Research Writing


Monday classwork

Step 1: Identifying your topic

Part 1

Before you can begin your research paper, you must have a topic.  Where do you start? It’s best to begin with the obvious. What are the subjects that either: 

•  interest you the most; or

•  you would like to know more about? 

It’s only common sense that if you are already interested in a subject, you will be equally interested in writing about it.

Most of us are interested in a great many things, but for a research paper assignment you have to choose only one topic. The best way to get started is to spend about 5-10 minutes “brainstorming” to create an interest inventory.


First select five (5) general topics that interest you and write them down, leaving enough space between each topic to brainstorm. In the sample below, there are five topics of general interest:

•  Healthcare

•  Employment

•  Internet/Social Media

•  Climate Change

•  Fantasy Literature

Next, consider each general topic and list everything that comes to mind. This is called brainstorming.  Now look over each list and highlight one item in each list that interested you the most. Take a look at the sample list below:

•  Healthcare:  future of medicare, opioid addiction, dealing with depression,  jobs  in medical research, cancer cure, medicine of the future, are GP’s obsolete, unfair system, how to change the system, socialized medicine, healthcare for all, should it be mandatory, the responsibility of the health care professional, patients and health care professionals, children of addicts, planned parenthood, elected officials views

•  Employment: best jobs for the future, tech industry, unemployment insurance, choosing the right career, US vs. other countries, women make less money than men, the glass ceiling, sexual harassment on the job, is college necessary, energy and new jobs, self-employment, women vs. men in the workplace

•  Internet/ Social Media: bullying, teens and social media, dumbing down of America, business and social media, how it affects relationships, dangers, rise of terrorism, fake news websites, how social media influences everyday life, Facebook, lack of privacy, networking

•  Climate Change: Future changes in water availability, melting ice and rising sea levels, extinction of animal species (i.e. polar bear), extinction of plant species, difficulty in understanding the facts, global warming: causes and effects, the future of the human race, the future of the planet, is it real, why is it happening, why we can’t remain indifferent

•   Fantasy Literature:  escapism,  vampires and werewolves,  spells, witches, why are we fascinated by vampires,superhuman characters, Dracula, zombies and cult heroes, the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, uncharted worlds, living forever, suspending disbelief, emotional high, sexuality and the undead

Part 2

You should now have five (5) items of interest (see blue highlights above). Next, consider those five items and the pick two (2) that are the most interesting to you (see below).

These are now your tentative research topics.

Tentative research topics:

•  Sexual harassment on the job

•  Why are we fascinated by vampires

Part 3

Finally, consider the potential of each of your tentative topics by doing a preliminary information search using at least two (2) of the following:

Consult an online encyclopedia like Encyclopedia Britannica, Scholarpedia (, or consult www.refdesk.comfor a list of online encyclopedias. Do not use Wikipedia for any of your research. Additionally, you can consult the following:

•  A specialized encyclopedia on your topic;

•  Google, Bing, Lycos, Yahoo, AOL, or a search engine of your choice;

•   The Virtual Library (;

•   Google Scholar;

•   Infotrac/Proquest

Once you find articles (at least 3) on each tentative topic, briefly skim through the material and decide which one interests you the most and which one has the most information available.

This is now your RESEARCH PAPER TOPIC for all the activities that follow.  If at any time you find this topic is not working out,  STOP and go back to your interest inventory, select another topic and go through the same steps until you find a topic that you feel is workable. 

Proceed to the next step in the sample.


 Tuesday Classwork

Step 2: Narrowing your topic

Narrowing your topic is about going from the general to the specific.

The most difficult part of research writing is probably the step that comes next: narrowing your topic. Think of a scene in a TV series you’ve seen recently where a whole panorama was visible. For example: a scene in Game of Thrones where the army of the dead surround a small band of the resistance. Now imagine the camera coming in for a CLOSE UP on one soldier, Jon Snow, in that scene, and suddenly a multitude of other things are visible to us:  distinguishing characteristics like a wound on his face, an expression we could not see before, the fact that there is a scroll sticking out of his amour, and perhaps we can even read some of the words which suggest it is from a loved one waiting for him back home. This transforms our general subject of an army engaged in combat and becomes the story of one soldier, Jon Snow, wondering if this will be his final battle and whether or not he will ever get back to see the loved one who wrote him that letter, and furthermore, wondering where she is at this very moment that his life may hang in the balance. So, what are his thoughts? What is his frame of mind?  What we have done is gone from a general picture to a close up of one man in battle. We have NARROWED our subject and gone from the general to some specific aspect.

NOTE: the object of research writing is to learn more about a specific aspect of your topic. 

Part 1

Write your topic down on your worksheet. Now make a subheading and title it:  Why I chose this topic. Then write all the reasons that influenced you to choose this topic (see my sample below).

Why I chose this topic: 

Ever since I was a child, I loved to watch movies about vampires and later started reading the vampire novels by Anne Rice, which got me more interested because of the historical roots of the vampire legend and how it traced back all the way to the ancient Egyptians. The fact that a legend could last for so long and finally evolve into the current rages, i.e. The Twilight series, The Vampire Diaries and HBO’s campy True Blood is even more intriguing.  Why are these creatures so appealing to us, even though they are basically evil and scary – or are they???

Review your list and highlight the one aspect of the topic that most interests you (see above).

Part 2

Next, make another subheading: What I already know.  Spend 5 minutes jotting down things you already know about your topic. (This can be facts, rumors, statistics, problems, controversies, misconceptions, observations—anything you know already). This information can later be channeled into your own commentary in various sections of the paper, like the Introduction,Body and Conclusion. See my sample below:

What I already know: Count Dracula wasn’t the first “vampire” – actually he was a Romanian warrior whose name was Vlad the Impaler and he got that name because he impaled the bodies of his enemies on stakes and lined the road to his palace with them as a warning to other potential enemies.  But Vlad was actually considered a champion of the Catholic Church and a defender of the faith.  Bram Stoker’s novel, however, presents a very tormented picture of Count Vlad who basically goes mad after his wife commits suicide and curses God, thereby summoning the powers of hell which grant him immortality.  That’s one story.  Then there are the accounts the account of immortal being in the ancient world, possibly the Pharaohs of Egypt who gained immortality from drinking the blood of their enemies; then there’s the story about the plague that swept through Europe in the 14th century. Some people survived by drinking the blood of the infected rats and this gave rise to a change in their DNA, thus creating the first immortals with tainted blood, who became known as vampires. What is most interesting however, is that despite how the vampire legend originated, the vampire himself has gained in popularity, going from a hideous creature to a suave, sophisticated creature of the night with fangs that sucked the blood from willing females who were attracted to him, to today’s  vampire “hero” who looks like a jock, can stay out in the sun and is a vegan who occasionally sips the blood of animals or human blood procured from blood banks,  and does not actually kill people, but is as sexy as ever and women love him.

Part 3

Lastly, make another subheading and title it:  Questions. Spend 15 minutes brainstorming a list of questions about the topic you’ve chosen that you’d like to answer in your research.  Make the list as long as possible.

Questions I would like to answer:  Why are we drawn to vampires?  Does it have something to do with our innate desire to live forever?  Why are vampires sexy, even when they’re killing people?  Why are women attracted to them?  Are men equally attracted to female vampires?  How did the whole vampire legend get started?  Was it something historical – an even, maybe, that caused this? If you had a choice, would you become a vampire?  Why or why not?  Why do other stories get stale and this one never does?  What is the essential bottom line appeal here?  Why can’t we get enough of these blood sucking creatures?  Is man naturally drawn to the dark side?  The forbidden?  Is that why we crave more – just like the vampire craves blood – do we humans crave something we can’t have – something so forbidden that we would risk anything to possess it?  Is the attraction about having second chances – after all, if you live forever, you can learn from your mistakes and start all over.  Do we as humans always want to push the envelope to a new extreme?   Do we all have the potential to be vampires? Do we suck the life out of other people – out of ourselves through meaningless jobs or relationships?

 After you are finished, look over all your questions and highlight the one question that interests you the most. See what I highlighted in my sample above.

Proceed to the next step in the sample.


 Thursday Classwork:

Step 3: Formulating a focus question and research proposal

Part 1

Go back to the question you highlighted at the end of Step 2 and copy it below. This is your focus question

Focus Question: Why are we drawn to vampires?

Part 2

Start another file and name it: Additional Questions

Make a list of additional questions (at least five) relating to your focus question that you would like to answer in your research paper. You may draw some of them from your previous list of questions, if suitable. See my sample below.

Additional Questions:

•  How did the vampire legend begin?

•  What aspects of the legend are most intriguing?

•  Why do other stories get stale and this one never does? 

•  Why are women drawn to these characters?

•  Does the vampire fulfill basic human needs and fantasies:  the perfect lover, the perfect companion, the perfect protector, the giver of eternal life?

Part 3

Next, decide what the purpose will be for your paper.  Is it to explore your topic, to argue your point of view about your topic, or to analyze your topic?

•  To explore  – You are posing a question because you are not sure of the answer and wish to discover it in the process of your research;

•  To argue  – You have a very strong conviction or hunch about what the answer to your research question might be, and you want to influence your reader’s thinking about it as well;

•  To analyze –  You begin with a theory about your question and then test it by collecting  data,  and then examining it and determining how closely it conforms to what you originally thought to be true

The purpose for my paper will be: to analyze

Part 4

Next, you will need to come up with a claim or theory about your topic. The claim or theory is your position /understanding about your topic and what you will explore, argue or analyze in your paper. How do you come up with a claim/theory about your topic?  Simply go over your additional questions list above and highlight the one that you would like to discuss in depth in your paper. The answer to your question will be the claim or theory you are making about your topic.

Note the question I highlighted on my list of additional questions above. It is now the claim/ theory I will discuss in my paper.

My Claim/Theory: Man is drawn to vampires because the vampire fulfills basic human needs and fantasies.

Part 5

You are now ready to formulate your Research Proposal using your focus question, your purpose, and your claim/theory. See my sample below:

Research Proposal:

1. Focus Question: Why are we drawn to vampires?

2. Purpose:  to analyze the reasons for this phenomenon based on my:

3. Claim/theory: The vampire fulfills basic human needs and fantasies

Now it’s your turn – using the above examples (Steps 1-3) , fill out the Week 1 Worksheet attached. Please submit via blackboard on Thursday 4/4 @ 1 p.m.