4.1 Research: First Steps

[1]The Research Paper

When we hear the words “research paper” or “research assignment,” our first impulse may be to think of a work that takes other people’s ideas and sews them together into a single document: a sort of patchwork quilt. However, a good research paper operates rather differently. “Research” is not an excuse to coast on the knowledge of others but an opportunity to use that knowledge to support and add complexity to our own original ideas.

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The word “support” is often used in conjunction with research, and it is a good place to start. Let’s unpack the word a little. What does it mean to “support” an argument?

We’ve already seen some examples of support happening earlier in this text. An argument is not complete without evidence to back it up. However, as you will notice as you move through these chapters, using evidence in support of an argument is not as simple as just presenting it, then standing back and letting the reader figure out what it means. Supporting evidence must be developed. Support is more than the evidence itself. It consists of the evidence and the interpretation of that evidence.


If you make an assertion on its own, you have an argument without evidence: an opinion. If you make an assertion and follow it with a list of evidence, you have an argument without development: an observation. If you make an assertion and follow it with a detailed discussion of how and why the evidence demonstrates its validity, you have an argument with support which is the strongest of the three when your purpose is to convince your readers to seriously consider the thesis (or driving claim) you are putting forth.

In a research paper, you must expand your consideration of evidence beyond your own close reading. Therefore, you must also expand your understanding of “support” to include not just an interpretation of your own ideas but an interpretation of secondary works that you will apply to your claims and reasons. These secondary sources are not the primary focus of your investigation, but they can be used to give you insight into this investigation: insight you would not gain only looking at your ideas on a topic.

However, before we get too deep into the evidence that you will use to support your claims and reasons, we need to discuss what these terms mean and how each aspect of a research paper functions on its own so that you will be better prepared to link them together in ways that effectively and efficiently convey your purpose to your intended audience.

  1. 4.1 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Write Here, Right Now: An Interactive Introduction to Academic Writing and Research by Ryerson University which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


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