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Organizing

This section deals with your responsibilities if you are doing research from multiple sources.

Do Your Sources Stack Up?

Book Report
A book report explains the ideas and concepts in a single work. It’s like a mirror that reflects exactly what it sees.

Maintaining the conversation element of research from multiple sources is really important. If you’ve got thirty notecards from just one major source and only two cards from a few others, you are not achieving balance and are on the dangerous road toward a book report. You’ll need to go back and do some more substantive research about your topic before you can write a strong paper.

Research Paper
A research paper explains ideas and concepts that are formed from the understanding of many different works. It’s like a conference, allowing multiple sources to talk to each other.

At some point in your research, you will feel comfortable enough with the material you have found that you can begin to organize your research toward the final written product. For the ease of discussion, we will imagine that your final product is a paper of some length, though of course many of the following recommendations apply to research products of all varieties.

When you began searching for sources, you had several research questions in mind. First, you had a fairly long list of fact-based questions, and you probably found those answers in reference books. The answers to who, what, when, and where questions are generally facts that can be found in any book or article about your topic.

Facts vs. “Facts”
Sometimes the “facts” are questionable or under debate, as they might be for controversial issues in science, history, current events, public policy, and countless other disciplines. If you are studying such an issue, make sure you get a good balance of perspectives and opposing viewpoints.

You also had your significant research questions, those how or why questions that form the foundation of your research. These questions should have required you to read fairly extensively from multiple sources and to synthesize your new knowledge to create logical answers. In other words, in order to answer your significant research questions, you had to become part of the conversation among experts about your topic. Your job now, as you begin to plan and draft your paper, is to recreate that conversation in a way that will make your understanding of it clear to your reader. Furthermore, you are striving to frame the conversation so that your reader sees the topic as you do and accepts the conclusions you have drawn as logical and sound.

When working on the outline, Imagine what information your reader needs to know when. Think about what background information you might need to give about your topic before your reader will feel comfortable following you into your research. Are you writing about a controversial issue? Do you need to set the stage for a period in history? Are you writing about something so specific that few readers will have any experience with it, or are you writing about a topic with which almost everyone is familiar? As you answer basic questions about the nature of your topic, your research, and your intended audience, an organizational pattern will begin to make itself clear to you.

Organize the cards based on the topics you will discuss in your paper, making new stacks for each paragraph. Your cards will form the rough outline of each paragraph. From here you can write topic sentences and begin to work on transitions between ideas. As you look at your proposed paragraphs, check to see that you are maintaining balance between sources throughout your paper. You need to interweave these sources, letting them speak to each other. Remember, it’s a conversation!

As you complete your outline, you are moving from the research process to the writing process. Before you switch gears, you should take some time to evaluate your experience in the research process. Taking time to do this now will benefit you later, when you are faced with your next research task. Use this evaluation guide to help you reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.

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