Essay #4: Research/Synthesis
The Writing Assignment
Select and narrow a topic, find research material, and write a six-page research paper with appropriate MLA documentation of your outside resources.
Hints for Success
A successful synthesis paper has several characteristics.
- It limits its topic. You only have six pages to work with, so you cannot hope to deal with everything related to education or with all racial or ethnic strife everywhere in the USA.
- It has a tight focus on its limited topic: It does not go wandering off to other topics the writer thought of in passing.
- It tells the truth. Wild guesses, conspiracy theories, and discussion of the writer's favorite unsupported prejudices do not count.
- It makes a point and presents an argument that the point is valid. It is more than a collection of quotations. Just stringing a lot of quotes together does not make a point, even if you cite them and avoid plagiarism. You need to do the work of interpreting and synthesizing. Most of the writing should be yours.
- It depends on outside evidence to support its point. You are not an expert in any of these fields, but you can write something worthwhile by using evidence from other experts. A paper that depends on the writer's feelings and guesses is worthless.
A six-page research paper may seem like an enormous project (though you will be asked for much longer papers in future courses), so you might be tempted by some strategies which will sabotage you. Here are a few to avoid:
- The "Everything About Everything" paper You may think that a big, loose topic will make a long, thoughtful paper, but it won't. At best, it will give you a generalized paper that reads like a middle‑school report. A topic such as "Everything there is to know about youth smoking in the United States" is what I am talking about. (To really nail that one, you would need two or three thousand pages.) You would have more success with "How Juul advertising targeted young teenagers and seduced them into nicotine addiction." Go narrow and tight.
- Refusing to Take a Side After browsing through a dozen resources, you should have an opinion about your topic. A thesis such as "Some say e‑cigarettes are bad but others say they are not" sounds like an on‑ramp to a very boring, useless paper. Even worse would be "Vaping is neither good nor bad for teenagers." Why bother to write that? Why bother to read it? Besides, remember that one of the grading criteria for your paper is that its thesis "Makes an arguable claim." The "some say one thing and some say another" thesis and the "there is no truth" thesis do not fulfill this requirement.
- You may have been taught that you must give equal time to both sides of any argument and that your own opinion must never appear in a paper. It is time to forget those teachings. Yes, you must respect those who take the other side and deal with their objections, but sooner or later, you have to take a stand.
- Misusing Quotations A research paper is more than an exercise in quotation insertion. Here are some ways students waste their research material:
- Using quotes as filler Whether you like to throw in a quote at the top of the paragraph as a sort of slogan or simply drop it in passing without any comment, filler quotes do not help your paper. They send the message that "I am worried about my page count, so here are a few more words to fill up space."
- Using quotes to relieve you of the task of writing When you use a quotation to do ordinary exposition, you send the message that you don't trust your own writing (or you are lazy). You are not interested in doing any thinking or writing.
- Mosaic plagiarism I always have one or two students who skate all over the Internet, picking up a couple of lines here and a paragraph there, gluing them together into a paper, and claiming that they did the writing. This kind of cheating is surprisingly easy to detect and nearly as much work as being honest. Don't do it. If you are lucky, I will only give you a zero for the paper.
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Revised 12/29/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: email@example.com.