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ENGL 1301 -- Prof. Vasconcelos

The purpose of this research guide is to help students complete their research essays.

Your Topic

What Is Your Research Topic?

Read Prof. Vasconcelos's instructions carefully. You are advocating a specific policy change by a specific agency or organization that you can name.

Take your time to carefully write down your thesis. The act of writing will help clarify your thoughts. Then write the opposite of your thesis.

That may sound weird, but there's a reason why I recommend that you do so. A good thesis is arguable. You should be able to state the opposite of your thesis. For example, let's say that your thesis is:

The US Congress should fund NASA to support a human mission to Mars.

The opposite of this thesis is:

The US Congress should not fund NASA to support a human mission to Mars.

See the difference? The above thesis takes a position that you can hypothetically disagree with.

What is the opposite of your thesis? If you can't write an opposing position, your probably don't have an arguable thesis.

Developing Keywords

What Are Your Keywords?

Keywording is the process of reducing your topic to its core concepts, then developing a list of synonyms or related words. You use these as search terms. Again, help yourself by writing your keywords down.

Consider the proposed thesis listed above: The US Congress should fund NASA to support a human mission to Mars.

What are the key terms here? I suggest that they are:

  • Mars
  • NASA
  • human

The term "manned mission", although sexist language by modern standards, reflects how people actually talk. Our keywords need to reflect the actual language of the sources that we are searching, so we should also consider:

  • manned mission

Now write out keywords for your thesis. We'll use these keywords while searching the databases.

The Importance of Currency

Why You Should Use Current Information Sources

You could find articles arguing for or against sending astronauts to Mars dating back to the 1970s. They might be interesting to read, but they wouldn't contain information about the current challenges of space exploration, so you shouldn't use them as information sources.

When you search for information sources for this assignment, ask yourself, "When would an information source on this topic go out of date?" Then apply that standard to your searches. Do not use information sources that are no longer accurate because they don't reflect the current state of an issue or problem.

Introductory Articles from Databases

Database Basics

Now that you have keywords, it's time to search the databases. Have you used the databases before? If you don't have recent experience with our library's databases, then I suggest watching this introductory video above.

How to Search Issues & Controversies

It's helpful to gain background information about the topic about which you are writing. What is the controversy? What are the arguments on different sides of that controversy? What evidence exists to support each side? An excellent source of introductory information is the database Issues & Controversies. The above video shows you who to search it. There is a link to the database below.

In-Depth Articles from Academic Search Complete

How to Use Academic Search Complete

Academic Search Complete is a database of newspaper, magazine, and scholarly journal articles on a wide variety of subjects. Search it for information about your thesis. The video above shows you how. Below, you can find a link to the database itself. Be sure to set a date limit of fairly recent articles so that your information sources are current.

MLA Documentation

How to Cite Your Sources

You must cite your sources according to the MLA style of documentation.

This is our video that introduces MLA documentation. I urge you to watch the entire video carefully before starting to write your paper or annotated bibliography. It is much easier to cite correctly as you go along, rather than try to fix your documentation after you have written your paper.

This is our sample paper. When you're writing a paper, you can model the formatting of your paper after this one. If you are unsure how to set up the formatting in Microsoft Word so that it fits the requirements for MLA formatting, you could instead download this blank Word document that has the formatting already set up for you.

This is our 2-page handout that summarizes the MLA style. It includes most of the types of sources that students commonly use.

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