Guidelines for Writing a Good First-Year Research Paper in the Social Sciences
Adapted from "America's Suburban Landscape" First-Year Seminar Course.
Note: If you are writing your paper one section at a time, it often makes sense to do your main arguments first and then circle back to the materials you want to cover in your introduction. This list of guidelines is best employed while engaging in a thorough and patient revision process.
Writing a Good Introduction: (5 pages or so)
-Establish what the problem or conflict is.
-Find a way to grab your reader’s attention.
-Define important terms.
-Show what is at stake and why the issue is important.
-Provide a broad historical context and background for the issue.
-Describe the setting and context in which your issue is being debated.
-Introduce the actors affected by this issue (e.g., individuals, governments, businesses, non-profit organizations).
-Establish different schools of thought.
-Describe the processes through which decisions will be made and who the decision-makers are.
-Who’s paying the bills?
-Provide a concise, targeted thesis statement that is focused, important, researchable, and arguable.
Writing a Good Literature Review and Research Design (not required): (would be 3 pages or so-----this is not required for your papers, given our heavy emphasis on using other people’s research, but helpful to see for the future);
-Outline how you are going to test your hypothesis in an unbiased fashion – think of the scientific method.
-Provide a road map for your research and for your paper.
-Introduce your most important sources to the reader. Establish their authority.
-Talk about any specific research methods you plan on using. (e.g., statistical analysis)
-Trace the history of scholarship on this topic. How will you be building off this work? Describe the on-going conversation about your subject. What are some areas of tension or disagreement?
Writing a Good Main Argument: (7 pages or so)
-Back up your thesis with a series of claims and related evidence. (Revisit our notes on the Smyrna, Tennessee chapter as needed)
-Tell a story. While using your sources, make your argument in your own words and through your own design. Remember our discussions in class about paraphrasing. Direct quotations should be used sparingly, in such cases as recording rhetorical emphasis, making a historical notation, or where another person’s definition or observation is crucial to the audience’s understanding. Make sure to dig into a variety of sources throughout this section.
-Make a persuasive, cogent argument. In the first sections of the paper, you are simply a dispassionate observer describing a problem. Here you have a specific point to make and you may demonstrate your conviction about a particular issue.
-Use Evidence: statistics, primary sources, historical examples, archives, map/photo/image analysis, case-studies, interviews with experts, modeling (comparing the situation with others like it), logic, other people’s scholarly research (a key in the FYS), and perhaps a few popular articles to help put things in context.
-Stay on task: Don’t stray from your thesis.
-Address your detractors’ arguments in a serious and fair manner. Discuss why you ultimately reject their conclusions.
Writing a Good Conclusion: (2 pages or so)
-Briefly review and restate your main arguments.
-Discuss the broader implications of your research and the issue.
-Describe how things might look in 20 years with regard to this problem.
-Explain why your findings are important.
-Think about where future research might lead.
-In some cases, you might make policy suggestions based on your findings.
General Writing Tips:
Vary your language choices and sentence structure.
When possible, keep your sentences and paragraphs short---Hacker provides some good ideas on how to eliminate needless words that can clog up a sentence.
Watch out for excessive passive voice. In some cases, you can fix this problem by simply moving the primary subject to the beginning of the sentence.
Use precise language.
Make sure your citations are complete. Remember that we cite to give credit to others, to prove that our work is authentic and trustworthy, and to provide a "road map" our audience and other researchers.
Remember how to use (and not use!) the comma.
Work with your outline and/or idea map nearby.
Don’t use fallacies in your work.
Written by Matt McCluskey, Coordinator of Academic Support