Now, let’s take a look at how you are going to write a survey-type research paper or an argumentative research paper. In a survey-type research paper, you gather facts and a variety of opinions on a given topic. You make little attempt to interpret or evaluate what your sources say or to prove a particular point. Instead, through quotation, summary, and paraphrase, you try to provide a representative sampling of facts and opinions to give an objective report on your topic. You explain the pros and cons of various attitudes or opinions, but you don’t side definitely with any one of them.
While in an argumentative research paper, you do considerably more. You do not simply quote, paraphrase, and summarize as you do in a survey-type paper. You interpret, question, compare, and judge the statements you cite. You explain why one opinion is sound and another is not; why one fact is relevant and another is not; why one writer is correct and another is mistaken. What’s more, your purpose may vary with your topic. You may try to explain a situation to recommend a course of action, to reveal the solution to a problem, or to present and defend a particular interpretation of a historical event or a work of art. But whether the topic is space travel or trends in contemporary American literature, an argumentative research paper deals actively – I say it again, actively – with the statements it cites. It makes these statements work together in an argument that you create, that is, to an argument leading to a conclusion of your own.
In the next part of the lecture, I’d like to talk about one of the basic steps in writing I mentioned earlier in the lecture. That is how to choose a topic. Choosing a topic for a research paper is in some ways like choosing a topic for an ordinary essay, but there are some differences. As you think about your topic, ask yourself these questions:
Question number one: Do you really want to know more about this topic? This is the initial question you have to ask yourself, because research on any subject will keep you busy for weeks. You certainly do not wish to waste your time on something you have little interest in. You do it well only if you expect to learn something interesting or important in the process.