The following is an instruction I gave to an MPA class at Belhaven University. The content has teaching principles for weekly research papers in other disciples and in writing styles other than APA. I offer it as a guide and a resource to students and faculty in graduate schools and trust it is of some help in preparing the weekly research paper.
As your professor, I wanted to remind you all of the importance of designing the graduate-level social science research paper. My reminder is not intended to be given because I see any crisis emerging, but merely as a helpful resource for those who might benefit.
To begin with, make sure that you understand the question/issue/problem that you are called to address in the research paper. This matter will, ordinarily, be supplied to you by your course instructions for that week’s work. Make sure you can state the issue clearly in your introduction. But, use a “literary device” to introduce it. For instance, you can use a question to introduce the problem you are going to address. Or, perhaps, you can use a quotation or a personal reflection on the issue. However you chose to do so, your introduction should lead the reader into experiencing the question. From there you move down the “introductory chain” from the opening lines to literature about the issue (e.g., your reading for that week) to your premise. The literature review for a social science research model is quite extensive. The literature section of the introduction to a brief three to five-page weekly research paper is necessarily brief. This section usually just mentions the textbook or reading for the week that might have raised the issue you are assigned. There will be no interaction at this point. You merely raise the reading as the authoritative source for further understanding the issue, problem, or concern in your paper. Following this, you will write out your premise (also called the proposition, or thesis). This should be a simple sentence, though it may be placed within the context of a paragraph that introduces it and briefly supports its. It is its own paragraph and is, most certainly, its own “movement” in the research paper. Following this premises, there is a need for an interrogative statement. This interrogative may be stated or unstated. The purpose of the interrogative is a very necessary one. The interrogative will introduce the transition statement with keyword. Thus, you might posit a premise such as, “Economies depend upon a higher educational system that produces graduates who have a grasp of international affairs.” The premise, as is, needs a seed of a question in order to grow the stalk of a transition. Thus, an interrogatory sentence, stated or unstated, could be, “How is this working out in today’s higher educational system?” The transitional statement is, “Higher education is working to provide today’s students with a firm grasp of international affairs in, at least, three new courses of action.” The phrase, “courses of action” becomes the “keyword” for the argument. Each line of argument (or “point” in the body of the paper, if you prefer) will be tethered by the transitional sentences with keyword. And this, in turn, will cause the lines of argument to be connected to the premise. The premise will be constantly advancing the case for addressing the problem. Now. Turn your attention to the lines of argument themselves. Each line of argument will be (1) explained; (2) defended, if necessary; and (3) supported by reputable, scholarly authorities. In the taxonomy of reputable authorities for research papers the peer-reviewed journal article ranks the highest, followed by books by authors who are noted leaders in the field, usually academics. After that, the ranking is arguable, but popular works are at the lower end of the spectrum. That may be fair or unfair, but it is the standard.
As you move to the conclusion, consolidate your thoughts by recapitulating the problem, the premise, and your lines of argument. Then, make what may well be the single most important part of the paper: the closing argument. Very much like a prosecutor making his closing argument to the jury, you are making your final compelling case for your premise to the readership (in this case, part of that readership is, of course, your instructor and grader, or, perhaps, later, an examination committee). How do you do it? Avoid anything too “over the top.” This is an academic paper. Yet, the section in the paper does permit you some room for creativity that previous sections would not allow. For instance, personal stories or biographical material (as long as it is documented) will fit perfectly here and could be the perfect device to “make the case.”
In the end, however, the paper should leave the reader with an impression. The impression—regardless of the reader’s personal position with your premise—should be one that is characterized by respect for your scholarship, your attention to the line of argument, the logical flow of your argument, and the authoritative resources that you marshaled forward to support your conclusions—an uncontested affirmation of your due diligence to good honest scholarship.
Rather than give you a narrative, let me give you an outline:
A good graduate level research paper will include the following seven steps:
- State the problem or issue (e.g., Middle class is shrinking and poverty is growing.)
- Refer to the relevant literature on the subject (this will be quite limited for your weekly papers)
- Make the proposition or premise (e.g., Centralized economies discourage middle class economic as well as personal liberty.)
- Transition into the Argument with a keyword (e.g., “There are two [or three or four] irrefutable examples of this economic principle in twentieth-century history.”) “Examples” is the key word here.
- Divide the Argument into clear, cogent lines (making them complete sentences), using the keyword to tether each line of argument into the whole. (e.g., “The first example of this in history is this: “F.A. Hayek and the Post-War Crisis in England proves that centralized economies lend themselves to a decrease in wealth and liberty.” There is a second example: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union proves that centralized economies lend themselves to a decrease in wealth and liberty.” And so forth.)
- Support your argument with authoritative citations (to APA standards). I would like to see each of you citing, at least, one peer-reviewed journal article for each weekly paper and three peer-reviewed journal articles in your final portfolio papers. Your bibliography should reflect your research into that week’s study on the issue. A limited bibliography reflects a limited study and will be graded accordingly. Even a brief, but widely consulted, bibliography, during the week, will promote higher grades and will actuate greater learning experiences on your part, which is, after all, the great goal of your course. [Refer below to my example of an APA references for the mock problem and premise with argument that we are employing for this teaching.]
- Conclude with a recap, and then give a memorable “closing argument” supported by an illustrative quotation or other authoritative device that “moves” the reader to consider your point. (e.g., We have seen how centralized economies have actually worked to discourage middle-class growth and to steal personal liberties. We have seen this, specifically, in the case of F.A. Hayek’s lessons to Post-War England and in the Rise and Fall of the old Soviet Union. Yet, as instructive as historical lessons are for us, nothing speaks more powerfully than personal experience. One recalls the line of then-Presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan. He said, “A recession is when someone else loses their job. A depression is when you lose yours.” In fact, Ronald Reagan had known that loss of economic strength meant loss of freedom as a boy in a poverty-stricken area of small-town, depression-era Illinois. Maybe, that story is your story, too. The truth is, it has been the story of many families. It is one story that needs to be repeated no more.”)
I trust that this is of some aid to you in the study and preparation of your papers. Each of you can write well. Yet, I think each of you could grow in your design and arrangement of material so that your study for a given week is articulated in a way that demonstrates (1) critical thinking; (2) supported by authoritative resources; (3) gathered in quality time of research; and arranged in (4) a logical, clear, and cogent pattern that communicates convincingly.
[The following is a mock APA reference for the example used within the lesson above.]