Guidelines for Writing Research Papers
Your paper should be a research paper, i.e., one that requires library research. It should supplement and deepen your knowledge of a topic relevant to this course, and while it may begin with or include what you learned in lecture or in the assigned readings, it must go well beyond these, showing that you acquired some information on your own.
The hardest part of writing a paper is deciding what, exactly, you want to say. Selecting a topic is not enough. Your paper should make an argument, pose a question, state a hypothesis, or in some other way direct the reader to a specific issue. A paper which is simply "about" some general topic does not usually merit a good grade, especially when the topic is very broad. First select a topic, some general area that interests you, and start reading. It often helps to begin with general reference works, such as subject encyclopedias or area handbooks, to familiarize yourself with a topic and provide some leads. Don't forget your textbooks as a good place to look for potential topics and some initial references. As you read, begin to narrow your thoughts into a thesis or problem. The first few questions you devise may require further revision as your reading continues.
You may come up with a question or problem that no one had thought to ask in just that way before. This means that you will not find articles and books addressed exactly to that problem. Remember that this is a research paper, and that you will be using library resources based on other people's first-hand research for your own ends. You will be gleaning these resources to find information or make inferences about your problem. This often requires putting together lots of little bits of information from several places and interpreting these pieces in a new way, or using them to suggest something new. Problem oriented papers often end with a solution or with a decision about which of two or more competing views the writer favors. Even if you do not succeed in finding a clear answer to your problem, you may succeed in pointing to an important gap in our knowledge, or suggest a direction for future field research.