecino |montecin@gmu.edu

English 101 Research Paper
 

2000-3000 words

Draft 1 Due in class TBD

Draft 2 Due in class TBD

Final Draft Due to Turnitin.com by 11:59 pm TBD
 

As we have discussed in class, the role of the hero is rarely as simple as a good person doing good things.  Sometimes a hero is unwilling to take on responsibilities; sometimes a hero is selfish; sometimes a person who isn’t particularly good performs heroic acts; sometimes we are asked to see someone as a hero, but for some reason, we just can’t.  The purpose of this Research Paper assignment is to develop a standard for what makes a fictional character a hero, and then test that standard on an example of your choosing.

Part One

            You need to come up with your personal definition for what makes a character a hero.  This should be based on careful consideration of traditionally accepted heroic traits and behaviors, as well as commentary on the topic by other writers.  By the end of this section you should have provided your reader with a clear description of the qualities a hero should possess and how a hero should react to various challenges.

          This section of your Research Paper will be where the majority of your research is performed.  The subject of heroism has inspired a lot of writing by philosophers, psychologists, and literary scholars, and the GCC library has a large selection of books on the topic. You need to look at different discussions of the subject and then interact with them.  Let these authors get your thought process started.  You do not, by any means, need to agree with what other authors have written – in fact some very good writing may come out of you explaining why those authors are wrong – but hopefully reading what they have written will help you refine your own definition.  In this section you must cite at least three different reliable sources through quotes, summary, and/or paraphrase.


Part Two

            Having defined what a hero should be, you will now look at a fictional example of your choosing and perform an analysis of whether or not this character meets your standards.  Your character can come from any fictional source: books, movies, television, video games, comic books, etc.  He or she should be the character that is presented as the protagonist (main character) of the source.

            You will present a description of the character and his or her story, quoting if and when necessary (If you’re using a tv or movie example, see if you can find a script online.  If not, paraphrase as completely as possible).  You will then make an argument that the character either is or is not a hero based on the standards that you have previously established.  You need to explain your reasoning for why the character does or does not fit your standards.

            For this essay, you are essentially answering two big questions:

  1. How do you define the term “hero”?
  2. Is your character a hero?  Why or why not?

Within these questions, you need to develop a thesis that makes a clear argument about your subject matter.

Examples:

Bad thesis: Katniss Everdeen performs many heroic acts in The Hunger Games. (Factual!!!!)
 

Okay thesis: A hero must be unselfish, brave, and physically attractive. (Technically a standard

is being established, but there’s very little connection between the three points and a bigger idea

isn’t being introduced.)

Better thesis: While Katniss Everdeen performs many heroic acts in The Hunger Games, they are

all in pursuit of her own selfish desires.  Just because others benefit from her actions does not

automatically make her a hero.  (There is an implication of the standards for heroism that will be

established as well as a clear announcement of the author’s fictional example and a hint at the

judgement of that character.)

Better thesis: It is possible for a character who is selfish to play the role of a hero – benefitting

others, solving problems, improving the world – but if those heroic acts are accidental side

effects of purely selfish behavior, then that character is not a true hero. (The fictional example

does not have to be part of the thesis.)

English 101 Research Paper Grading Rubric
 

Criteria                                                               Percentage of Total Grade

Introduction                                                               15%

The first paragraph clearly identifies the topic of the paper and introduces the fictional example that will be discussed. A strong argumentative thesis forecasts the structure of the essay.

Organization                                                              15%

There must be a clear development of the essay topic from one paragraph to the next.  Each paragraph should focus on one main point identified in its topic sentence.  Special attention should be paid to transitions between paragraphs.

MLA Format                                                             10%

Material from all sources (both primary and secondary) should be woven together as seamlessly as possible using MLA format to identify all references.

Critical Thinking                                                       30%

The essay should demonstrate the author's careful consideration of the subject matter through a well-developed definition of "hero," followed by an analysis of a fictional example that implements the previously established definition.

Source Usage                                                             10%

The essay should use the minimum number of required sources through quotations, summary, and paraphrase. Sources should be used thoughtfully and effectively, and should not be relied on excessively.

Mechanics                                                                  10%

The essay should demonstrate careful attention to proofreading and be free of problems with punctuation, spelling, and syntax.

Works Cited                                                              10%

The essay includes a works cited page that uses correct MLA bibliographic citations

 

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