Questions and Answers about the Research Paper

The Requirements of the Research Paper

You have already chosen a topic for the research paper in Week 2.

Now you need to start preparing for the paper. There are some questions that you may want to answer to begin with

1. How long should my research paper be in terms of pages or words?

Your paper should be 1,000-1,200 words, excluding the quotations and citations, and the Works Cited page.

2. What format shall I use for my research paper?

Use only MLA format. For a sample paper, complete with citations and Works Cited page.

3. How many sources do I need to base my research paper on?

You can read as many sources as you feel you need, but you are required to have at least three citations in your paper. each citation has to come from a different source. This means that you may read only three sources, and you may read more. That is up to you.

4. What kind of sources shall I use for my research paper?

The sources you use should be scholarly and reliable, not popular, tabloid, or advertisement sources. You may use books, journals, magazines, websites, interviews, or others. But keep in mind that you do not have to read books for this paper. If you read certain chapters in a book you may consider each chapter a source (but you may not base the entire paper on one book).

5. Where can I find sources for my research paper?

You will find sources in libraries and on the Internet. You may use government web sites, or college library web sites . You may also use the Coastline Virtual Library (the link is on in the left hand margin of the course).

Some examples of websites to avoid are Answer.com, About.com, Wikipedia, etc…. Look for authoritative sources on a topic.

6. Can I use Wikipedia

NO, you cannot use Wikipedia because it is not a reliable source. The word ‘edit’ at the end of each segment allows anybody to add anything.

7. How is my research paper graded?

Because the paper is not an end in itself, but a means, the content does not receive much weight. Even if you write the most profound paper and work very hard on gathering the information, you may not get a good grade.

The paper is graded on your ability to gather information and combine it in one coherent, unified paper. It is graded on introduction, thesis statement, topic sentences, explanation of topic sentences, and on format of citations and of the works cited page.

8. How is the grade of the paper broken down?

Please pay attention to that the format of the paper, including the citations and the works cited page receive 50%. This means that the essay itself is 50%.

A good grade on the proposal does not guarantee a good grade on the research paper. The proposal will get credit if the research paper is submitted and accepted.

Tentative Sources

One section of the proposal is the Tentative Sources. This is a preliminary list of the sources you intend to use in the paper. You may add or delete from this list as you deem convenient later when you write the actual paper, but for now, you prepare a list of the works you think you will use and you intend to use for writing your paper.

In addition to the list, the proposal also explains why you have chosen those specific sources over others.

For example, you have to explain what each source contributes to your paper. One source could be historic background about the issue. Another source could be one point of view. A third source could be an opposing point of view. A fourth source could be statistics published by some experts on the topic.

This is how you justify using the sources.

In addition, you have to state why you should believe those sources. How do you know those sources are not just plain rubbish that is posted on the Internet. For example, you can state that this is a government website; therefore, it can be trusted.

A third element that you may (depending on the topic) need to evaluate about sources is recency. You can state that this source was published last year or two months ago; therefore, the information in it is up to date.

Here is a sample evaluation of a tentative source:

“Desegregation of the Armed Forces: Chronology” Truman Library, Web.

This article is a reliable source since it comes from Truman’s library website, which is copyrighted and was made on behalf of Truman’s own library. It also has contact information available.
The article describes Executive Order 9981, Truman’s decision to desegregate the Armed Services, lists events, and outside views to the order.
This information will cover part of the desegregation order to the Armed Services, discussed in point B on my outline..

Pay attention to that the link you provide for the source has to lead to an actual article that you will use, not to a website with many links.

Tentative Outline

Another section of the proposal is the Tentative Outline. This is a list of the major points that you want to discuss in your paper. Those points will make the major sections of the papers. Each will be discussed in one or more than one paragraphs.

For example, if you are writing about a person, you may want to include a biography in the introduction.

Then you want to divide your paper into: Major achievements (for a sports champion, his best scores and rewards, major endorsements). In another section, you may want to discuss his charity work. Those could be the major sections and those will appear in the form of an informal outline.

Here is a sample preliminary outline for a paper on a sports person

A. Introduction: Biography and historical background

B. Major Championship achievements and awards

D. Endorsements he/she received

C Charity and humanitarian work.

D. Conclusion: Testimonials from people and magazines.

Thesis statement

Although the thesis statement is stated at the beginning of the outline, you should not write it before you have determined the points to be discussed. The thesis statement states all the points that the paper will cover. A possible thesis statement for the above outline could be

John Doe is/was a famous basketball champion who won accolades and endorsements and donated to charity.

Notice that the thesis statement combines all the points in the outline in one sentence.

It is a complete sentence with subject+verb.

Step One: Find Sources

The first step in writing the research paper is to find sources.

First you need to read general articles about the chose topics. After reading two or three general topics, you can choose from them some points that you would like to know more about.

Suppose your topic is Yellowstone Park.

First read a number of articles about the park in general, making a list of ideas that capture your attention: vegetation, wildlife, waterfalls, lakes, et….

If your topic is about a person, read a number of articles that deal with his life in general. Start listing ideas as you read: His/her life story, significant people in his/her life, his/her personality, his/her schooling, his/her career, problems he/she faced.

After you write down the list, you choose the items that you will, most likely, focus on in your paper. For the paper in this class, focusing on three ideas is enough.

All your work so far is tentative. You may make changes later.

Then you look for sources that discuss the three ideas of your preference.

Where to look for sources

There are many scholarly search engines that are considered scholarly they are created by the collaborative efforts of college and universities across the nation.

Besides the Coastline Virtual Library, you may find the following useful (links will open in a new browser).

The Bedford Research Room

Librarian’s Internet Index

Google Advanced Search

Alta Vista

You must be wondering “And what about Wikipedia?” For the answer to this, I refer you to the article on the Wikipedia Website:

Wikipedia: Researching with Wikipedia. In this article, the authors of Wikipedia assure web visitors that their site is not reliable because anyone can contribute to the site by clicking on “Edit.”

So, is Wikipedia a reliable source? The answer is “No, it is not a reliable source. Therefore, you may not use it as a source for your paper.

Search Strategies

To look for sources, identify key words in your topic that clearly define the information you are seeking. Enter the most important word or phrases, such as George Washington, Grand Canyon, Paris, Venice.

If you do not find what you are looking for, try to find synonyms. For example, if you do not find what you are looking for under “capital punishment,” try “death penalty.”

Use symbols such as &, +, -. For example, you may use words like George Washington – civil war: this will list sources on George Washington that do not mention the civil war.
Immigration + Korean: this will list immigration issues concerning Koreans only.
Use double quotes for the term you are looking for: “Prison Reform”

Search engines will provide you with links to a list of sources and you need to read through and choose the sources that are good for your paper.

Do not let yourself drown in information. Just read through quickly and grab sources as soon as you find them relevant to your paper. Do not go on looking for more or better. There is no end to this process.

Once you have decided on the sources you want to use (tentatively), you can make an informal list. An informal list does not necessarily observe any particular format in writing the information about each source. Just state the author, title, and the website if it is a web source.

Relevant means that (a) it offers content on one of the main ideas in the paper and (b) that it does not repeat content that is found in another source.

Reliable means that (a) the author is an expert in the field or an acknowledged authority, and (b) the author is not biased for reasons of affiliations. For example, if you are looking for information on a specific political party, you know that its website is biased for and that the website of the opposing party is biased against the subject of your topic.

Current means that the time at which the content was published is within the time frame of the paper and that the information is not obsolete.

Evaluating Web Sources

Web sources have to be scrutinized for reliability as anyone can publish anything on the internet. Before you decide to use information from a website look for the following:

1. Copyrights: You will have to scroll down all the way till the end to find the copyrights of the website.

2. “Contact us” button: The website has to have the names and addresses of real people who will be held accountable for what is published on the website.
3. Last update: the website has to offer a date of when it was last updated.
4. Profit: If the website is trying to sell something, it may not be good for an academic paper.

In the Tentative sources, type the full URL for each source because I need to check it out.

Each link in the Tentative Sources part of the Proposal should lead to an actual and complete article that is approximately 750 or more words. However, if the article is less than 750 words, but it is valuable to the paper, it will be accepted.

Links that lead to a website with many links will not be accepted.

Developing a Tentative Outline

After you evaluate the sources, you start reading attentively and jotting down possible main points that the paper will discuss. As you read more, you can make decisions on what points to include in your paper. By the end of your reading, you will develop a tentative list of of main ideas that the paper will likely discuss. These points will form the outline of the paper. Later, you may choose to combine two or three of them under one heading or to discard one or two. It all depends on what you feel will make your paper stronger and more coherent.

Make sure than each item on the outline is covered by the content of, at least, one article in theTentative Sources section.

The outline is not numbered in Roman Letters

I. Introduction: Defintion and history

II. ….

III. ….

IV. …

V. ….

VI. Conclusion

The outline does not elaborate or explain what will be specifically discussed in each section. It is just the title of the main sections of the paper.

If you have not yet decided what to write in the conclusion, do not write anything. Please do not write : wrap up ideas and bring it all together. This is vague. Just leave that section to be decided later.

Suggested Outlines

Here are suggested outlines on a number of popular topics among students. You may use the outline entirely or partially. You may make changes that best suit your paper. Your paper does not have to include all or only the points here. You may add or delete as you please. These are suggestions meant to help you organize and develop your paper.


Introduction: Definition and location (where in the world/US hurricanes happen).

I. US departments that deal with hurricanes, their websites and their services. How hurricanes are measured (if they are measured) and how they are named.

II. Warning signs of hurricanes.

III. Causes

IV. Effects

V. Precautions

VI. Famous hurricanes in US and some of their most devastating effects

VII. Conclusion



I. Introduction: Definition and location (where in the world tornadoes happen).

II. US departments that deal with hurricanes, their websites and their services. How hurricanes are measured (if they are measured) and how they are named.

III. Warning signs of tornadoes.

IV. Causes

V. Effects.

VI. Precautions (if there are any).

VII. Famous tornadoes in US and some of their most devastating effects.

IIX. Conclusion



I. Introduction: Definition and location (where in the world volcanoes happen).

II. Warning signs of volcanoes.

III. Causes

IV. Effects.

V. Precautions (if there are any).

VI. Famous Volcanoes in history.

VII. Conclusion


A Law

Examples: Three Strikes Law, Castration Law.

I. Introduction: Definition of the law: What is this law about? When did it start? What states apply it now?

II. Effect of the law: statistics and stories from all states about predicted and unpredicted effects. State the source of these statistics and stories.

III. Arguments for the law

IV. Arguments against the law

V. Conclusion: Prediction for the future.


If you support this law, you have to counter argue #4 and prove it wrong.

If you are against the law, you have to counter argue # 3.

If you are neutral, just write your conclusion.

You may also relate specific stories about people who were affected by this law.



I. Introduction: His number among US presidents. Other offices he held before becoming president. Which state he came from originally. Some information about his private life.

II. First issue he dealt with as a president.

III. Second issue he dealt with as a president

IV. Third issue he dealt with as a president.

V. Conclusion: His death (if relevant) and his reputation.

When you develop your own outline, you have to specify each issue that the paper will discuss in 2,3, and 4.


One US Department.

Examples: Homeland security; social security; National Highway, Internal Revenue, Supreme Court

I. Introduction: Definition. When and why it was established (if relevant)

II. Break down: departments

III. Services

IV. Famous cases/people/laws/controversy etc…

V. Conclusion: Prediction for the future



Examples: Statue of Liberty, Sistine Chapel, Tour Eiffel, The Pyramids, Taj Mahal, The Colosseum, Pisa Tower, The London Tower.

I. Introduction: Definition: what is it, its location, age, why it was built

II. Outside description with significan elements.

III. Inside description with significan elements.

IV. Significant facts (architectural, historical, etc…)

V. Conclusion: Significance over time.

Sample Proposal

Paul Corey
Castration Of Sexual Predators

Tentative Outline

Thesis Statement: Chemical or surgical castration of repeat sexual predators and sex offenders

can lower the number sex crimes.

A. Introduction: A brief overview on the history of chemical and surgical castration.

B. States that have castration laws and how they are dissimilar.

C. Whether or not castration laws are unconstitutional.

D. Whether or not sex offenders and sexual predators have the right to
choose to receive this type of treatment.

E. Conclusion: Highlight the main ideas and bring them all together.

Tentative Sources

1. Charles M. Scott, MD, and Trent Holmberg, MD, “Castration of Sex

Offenders: Prisoner’s Rights Versus Public Safety”, The Journal of the

American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law,


This source is reliable because the website is copyrighted, has contact

information available, and is updated.

The source provides specific

information on actual chemical castration cases as well as provides

information on sex offenders Constitutional rights.

2. Larry Helm Spalding, “Florida’s 1997 Chemical Castration Law: A

Return to the Dark Ages”, Florida State University Law Review,


This source is reliable because it comes from Florida State University’s

website, the website is copyrighted, and the website has contact

information. This source provides information on the history of

castration, the drugs used in chemical castration, and whether or not

chemical castration is cruel and unusual punishment.

3. Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney, “Castration of Sex Offenders”,

Office of Legislative Research, www.cga.ct.gov/2006/rpt/2006-R-0183.htm

This source is reliable because it comes from the State of Connecticut

Government website, it is copyrighted, and it provides contact

information. The source provides information on which states have

Castration Laws and the specifics of each states law.

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