IX. Steps for Developing a Research Paper

Step 1
: Select an area or subject that is interesting to you and relevant to your course. If unsure, read through your syllabus and your textbooks; you will find many interesting areas that will attract your interest.

Step 2
: Select a topic within this subject area that is more specific. For instance, racism or feminism are subject areas. Representation of Blacks in the professions or working patterns of middle class women are topics. The topic should focus on a specific question which is clear. It should guide the direction of your research in the interested area. Avoid general and unclear topics that will pull and distract your research in many different directions.

Step 3
: Formulate your research topic as a research question. For example, say your research topic is gender bias in wages and salaries. This could be formulated as a research question in this manner: Do women faculty/staff at Westmont College earn equal pay for equal work as their male counterparts? Notice that now the research topic is clearly focused to find answers to a particular well-defined measurable question.

Step 4
: The research question should embody a sociological or anthropological perspective. For example, do not ask psychological questions involving individual, personal reasons. Instead, ask what aspects of culture, ethnicity, gender, religion, or social class influence social behavior.

Step 5
: Your research questions must have more than one possible answer. Indicate serious and reasonable answers to the question that differ from each other. Avoid questions where the answer is obvious like whether there is cross-cultural differences between people. The work of research is to find evidence to argue why and how one or the other answer is better than the rest.

Step 6
: Your research question should draw relationships between two or more variables (concepts). The question should be about the connection or relationship between two or more variables. For example, does foreign aid help or hinder development in third world societies. The question draws a relationship between aid and development in the third world.

Step 7
: Before embarking on your research, verify carefully whether you have the resources (articles, books, etc.) to substantiate your work. Be well aware of the time limits and select a research question that could be researched, read, studied, thought through, outlined, and written within the specific number of study hours that you have allotted for this work.

Step 8
: As professors, what do we expect in the body of the research paper? Your ability to analyze, evaluate, classify, compare and contrast, define and identify, describe and examine, list, interpret, illustrate, outline, and to argue logically with evidence. Among these, two are particularly important: logic and structure.

Step 9
: "Something is not true, because I say so." A paper with well-reasoned logic is more than unsupported assertions or statements. The answers you put forward to your research questions must be supported by good and varied evidence as well as by reasoning. Work as if your reader is a skeptic who doubts strongly unless the evidence and arguments are convincing.

Step 10
: There should be a logical coherent structure in the paper. Sentences, paragraphs, sections, and the overall theme should be logically and narratively connected. Do not draw conclusions that are larger than the evidence you discuss. The corpus or body of the essay should be divided into introduction, discussion, and conclusion.