What follows is a handout for Independent Study students that describes how to write a paper for a research project using interviews, although many of these guidelines apply for any research paper.
Writing a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit of a balancing act. You have an outline for the paper into which you insert and describe ideas that you have gathered. While gathering ideas, you may discover NEW ones that will require you to alter the outline. This is the balancing act: inserting ideas into the outline while modifying the outline to accommodate new ideas.
Start with the Ideas in Your Proposal
In the proposal you wrote for the project should be (1) the main question or issue that you are exploring in your project, (2) two or three sub-questions or sub-issues related to the main one. These questions/issues can serve as a the beginnings of a very simple outline for your paper. They probably will be major headings in your outline. Use these ideas as guidelines for reading the articles you gather for your research. In the articles, you are looking for ideas that pertain to the main and sub-topics in your outline. The articles may provide information that supports, expands, or refutes the ideas you are developing for your paper.
Gathering Ideas from the Articles
Get a stack of small file cards. As you read each article, look for the major ideas. Every article usually contains 2, 3 or 4 major ideas or pieces of information. Underline or use a highlighter pen to mark these ideas. For each major idea, you will probably will be highlighting a paragraph or so of text. On a file card, briefly summarize each major idea. Indicate on the card the page number of the information/idea, the title of the article, and the author's name. This means that for every article you will have 2, 3, or 4 file cards - each summarizing a major idea or information from the article.
Developing the Outline
As you read your articles and look over the file cards of other articles you have already read, you will get ideas about how to develop and modify the outline for the paper. Experiment with different ways to organize the outline. Ideas from the articles that expand on topics in your outline will help you create subheadings within the outline. New ideas from the articles may inspire you to add new major sections to the outlines. On the other side of this page is an example of how a "maturing" outline might look. The major sections (I, II, III, etc.) will correspond to the titles of the major sections of your paper. The lettered subtopics (A, B, C, etc) will probably correspond to a paragraph or a series of paragraphs in your paper. Here's an example of how an outline might look:
The Psychological Significance of Nightmares
A. Definition of NightmaresII. The Dynamics of Nightmares
B. The goals of this article
C. The use of interviews in this research
1. how subjects were selected
2. demographics of the subjects
3. the interview and how it was conducted
A. Expressing unconscious feelings and ideasIII. Types of Nightmares
A. Anxiety dreamsIV. Conclusions - Are nightmares useful?
B. Wake-up dreams
C. Typical content of nightmares
1. Chase dreams
2. Falling dreams
Inserting the File Cards into the Outline
When you are finished reading the articles, look through your file cards. See where each card will fit into the outline or how the idea on that card may be used to change the outline. On the top of each card write down where that card fits into the outline (e.g., " II. B"). Do this for all the cards!
Inserting Interview Quotes
If you are using interviews in your project, read through the transcripts. See where different quotes can fit into the outline. Highlight sections that seem to support, expand, or refute ideas in your outline. Indicate next to each highlighted quote where it fits into the outline, just like you did with the file cards (e.g. "III. B").
Writing the Paper
If you've done a good job of creating an outline and inserting the ideas on the file cards into the outline, writing the paper should proceed smoothly. For each section of the outline, locate the file cards that fit into that section. Go back to the original article and read the text that you highlighted. Incorporate those ideas into the paper (use APA format to cite references). Incorporate quotes from your interviews into the article. Before you know it, the paper will be done!
Grading Your Paper
In addition to the quality of what you write, I will base your grade on whether you: (1) did everything you said you'd do in your proposal, (2) have an outline for the paper, (3) followed the outline in constructing your paper, including organizing the paper into subsections, (4) used quotes from interviews and attached the transcripts of your interviews, (5) made the paper the appropriate length, (5) cited the appropriate number of references, and, (6) handed in a first draft of the paper before the end of the last week of classes.
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