WRITING for REAL: Rhetorics of the Service-Learning Contact Zone
 

 Assignment #3:

The Research Paper

 

Assignment Overview / Topics / Numbers and Kinds of Sources / A Word on Research Reports as Opposed to Documented Arguments / Incremental Deadlines

Assignment Overview

The research paper is the product of complex cycles of questioning, searching, learning, thinking, and writing. The research paper is more complex than most other academic writing you do not simply because it is longer but also because in it you must balance and interweave often complicated (sometimes even contradictory) material from many and various primary and secondary sources with your own observations, thoughts, and analysis.

Just as any decent written product represents an involved writing process, a good research paper will have behind it, in addition and often invisibly, a many-layered research process, which will include:

1) the crucial choice of topic;

2) preliminary research representing initial investigation of your possible topic (and perhaps you will go through this more than once before you are sure you've found a topic you can develop and sharpen into a strong and focused thesis, that will support the amount and type of research you need to accumulate around it, and that you can throw yourself into with real enthusiasm);

3) accumulation of bibliographic material comprised of secondary and primary source possibilities, some of which, after wading or thinking through them, you will discard as useless or irrelevant;

4) close reading of abundant secondary material and, if you are conducting primary research in the form of surveys or interviews, for example, planning, coordinating, and executing these;

5) careful note-taking (or tape recording and transcribing);

6) detailed and formal outlining of your essay, showing how you plan to organize thoughts and integrate with them the outside material you want to use to support your statements, analyses, and arguments;

7) the original thinking necessary to make your secondary material work to support you rather than your slaving to rationalize its presence in your work;

8) and correct form in quoting, paraphrasing, and citing your sources in footnotes and bibliography.

 

Topics

To satisfy the research paper requirement in this course, you have several options:

1) You may write your research paper for your CWP agency, if your agency has need of such a project.

2) You may write an academic research paper on a topic directly or indirectly related to your CWP project.

3) You may write an academic research paper on an open topic, within the broad spectrum of our course theme.

Within any of these options, independent or collaborative projects are possible.

Whichever option you choose, the emphasis in this project is on complex research and documented writing. The completed project should be around 12 pages (no fewer than 10, no more than 15) for individual projects, not including footnotes or bibliography.

If your research paper is a Community Writing project (Option 1, above)...

If you choose to undertake your research paper as a CWP project, your choice of topic will be in large part or in whole determined by your agency's needs. Longer, more complex CWP projects that satisfy the research paper requirement might include reports, histories, grant proposals, or position papers. All projects will require complex primary and/or secondary research and must involve at least 10 outside sources.

Remember that CWP agencies will have their own standards for projects and in some cases deadlines that might differ from class deadlines. If your agency's due dates (for example, for a draft or a revision) come after the class due dates, please observe the class due dates. As you work on your research paper/community writing project, be sure to ask questions of your agency mentor that will help you keep the nature and purpose of the writing you have agreed to do for the organization clear and focused.

Whether you are undertaking an academic research project or one dedicated to CWP work, it is important to pace yourself carefully, so that the bulk of the work for this class does not clog an already heavy schedule (yours and mine) at the end of the quarter.

If you are writing an academic research paper (Options 2 or 3, above)...

You may choose to write an academic research paper on a topic that is directly or indirectly related to your work with your community agency. I strongly encourage you to consider this possibility. Your familiarity with your agency and your connections in the community will bring your topic to life and will provide exciting and original research opportunities.

Or you may choose to write on an acdemic topic that, although it is not related to your work with your agency, is clearly related to our broad course theme. In this course we have defined "community" in many different ways and have explored "community" from various points of view. If you choose to write on an academic topic, it's time for you to apply the concept of community in your own way.

It is crucial that your choice of an academic topic arise out of your genuine interest. You should know enough about your topic to know that you want to know more; you should know enough initially to know what questions to ask, questions that will motivate and guide your research.

 

Numbers and Kinds of Sources

In this project, I want to encourage you to think beyond the usual seconday sources that most students involved early in their academic careers restrict themselves to in research. There are so many research possibilities, especially at an institution as resource-rich as Stanford. Consider consulting

Secondary sources in Green Library and the many specialized libraries on campus (for example, Lane Medical Library and the Law School Library or the Biology and Engineering Libraries, just to name a few). You'll be amazed at just how many libraries are included within the Stanford Library system.

Remember that Stanford's libraries, as phenomenal as they are, aren't the only game in town. In some cases, local city or county libraries might provide better sources, particularly related to community issues, than our campus libraries provide. (Here are links to the Palo Alto Public Library and the San Francisco Public Library.)

Consider undertaking archival research. The collection of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, for example, provides an absolutely unique resource for students doing research in the area of war, revolution, and peace, including mass political movements of the 20th century; Special Collections in Green Library offer the same sort of opportunities, especially for those students who are researching aspects of life and history within the Stanford community. Or consider the possibility of doing archival research in the community -- for example, checking out documents and other resources that community organizations, including yours, have collected.

Primary sources in the form of interviews and/or surveys of your own design. As a CWP student, you are better connected and have more access to promising primary sources in the community than most students do -- take advantage of this! Depending upon your topic and your objectives, you may want to interview an academic or research expert in the area of your topic; a community member whose expertise distinguishes him or her in other ways; or individuals who represent a typical range of experience or whose individual experience, thoughts, or attitudes you want to explore in depth. You may want to survey a range of individuals within specific communities within or outside the university in order to investigate attitudes and trends related to your topic.

Media (and multimedia) will provide variety in information and perspective. Beyond print on the page, consider doing research on the internet (but use your critical intelligence in selecting online sources). Investigate documentary films and radio productions related to your topic. Use visual images -- photos, web page captures, maps, charts, to name a few possibilities -- as a way of exploring, illustrating, and thinking about your topic and, ultimately, a way of providing your reader with information, subjects and examples for analysis, and persuasive evidence and arguments in visual form.

There are two baseline requirements for kinds and use of sources in this research paper:

1) Plan on using a minimum of 12 sources in your final paper.

2) For academic research papers, at least 1/3 of your sources should be other than printed secondary sources (books, magazine/journal articles, and online sources that you are citing for text alone, for example). In other words, at least 1/3 of your sources should include alternatives in the form of primary sources (interviews and/or surveys of your own design), archival sources, media sources (video or audio), and visual/representational sources (photographs, maps, charts, for example).

 

A Word on Research Reports as Opposed to Documented Arguments (Including Analyses and Interpretations)

There tend to be two kinds of documented writing: research reports and documented arguments, analyses, or interpretations. The writer's job in writing a research report is to discover, relate, organize, and articulate the most essential primary and secondary source information on the subject and offer it to the reader without overt argument or judgment.

The documented argument, analysis, or interpretation, however, requires the writer, as a result of learning and thinking about the subject through the research process, to not simply coordinate the material, but to critically engage it. This kind of research is driven by the incessant question, Why? In a documented argument, analysis, or interpretation, the writer will demonstrate to the reader the analytic path s/he took and draw an active (whether it is definite or speculative) conclusion.

Although some CWP projects may take the form of research reports, I ask that anyone choosing to write an academic research paper aim for a documented argument, analysis, or interpretation -- driven, remember, by that incessant Why?

 

Incremental Deadlines

Please note incremental due dates for work involved in the research paper, specifically for topic idea, draft of the research proposal, revised research proposal, working bibliography reflecting preliminary research, annotated bibliography, formal outline, draft, peer review, and revision: