The time has come. The end of the semester is nigh. This means, most likely, it’s time to write THE RESEARCH PAPER (DUN-DUN-DUUNNN!). You finally have a handle on how to create an argument and now, BAM, you have to tackle incorporating what others have said. A research paper can seem scary at first. Not only do you have to come up with an original argument, you also have to locate relevant secondary sources, understand other scholars’ arguments, and figure how out what they are saying relates to what you are saying. I want to give you some tips on how to find sources, how to incorporate them, and how to alleviate the fear of the dreaded RESEARCH PAPER.
Tip #1 – Use Fordham’s Databases and Library to Find Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly, Sources
A peer-reviewed, scholarly, source is a piece of writing (normally an article or a book) that other experts in the field have read and agree is a founded claim. This is different from other sources, say a blog post (see what I did there?), where an author can make claims that may not founded in any evidence. The first step to finding a good source, therefore, is beginning with academic, peer-reviewed, sources.
To find these kinds of sources, it is important to use scholarly search engines and databases. Use tools like One Source, the library (yes, the real physical one, some of the best sources are in print), and scholarly databases like JSTOR and ProjectMuse. Find your school’s list of databases, read the descriptions, and decide which database would be best to use for your topic.
Make sure the source you are using is from a reputable journal, publisher, or author. Newspaper articles are sometimes appropriate as well, but make sure the paper is a reputable one, and keep in mind that many papers have political leanings that can influence the way they report news. You want to make sure that other people think this source is important, too. One way to be sure, is to search the name of an article or book and see if other scholars are citing it.
I think we all know that we shouldn’t use some random Internet blog as a source, but it can be tricky sometimes to figure out what sources are the best to use. Here are two examples to help us tackle this problem.
Let’s say my thesis is that: “While Rosemary’s Baby depicts women in positions of powerlessness, it actually promotes reproductive rights for women.”
Now let’s look at imaginary Source #1: A book on feminist horror, written by a professor and published by a scholarly press. It doesn’t directly address Rosemary’s Baby, but is cited in a lot of the articles you read.
Source #2: A book, written by a professor and published by a scholarly press, on Rosemary’s Baby that discusses primarily depictions of Satan in the movie. It doesn’t directly address feminism, but is cited by one of the articles you read.
So, both of these sources look pretty good. They are scholarly, reputable, and on your subject. Which one, however, would be the BEST one to pick for your specific paper? You guessed it, #1! While #2 is on the film, its thesis is not really related to your specific argument. Also, the fact that it wasn’t widely cited in the articles you read may indicate that is not important in the conversation you are joining (this doesn’t mean that it isn’t important in another conversation, maybe one about depictions of Satan throughout the horror genre). While the first book isn’t about the film, other people writing about the film think it’s important, and therefore you might need to address it. Next let’s talk about HOW to address it.
Tip#2 Figure Out the They Say, I Say
Once you have found some scholarly sources on your topic, read them carefully, and figure out what the author is arguing. Jot down the thesis and some of the main points. Think about how what you want to say is similar or different from what they are saying. Consider if their claims support your argument or if you need to make a counterclaim to this evidence.
Let’s say that Source #1’s thesis was that a horror films can only be feminist if a female character is in a position of power (such as a revenge movie). If you want to prove that Rosemary seems powerless, but that the film still promotes feminist ideas, how would you use this evidence? Does it support your claim or do you have to make a counter-claim? Counter-claim! That’s right! A counterclaim might look like this: “While Source #1 claims that woman must be in an explicit position of power for a film to be feminist, my paper will argue that horror movies can still promote a feminist message even if the female character fails to gain complete control.”
How about another example? Let’s say Source #1’s thesis read something like: “Even if a female character is not in complete control, women can gain agency in a horror film by successfully fighting back against their attacker (such as in The Shining when Shelley takes the situation in her own hands and outwits her maniac husband).” In this case, Source #1 supports our claim but in a slightly different way. Rosemary is not successful in getting away from the people around her and does not gain power in an explicit way. A way we could use this evidence might look like this: “While Source #1 reveals that horror films can support a feminist message through strong female characters that fight back successfully, Source#1 does not consider the ways that strong female characters that are unsuccessful and a film as a whole can support a feminist message. This paper will argue that Rosemary’s Baby supports a feminist message about reproductive rights by depicting a round character whose terror we identify with and by revealing on a larger scale the horrifying ways women’s bodies are treated as incubators for life.”
As you can see, Source#1 supports our argument, but we are not saying the SAME exact thing as Source#1’s author. In this example, Source#1 is saying that women who fight back are feminist. This supports our claim because Rosemary fights back. However, we want to say something different, so we need to show where our claim comes in. Also, did you notice that my thesis had to change to show how what I was saying was different from what Source#1 was saying? Most of the time, research can help you not only make a unique claim but a more complex claim as well. This brings us to our next tip!
Tip #3 Don’t Forget to Make a Unique Claim and be Open to Change
Sometimes when we are doing research, we can get really caught up in all the interesting things other people have said. That can make it really hard to come up with your own unique claim. You might have a thesis in mind and then realize other people have said the same exact thing, which also makes this process tough because now you have to construct a new claim. Your ideas, however, are the MOST important part of this paper and they are valuable! So, you have to make sure that you don’t spend your whole paper agreeing with others instead of making your own claim.
If you find an article that seems like the author has said what you want to say, read it carefully. Most likely, they have made an assumption or overlooked something. For example, in one of Source#1’s arguments, they overlooked the fact that women who are unsuccessful in fighting back can still have agency and reveal something meaningful about the role of women in society. Identifying a place where a critic overlooked something can be a really good place to start making your own, unique, claim. The idea is that you want to build upon and extend someone else’s analysis (or prove them wrong) in order to say something new.
It’s good to have a tentative thesis when you start doing research, but keep yourself open to changing your thesis. Research may convince you to change your thesis completely or to make it more complex. Research should help you make a stronger, nuanced, and unique claim.
I hope these tips helped make research less scary and I’m sure you’ll be incorporating research like an expert in no time. Happy Finals!