The Aims and Process of the Research Paper

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<ul><li><p>The Aims and Process of the Research PaperAuthor(s): Robert A. Schwegler and Linda K. ShamoonSource: College English, Vol. 44, No. 8 (Dec., 1982), pp. 817-824Published by: National Council of Teachers of EnglishStable URL: .Accessed: 18/12/2014 18:19</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>National Council of Teachers of English is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toCollege English.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:19:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Robert A. Schwegler and Linda K. Shamoon </p><p>The Aims and Process </p><p>of the Research Paper </p><p>Many members of our department-and yours too, we suspect-have stopped teaching the research paper in composition courses because the papers they re- ceive are so often disappointing and because they believe that freshmen and sophomores may not be sophisticated enough to do the kind of thinking neces- sary for a worthwhile research paper. These instructors say they view the re- search paper not simply as a review of information found in secondary sources, but as an argument with sources which expands the student's (and the reader's) view of the subject. But, they complain, students seem overwhelmed by what they find in outside sources and are incapable of weaving the information they have gathered into an argument that presents and defends their point of view. </p><p>Composition textbooks and writing teachers have tried to deal with this prob- lem in three ways, each of which has proven inadequate in some respect. </p><p>One answer has been to provide better training in gathering and arranging information (that is, library and documentation skills). Though these skills have some value, they still are likely to have little impact on the quality of the papers students write in composition courses or in other courses because academic re- search is a process of inquiry, problem-solving, and argument, not simply an information-gathering process. </p><p>A second answer has been to place considerable stress on the argumentative nature of the research paper. But though academic research papers contain ar- guments, they cannot be called argumentative in aim or structure because they do not focus on altering the values, ideas, or emotional attitudes of an audience or on moving the audience to action of some kind: intellectual, emotional, or physical. The kind of research papers scholars write and reward their students </p><p>Robert A. Schwegler is a member of the Department of English and acting director of the College Writing Program at the University of Rhode Island. He is the co-author of Commnunication: Writing and Speaking (Little, Brown), and the author of articles on composition, folklore, and Renaissance literature. Linda K. Shamoon teaches in the Department of English and the College Writing Program at the University of Rhode Island. She has published essays on the research paper and is currently working on a study of academic writing. This essay, like the preceding essay by Richard L. Larson, was presented as part of a panel of four papers at the MLA meeting in December 1981. It will form part of the introductory chapter of the book Teaching the Research Paper edited by James Ford (Modern Language Association, forthcom- ing). </p><p>College English, Volume 44, Number 8, December 1982 </p><p>817 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:19:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>818 College English </p><p>for writing is, instead, what James Kinneavy calls "scientific discourse": writing that makes interpretive statements about some aspect of reality (a poem, a his- torical event, a social movement, or a chemical reaction) and demonstrates the validity of these statements (A Theory of Discourse [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971], pp. 88-89). </p><p>A third answer has been that we should give up teaching the research paper altogether because it bears little relationship to the writing that students are asked to do in other courses. Yet students are often required to write papers based on research, and the strategies appropriate for these papers are easy enough to recognize-and to make part of research paper instruction in composi- tion courses. </p><p>As we see it, the first step in a satisfactory answer to the research paper problem is to recognize the considerable difference between the way students view the research paper (and have been taught to view it) and the way most </p><p>college instructors and other researchers view it. The second step is to begin to base research paper instruction on a sound understanding of the features of academic research writing, features that characterize the professional writing of most college instructors and that form a model that instructors rely on-often unconsciously-to evaluate student papers. </p><p>We became acutely aware of differing views of the research paper when we interviewed instructors and students about their views of the research process, the aims of research, the forms of research writing, and the appropriate evalua- tion standards for academic research papers. The responses revealed not only the differences in outlook of the novice and the professional, but also substan- tially different attitudes towards the research process and the aim, forms, and audience of the research paper. These contradictory perspectives go a long way toward explaining the dissatisfaction many instructors feel when they have finished grading a set of research papers and the irritation students feel when </p><p>they receive a poor grade on a paper they were sure did all that a research paper is supposed to do. </p><p>When asked why they write research papers and why teachers assign the pa- pers, students responded, </p><p>"to learn more about a topic" "to learn how to use the library" "to show how much you know" "information ... they want a small topic where you can get just about everything on it" "they want to see specifics . . to see how well you can use your research skills." </p><p>When asked about the process of researching and writing, students offered the </p><p>following scenario: </p><p>You usually don't get around to it for a while, but when you do you start out with a little bit of an idea; then you get a lot of books and put the information on note cards; you keep the note cards and bibliography sorted out; then you put together the pieces of information that are related, start on a rough outline, and finally write the paper. </p><p>When asked what standards they expect instructors to apply, the students said, </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:19:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Aims and Process of the Research Paper 819 </p><p>"The instructor knows about the topic; he knows what you should have in that paper; he's going to look for those points in the paper." "They'll say use Kate Turabian ... go by the book . . every page is laid out." "Depends on the teacher ... some are too mixed up in grammar and punctuation; they'll ignore the content." </p><p>These comments show that students generally view the research paper as in- formative in aim, not argumentative, much less analytical; as factual rather than interpretive; designed to show off knowledge of library skills and documentation procedures. The paper is viewed as an exercise in information gathering, not an act of discovery; the audience is assumed to be a professor who already knows about the subject and is testing the student's knowledge and information- gathering ability. Thus, according to the students, evaluation is (and should be) based on the quantity and quality of the information presented, on correctness of documentation, but not on form and style (English papers excepted). </p><p>When asked about the purpose of research and the research paper, instructors replied that the aim is to test a theory, to follow up on previous research, or to explore a problem posed by other research or by events. For most instructors, however, research is a "continuous development," a pursuit of an elusive truth: </p><p>"What you do in research is to try to throw open a window on the world at a given point; open up the window and see what it looks like there; but as soon as that point has been identified it has already moved into the past so that one would not expect it to remain the same." </p><p>For most instructors, the research and writing process follows a clear but com- plex pattern: </p><p>"The original focus begins with getting interested in an idea during reading or a review of the literature and getting a sense of where the field stands theoretically and methodologically-and jotting down notes about problems, drawbacks to the research, how theoretical and methodological ideas can be improved. From there I would say, after a considerable amount of reading, how I would do it better, what research approach I would use to fill in a gap, answer a question, compare two theories-to me it's a giant puzzle and I try to assess how well the pieces fit to- gether and then I design a research project to add more pieces to the puzzle or clarify the edges, or build a new puzzle." "the community of scholars (peers) working in the area and the classroom, too, are sources of ideas . . . there is a certain amount of serendipity involved." "Studies have shown that virtually the last place you go is the library . . . the first step is to call around to colleagues to identify sources . . . another start is to pick up a bibliography through Bibliographic Index." "I know the whole strategy. I'll have a couple dozen sentences in my head, particu- larly introductory sentences, analytic sentences, and conclusion sentences, [and then I'll sit down to write]." </p><p>And the instructors also have specific ideas about how research and research papers should be structured-and about how they are usually evaluated by the other scholars that make up the intended audience: </p><p>"There is a continuous degree of uncertainty through the process . .. but when you write the paper you really have an obligation to state your views and to state what you have perceived or concluded in strong enough terms so that there is some validity to the statement." </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:19:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>820 College English </p><p>"''If you don't follow the appropriate paradigm, then other scholars will attack your work." "I look for a formula in every article that comes into our journal. ... [An empirical article, for example:] Introduction, theoretical overview, justification of the issue, literature review, methods, sample, measurements, design, data, analysis, sum- mary, references, footnotes. ... The review of research must be analysis, not just a summary; it must tell me what the scholars said and what it means in relationship to the whole . . . each individual analysis is part of the puzzle and I want to know how much of the puzzle is complete." </p><p>Academics view the research paper as analytical and interpretive, an attempt to explore some aspect of the world and to make verifiable statements about it. Research generally begins with an observation or a need for knowledge which is then explored in a systematic manner. Projects often arise from the concerns of a community of scholars or in response to the work of a particular scholar. The community also forms the intended audience for research papers, and its expec- tations, as realized for example in the editorial policies of journals, help guide choice of topics and writing strategies. Though the instructors we interviewed see the research process as open-ended, often tentative, they see the research paper as restricted in aim and conventional in style and structure. </p><p>The contrasts between the instructors' view and the students' view are impor- tant. Students view the research paper as a close-ended, informative, skills- oriented exercise written for an expert audience by novices pretending to be </p><p>experts. No wonder then that students' papers often roam freely over the subject area, are devoid of focus, and loaded down with quotes. Academics, on the other hand, view the research paper as open-ended and interpretive, written for an audience of fellow inquirers who have specific expectations of logic, struc- ture, and style. Academic research papers reflect this view by being narrowly focused, aware of the scholarly audience, and frequently tentative in advancing a conclusion. </p><p>Our students' view of the research paper is echoed and supported by the instruction they receive in most composition classes and by textbooks. Some textbook writers acknowledge the considerable gap between the kind of research writing scholars do and the kind we teach, but they argue that informative or </p><p>argumentative papers are appropriate work for novices. The Research Paper Workbook by Ellen Strenski and Madge Manfred (New York: Longman, 1981) is </p><p>typical: At this stage of your career you are an apprentice scholar and will be concerned mostly with secondary research, which means finding out what the recognized au- thorities on a particular topic have to say about a topic that has caught your inter- est. (p. 2) </p><p>While this "apprenticeship" argument contains a certain amount of truth, it is nonetheless misleading. Instructors in content-area courses do not expect un- dergraduates to produce fully developed research articles like those that appear in scholarly journals. Yet they do expect students' work to adhere to the aims of academic research writing and to begin to display its stylistic and structural fea- tures. In our conversations with instructors and in related studies of instructors' responses to students' research papers (discussed in our unpublished paper, </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:19:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Aims and Process of the Research Paper 821 </p><p>"Teaching the Research Paper: A New Approach to an Old Problem," and in a paper presented by Professor Schwegler at a meeting...</p></li></ul>