CIS4398: Independent Study
Summer 2002
Emerging Issues in Information Technology

Outline Components
Paper Components

What is a Research Paper?

Before discussing what a research paper is, it is important to note what a research paper is NOT. It is NOT a term paper. In a term paper, you are trying to show the instructor that YOU have learned something. In a research paper, you are essentially telling the reader something that THEY do not know. It is NOT a textbook or a tutorial. You are NOT attempting to teach people who don't know anything about the topic; people read research journals because they are familiar with the general topic, but want to see what insights you might be able to give them about a specific area within that field.

There are some basic criteria that make up a research paper:

  • It is focused (i.e., don't try to take on a broad area such as "Databases")
  • It is well organized ("Ulysses" by James Joyce may be a great novel (I personally have never been able to finish it, although I have tried many times), but it is not research)
  • It is grounded in theory or previous study (Even the most original ideas owe their existence to ideas which preceded them). Given this statement, it implies that the paper MUST be based on past research (NOT textbooks, NOT tutorials, NOT comic books, although any of them might be cited as generally accepted fact). In other words, your paper should be an extension of the RESEARCH that others before you have done.
  • It is based on logical arguments and findings. If you are doing an empirical you must defend your arguments in terms of a sound model, a methodology to test that model, and findings which either do or do not support your model (by the way, just because your findings didn't come out just as you wanted them to, that doesn't mean that your paper was bad. Your findings may turn out to be more significant than if they had supported your model). If you are doing conceptual research, you must defend your arguments in terms of applying logic to explain the weaknesses or limitations you found in the previous research, either through a model or a well structured narrative.
  • It reaches logical and defensible conclusions (based on its findings)

A research paper presents the results of your investigations on a selected topic. Based on your own thoughts and the facts and ideas you have gathered from a variety of sources, a research paper is a creation that is uniquely yours. The experience of gathering, interpreting, and documenting information, developing and organizing ideas and conclusions, and communicating them clearly will prove to be an important and satisfying part of your education.

There are many approaches to research an essential part of every business and profession and many ways to document findings. The library has books which will help you, and most English composition textbooks contain chapters on research techniques and style. It is important to follow consistently and accurately a recommended format.

The formatting of citations recommended here is based on American Psychological Association (APA) Format (5th Edition). You might also want to check the  Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers Fifth Edition (1999). Both handbooks can be found at the Library, purchased at the University Bookstore or obtained on-line (The on-line versions are not complete, but sufficient for this course).

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