Science Research Paper Assignment Instructions

Virginia Montecino
 montecin@gmu.edu

© Virginia Montecino Jan 1997
You may use this assignment if you attribute the source and include the URL
http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/researchpap.htm

Research Paper

The goals of this assignment are to help you:

  • become more knowledgeable about finding and using varied research sources in your major.
  • further develop your critical thinking skills and back up your points with evidence.
  • become more adept at synthesizing information and developing informed views.
  • discipline yourself to follow a scholarly research format to document in-text sources and a reference page (bibliography).
  • compose a well organized, clear, concise, research paper to expand your knowledge on a subject in your major.
[You will need to go to a library to do this assignment. Do not expect to get all of our resources off the Internet. Scholarly sources which reside on the Internet and are also in print in a scholarly journal are not considered Internet sources. Many scholarly journals either do not publish on the Internet or have membership only access to journals online. I will not accept papers with only Web material as resources unless you convince me there is a valid reason. You may have to submit a request for some resources, so don't wait until the last minute.]

FIRST STEP: Before you brainstorm about topics or begin your proposal or research,  read "Help with Writing Research Papers(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm)."

I. Research Paper Proposal(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/res-pap-pro.html): You will submit a research paper proposal. See the due date for your proposal on the course schedule. Attach a copy of the final proposal to the end of the final version of your research paper to be turned in with your portfolio).

II. Research Paper: Yourresearch paper must be your own work. Review theHonor Code and Plagiarism  (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm) statement and the Copyright and the Internet(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm) guidelines.

Topic: Your research paper project begins with a fact finding search on some current issue in your major to advance your knowledge. After you brainstorm about possible subjects and then select one, narrow your topic down to a manageable issue. Investigate possible approaches to your chosen topic and map out your strategy. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence.

Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts.  If you aretaking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's).

Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Find 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. In this paper I do not want you to try and solve a problem or necessarily reach a conclusion. What I am looking for is evidence that you can gather a body of knowledge on a particular subject, narrow it down to a particular focus and show that you can synthesize the information and make some intelligent, insightful observations about the subject. What I don 't want is just a regurgitation of information strung together. A significant part of the paper should be your interpretation of the information and how your knowledge about the subject has been enriched.

Your paper should contain these parts:

Introduction: Your introductory material should set up your topic for your audience. Briefly summarize your findings on the subject - If the sources disagree about the value of or perspective on the subject, point out the areas of disagreement. Your introduction should not meander around the point of your paper. It may be more than one paragraph in length, but at some point, very early in the paper you then need to start the substance of the paper. Your thesis should come at the end of your introductory material. State your thesis in the form of a sentence or two. It shouldnot be in the form of a question. Your thesis should be a brief statement, in your own words, that points out the major issues about this topic that you discovered in your research. If you can't articulate in a sentence or two what your main point is then you probably don't have a good idea of what you will be writing about.

Body of Paper: Use subheadings, where appropriate, to separate different aspects of your paper which support your controlling idea (your thesis). The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence to support your thesis, in a logical, fully developed manner. For each new topic which supports your overall thesis, provide a topic sentence or two which is, in effect, the thesis for that sub-topic. If you do not use subheadings, you need to provide transition sentences to move your reader from one paragraph to the next. Your supporting sub-topics should address these issues: How will this knowledge advance science or technology or society - not in broad, abstract ways, but in concrete ways? What is the major impact of these findings? How will they affect people? What are the benefits to people? Are there any disadvantages? For example, if you are a nursing major, you might summarize findings on various treatment options or recent research findings for a particular medical condition. A computer science major might address a particular technology breakthrough with its plusses and minuses in application.

A writer of a research paper should synthesize the information gained from sources and weave them into a well ordered discourse, using the sources as evidence to support key points. A paper which is just a string of quotes shows that the author made no attempt to come to grips with the subject and is relying on the sources to speak for her or him.

Conclusion: Your conclusion should make some "wrap up" statements about what you learned about your chosen topic and the possible impact of your findings on people and perhaps society in general. Also, address any issues that may still not be resolved for you. Don't be reluctant to address any issues that aren't easily resolved or have negative or ambiguous outcomes. I am not necessarily looking for a neatly wrapped up conclusion with no loose ends. I am looking for a conscientious, thoughtful look at some topic in your field, sharing of the major significance of this issue, and any unanswered questions, if any, you are still dealing with.

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Audience: Your paper should be understood by a broader audience than scholars in your field - for example, your classmates. You will have to explain concepts and not expect your audience to understand in-house jargon. If you are working on a paper in your major for another class this semester or on the job, we can negotiate the focus of your paper and the audience requirements. Have a target audience in mind. Who would be interested in and benefit from your treatment of the subject? By anticipating your audience you can anticipate the kinds of questions that may arise.

Format: [Web-based papers will approximate these guidelines.]

I prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style. If you want to use another one, check with me.  Use one of these APA Research Style Guides(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm).

Length - 5 to 7 double spaced pages of text (not including graphics, cover page, appendices, or reference page). Ten "rambling" pages is not better than 7 clear, fully developed pages.

Margins - 1 inch top, bottom, left, right

Cover Page - in APA style (which should include your name, course and section, date, my name. The title should give your audience a good idea of what your paper is about - not tease your audience. For example, a clear title might be: The Internet - Changing the Way Students Learn and Teachers Teach.

Pagination: Put page numbers in top right hand corner of each page, including the cover page. Also include your last name and abbreviated title: Smith - Internet 2

Sources: Take notes on your sources and photocopy or print out original source material. I may ask to see them. For long articles, photocopy the first page, the pages you quote from, and the reference page (if there is one). Check out theGMU Libraries online and others  ( http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/book-lib.htm). Don't rely entirely on the Internet for sources. Search Bank - INFOTRAC (http://www.searchbank.com/searchbank/viva_gmu) - has the capability to transmit the full text of some article onto your Web Browser for saving to a file or for printing.) Also check out the Washington Research Library Consortium
(http://www.aladin.wrlc.org.)  You will be required to do some of your research at a "real," not virtual, library. Much scholarly work and other valuable information still resides only in hard copy. Relying only on the Internet will give you a false impression of what is out there.

Use a minimum of  7 varied and CURRENT sources (at least three from the past year 1997) - for example, journals in your major, Internet sources, interviews (no textbooks, please or encyclopedias - unless they are specialized encyclopedias in your field of study and you are using them for definitions of concepts. Encyclopedia and similar sources should be in addition to the 7 minimum. Books (often outdated by the time they get published) are generally poor sources for scientific subjects except for background info. Trade magazines or special interest group sources have built in biases, but can have some valuable information. But, for example, if you are writing about the value of advertising on the Internet, a company whose product is Internet advertisements would probably not be an objective source, but might be a good source for showing what is being done with Internet advertising. But you would have to point out the possible biased interest of the source. Check the source of all information for reliability. Is the Internet site sanctioned by a reputable institution or organization? Does the person you interview have credentials and experienced with your subject? Does he or she have a built in bias you need to address in your paper? What biases of your own may you have to be aware of to produce a scholarly look at this subject?

Documentation: Follow the online APA Style Guide (latest version) for documenting the sources in your text and your Reference Page. If you are unsure about a particular source, we can discuss it.

Use parenthetical citations (citation information in text between parenthesis) for information that is someone's opinion and is not common knowledge. Give parenthetical citation information for quotation sand paraphrases. Include page number for direct quotes. APA requires the date be included in in-text citations:

As Smith (1993) stated, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable evidence than scholarly or professional journals" (p. 2).

OR

As Smith said, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable information than scholarly or professional journals" (1993, p. 2).

Paraphrased version: Magazines written for a lay audience tend to have less objective information than that found in scholarly publications (Smith, 1993). NOTE: There are no quotation marks or page number for a paraphrase. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words the original author's EXACT meaning - not just rearranging words in the author's original text. You can embed a short quote of a key phrase in paraphrased material and give the page number of the quote.

It is poor form to begin a paragraph or a sentence with a quotation - letting the source speak for you instead of incorporating the source into your text. For example, here is an example of poor form, which shows no input from the writer of the paper. He or she is just writing what the original author said, without trying to paraphrase the information or, at the very least setting up the quote in context:

"The proliferation of multiple births in this country speaks to the need to formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (Jones, 1997, p. 82).

An example of a more graceful form of setting up a quote is:

Because of significant number of multiple births in the United States, Jones points out that this country needs to "formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (1997, p. 82-84).

All sources in your research paper, like the examples above, are not only documented in the body of your paper, but must also be listed in the proper format on the References page.

Use quotes judiciously. Use them only when paraphrasing will make the statement unclear or a kernel of an idea is so perfectly stated that trying to paraphrase in your own words will ruin the impact of the statement. See the APA Style Guides for how to handle long quotes

Appendices: Graphics or charts should only be used if they can clarify some concept in your paper. Don't use them just for a "flashy" effect or for "gee whiz" value. If you include large graphics or charts, include each on a separate appendix page and label each one A, B, and so on. Refer to such appendices in the text where you discuss that issue. Graphs, charts, and appendices are not included as pages of text. They must be in addition to the 5 to 7 pages.

Final advice - try to relax

Consult me when needed throughout the process - I'm happy to help. 


 Virginia Montecino |montecin@gmu.edu

by Sarah Macdonald, Sociology

Context
Assignment 1: Paper Proposal
Assignment 2: Literature Review
Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline
Assignment 4: Research Presentation
Assignment 5: Final Paper

Context

Sociology 190 is a senior capstone course in which students engage in small seminar discussions of a particular topic. In my section of Soc 190, Trasnational Adoption from a Sociological Perspective, I paired in-depth discussions on the topic of adoption with a semester-long research project — each student designed a research question, collected data, and wrote up a 15–20-page research paper on a topic of their choice. I knew that because the research paper seemed overwhelming to my students, they would need guidance and feedback throughout the process. In designing my syllabus and assignments I consulted with syllabi from others in my department that had previously taught similar courses. The resulting assignments are included in this section.

In the process of setting the assignments I learned that students needed very explicit instructions on the format of a formal research paper, the opportunity to discuss their progress frequently in class, and structured opportunities to learn about how to do sociological research. Throughout the semester we had discussions, both as a large group and in smaller groups, about the students’ progress on their projects, which allowed students a chance to receive feedback more often than I was able to give in writing. We also had several formal opportunities to learn about research, for example when I gave presentations to the students on research methods, or when we had a guest speaker talk about their research, or when students had a session with a subject-specific librarian to learn about how to locate secondary sources. Each assignment then served as a research milestone where students got formal feedback from me about their progress. Before each assignment we had in-depth discussions of how to formulate the different components of a research paper, so the assignments include detailed lists of the parts we had already discussed in class. We ended the semester with a mini research conference where students presented their arguments to their peers and received feedback. They then used this feedback and my feedback on the smaller assignments to produce their final research papers.

Assignment 1: Paper Proposal

Paper Proposal

In no more than 2 double-spaced pages (Times New Roman, size 12 font, one-inch margins) you will:

  1. Briefly describe and explain your research topic and its importance. You should describe why you think this topic is particularly relevant to our course and why it is an important area of study.
  2. Clearly present and explain your central research question.
  3. Identify your data source and method of analysis. How will you collect data and what will you do with the data?
  4. Explain why these sources of data are appropriate for your research question and how they will help you to answer your question.

Choosing a Research Topic and Question

Your research topic and question must relate to the topic of transnational adoption, but beyond this requirement there are no limitations on the topic that you choose. I recommend that you look through the topics in the syllabus to help you to begin to determine what you are most interested in studying. In addition, the reading entitled “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience” (Engel et al: 2007)[1], should help you to understand the various topics related to transnational adoption that are of particular concern to sociologists.

Choosing a Data Source

Once you have identified your research question, you must choose one of the research methods listed below that will be most appropriate for answering your question.

  • In-depth Interviews: You must conduct 3 to 5 in-depth interviews (lasting at least 45 minutes each) with individuals.
  • Textual Analysis: You can choose to analyze a set of written or visual texts (books, newspaper articles, news stories, images, films, court documents, government proceedings, etc.). You must choose at least three texts to analyze and may need to choose several texts depending on the types of texts you are analyzing.
  • Participant Observation: Spend 5 to 10 hours observing social interaction at a relevant research site. If you decide to do this you must get advance permission from the organization and/or individuals before conducting your observation.
  • Quantitative Analysis: You can complete a basic statistical analysis of a data set. You can either use an existing data set or design your own survey and distribute it to at least 30 people to create your own dataset.

[1] Engel, Madeline, Norma K Phillips, and Frances A Dellacava. 2007. “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 27: 257–270.

Assignment 2: Literature Review

For this assignment you will submit a review of current literature on your topic that will:

  1. Summarize and synthesize 5 to 10 sources (books or journal articles, not websites or news stories) that are not included in course readings. This means that you should not simply provide summaries of the sources, but should explain how they relate to each other (synthesize how they draw on similar theories, come to similar conclusions, etc.) and/or offer a critique of their content that is relevant to your own research. You may also choose to cite course readings; in fact, I encourage you to do so, but you must cite at least 5 additional sources.
  2. Explain how your research project is likely to challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on your topic. You must make an argument for what your research will add to literature that already exists on the topic.

The literature review should be 4 to 5 double-spaced pages, size 12 Times New Roman font, one-inch margins.

Additional tips for writing your literature review:

  • Do not just choose the first 5 sources that you find; make sure that they are relevant to your research question and topic.
  • Think about the literature review as a window into a conversation between researchers about your topic. You’ll want to explain what they have already found out about the topic and then you’ll want to make a strong case for how your research is adding to the conversation.
  • Keep your summaries of the articles or books concise and relevant. You don’t need to summarize their entire argument, you just need to give us an idea of what parts are particularly pertinent to your own research.
  • The format of your literature review should not just be a list of summaries. Instead you will want to identify some way in which the previous literature has fallen short and has not considered the question that you are interested in studying. This takes quite a bit of work in most cases and will mean that you will have to explain clearly how your research will challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on the topic.
  • Edit, edit, edit. You should spend a fair amount of time putting this together and editing as much as possible. If you do a really good job on this portion, it’s likely you’ll be able to paste it into your final paper with minimal changes! Take it very seriously.
  • You must use the American Sociological Association’s Style Guide to format your citations. If you use Zotero, it will do it for you automatically. Make sure your in-text citations are also properly formatted. The ASA Style Guide is posted on our course site.

Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline

Part One: Abstract

For this assignment you will write an abstract of no more than 500 words that details the argument you will make in your final paper. The abstract should have the following components:

  1. Research Question: 1 or 2 sentences describing your topic or research question; this doesn’t need to be in question form.
  2. Contribution: A statement that explains what empirical or theoretical contribution your research makes to existing literature.
  3. Methods and Data: An explanation of no more than 1 sentence that explains your methods, i.e. how you collected data to answer your research question.
  4. Findings: A few sentences that describe the main argument you will make in your paper and what you found as a result of doing your research. It is okay if you haven’t yet finished your research and these findings are only preliminary.
  5. Concluding Statement/Implications: You will want to include at least 1 sentence that connects back to the problem that you identified at the beginning and that explains any important implications of your research.

Note: The abstract should not include any citations.

Grading: Your grade will be based on the organization and coherence of your writing, the inclusion of all aspects detailed above, and especially on the clarity, feasibility, and appropriateness of the argument that you plan to make in your final paper.

Part Two: Paper Outline

For this assignment you will write an outline of your final paper that details each of the sections of the paper and the overall argument that you will make in each section. The outline can be as long as you would like, but cannot exceed 5 single-spaced pages, size 12 font, 1-inch margins. I recommend that you include as much detail as possible as this will be your last formal opportunity to receive feedback from me.

Please label all sections. For each section you will include a brief paragraph (2–3 sentences) that outlines what you will argue/explain in that section. Then you will outline each paragraph or part of that section (please use the numerical outlining function in Word; you may also use bullet points where necessary). The outline should be as detailed as possible and should include quotations, examples from your research, data that supports your points, etc. You should include the following sections:

  1. Abstract: A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment.
  2. Introduction: This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader, and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting and how it contributes to existing literature.
  3. Literature Review: This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
  4. Methods: This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible.
  5. Findings: This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. If you are making your argument in several parts or sections, make sure to include those sections in the outline. The outline for the findings section should show me, in a very detailed way, what the argument is that you are making and how you expect to make the argument. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument).
  6. Discussion and Conclusion: In this section you will summarize the argument that you make in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.

Assignment 4: Research Presentation

For this assignment you will prepare a very brief presentation of your research for the class. The purposes of this assignment are: a) to learn about the research that students have done as part of this class, b) to have the opportunity to give feedback and suggestions to other students, c) to discuss several topics related to transnational adoption using the foundational knowledge you have gained this semester.

Guidelines for your presentation:

  1. Your presentation should be about 5 minutes. Please practice ahead of time so that you can make sure that you can fit what you want to say in this time period.
  2. You should briefly explain your research question, your method, and your most interesting finding. In your presentation you should make some connection back to the topics and/or readings that we have discussed in this class — you can either connect your finding to course material or explain how your research contributes to the literature we have read together as part of this course.
  3. After your presentation the class will ask questions of you and your panel. Please come prepared to talk in depth about your research and to answer questions about the research process, your findings, how the findings relate to the course, what contribution you are making to the existing literature on your topic, etc.

Grading:

You will be graded on your ability to clearly and concisely present your research, the connections that you make between your research and course material, and your engagement in a discussion about your topic with other students in the class during the Q&A period.

Assignment 5: Final Paper

For this assignment you will draw on the research proposal, literature review, abstract, paper outline, and the data you have collected through your research to write a polished research paper on your topic. The paper must be 15–20 pages, size 12 font, Times New Roman, margins of no larger than 1”. Please note that your bibliography/works cited and any appendices you choose to include will not be counted in the 15-page minimum.

Required Components for the Final Paper:

Please make sure to label each section with either a section title (e.g., literature review) or a title that communicates the content of the section (e.g., previous research on culture keeping).

  1. Cover Page: The first page of your paper should be a cover sheet that includes a title that communicates the content of your paper, your name, date, title of the class, and any other information you feel is necessary.
  2. Abstract (∼250 words): A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment. It should be single-spaced and should be placed immediately preceding the introduction.
  3. Introduction (13 pages): This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader (e.g., historical context), and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting, and how it contributes to existing literature.
  4. Literature Review (4–6 pages): This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
  5. Methods (1–2 pages): This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible. You should also explain why your sample is likely not representative of the general population you are studying and what biases are present as a result of your research design.
  6. Findings (7+ pages): This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument). You may choose to divide this section into sub-sections, but each sub-section should have a clear title. Make sure that you are making an argument and that each paragraph in this section connects back to your central argument.
  7. Discussion and Conclusion (2+ pages): In this section you will summarize the argument that you have made in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.
  8. Appendices: If you did interviews or a survey you must include an appendix with your questions. You should refer to the appendix in the methods section. You can also include appendices with additional information (e.g., coding, statistics) if you feel that it is necessary. The appendices do not count in the page count.
  9. Bibliography/Citations: Remember that you must cite at least ten sources in your paper. While many of these will likely be in the literature review, you should also cite where necessary in the other sections of the paper. At least 5 sources must come from readings that were not included in the course syllabus. All parenthetical citations and the works cited/bibliography page must be in ASA format. Formatting instructions are posted on our course website.

In writing this paper please make sure to look back over your previous assignments at my comments and to incorporate changes into your final paper. You are welcome to use any part of your previous assignments verbatim, but I urge you to edit carefully. This paper should be a polished, final paper and not a draft. This means that you will need to finish the paper in advance of the deadline to allow ample time for editing.

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