A Brief Explanation of the Research Paper

Before You Begin
What is a Research Paper?
A research paper (sometimes called a report) is a composition that goes beyond your own personal knowledge and experiences and uses outside resources to present information.

Every research paper should have a thesis statement. This is a single statement that explains the purpose of your research paper.

Your thesis statement will be influenced by your purpose. Here are some of the purposes for writing a research paper.

Why Am I Writing This?
Presenting Information
This is the simplest, and it presents facts and details related to a specific subject.
        Major Battles of the Civil War
        Early Methods of Mass Communication

Comparing and Contrasting
This type of report shows how two or more items are similar, and how they are different. You can begin by explaining characteristics of each item, followed by explanations of how they are similar and how they different. In certain cases, the conclusion might make a determination about which is better or more appropriate for a certain circumstance.
        Zone Defense versus Man to Man
        Buying a car versus Leasing a Car

Showing Cause and Effect
This type of report explores the nature of a cause and effect relationship. It might show how certain actions produce certain results, or it might search for the cause of a particular event.
        The Effect of Gunpowder on Modern Warfare
        The Effect of Robots on Modern Manufacturing

This type of research paper presents a point of view and backs it up with facts and convincing reasons.

Choosing a Topic
There are several questions you need to ask yourself when choosing your topic.
1.    Do I find the topic interesting?
2.    Will my reader(s) find it interesting?
3.    Does it meet my teacherís requirements?
4.    Is it specific?
5.    Can I state my purpose in a one-sentence thesis?
6.    Can I find enough good sources?

Thesis Statement
Once you have found your topic, you can create a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that explains the purpose of your paper.


Example #1
The Internet has dramatically changed the way Americans conduct business.

Example #2
Despite the fact that few people recognize his name, Joseph Henry discovered or invented many of the important breakthroughs related to electricity and electromagnetism.

Research Questions
These are questions you need to answer to find information for your report. They should be written before you do your major research, although you might want to do some preliminary research before you write them.

examples of research questions:

1.    When was Joseph Henry born?
2.    Why havenít most people heard of him?
3.    What things did he invent?
4.    What other inventors based their work on his work?
5.    Did he make a lot of money from his inventions?

Paraphrasing is putting an idea in your own words. Using another personís words (or unique ideas) is considered plagiarism.

You can use another personís words if you use quotation marks and credit the source.

Hereís a passage from a book.

     As public speakers, we need to know our information well, and organize it well. Once we have prepared well, we donít have to search for the right words. We have already discovered the right words.

In a report, you can do one of two things. You can paraphrase, or you can use a direct quotation.

example of paraphrasing:

     Public speakers need to be prepared and to have well-organized information.

example of a direct quotation:

"As public speakers, we need to know our information well, and organize it well."

In either case, I would need to mention that the information came from outside source. (In this case, the information came from Public Address: A Progressive Plan by Robert Allbitten, PhD.)

Documenting Your Sources
Any time you use information, you must tell your reader where you found it. This way the reader can check your sources, and you avoid the problem of plagiarism.

Common information does not need to be documented. If you say that Grand Rapids is a city in Michigan, you donít need a source; itís common knowledge. On the other hand, if you talk about the population of Grand Rapids or how many inches of snow we get in the average year, you need to tell us your source.

At the end of your paper, youíll have a list of the sources you used. Sometimes this is called a bibliography, and sometimes it is called a list of works cited.

example of works cited/bibliography :

Works Cited

Aston, Carl. Joseph Henry: The Untold Story. New York: Science House Publishers, 2003.

Barcome, Basil. "The Man Behind the Magnet." Journal of Science and Magnetism. Oct. 2003: 97-104.

"Henry, Joseph." New Brainum Encyclopedia. 2004 ed.

Examples of documentation:
    Joseph Henry created two of the most important electrical inventions, the electric motor and the electric relay (Ashton 241). Because of this, some people feel his contributions are more important that those of Franklin or Edison. "Joseph Henry is the greatest genius the world ever failed to appreciate. (Barcome, 127).


As Carl Ashton notes in his book, Joseph Henry created two of the most important electrical inventions, the electric motor and the electrical relay (241). Basil Barcome states "Joseph Henry is the greatest genius the world ever failed to appreciate. (127).

For more information regarding documentation, click here.

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