Category Archives: Research

From apathy to discovery: Research tips

by Sydni Hammar

Like most students, I have found myself faced with a writing assignment that I simply didn’t feel interested in doing. Oftentimes, this apathy stems from the fact that I don’t feel inspired to write because I’m not excited about the possibilities of my topic. However, I have discovered that I am inspired to dig into a topic when

  1. my research is guided by my own questions, and
  2. I feel that there is a real possibility that all of this questioning might lead to a new discovery or understanding.

Digging into new material or questions is inherently satisfying because I get to have fun in the process of uncovering a mystery. Annie Proulx shares this delight in the essay “Inspiration? Head Down the back Road, and Stop for the Yard Sales.”* Proulx explains how she sees the potential for discovery in virtually everything she encounters in life. She discusses a “need to know” which enables her to conduct research driven by curiosity. Simply put, she is in touch with her curious nature, and she has made a habit of indulging it. This “need to know” attitude exists because she asks questions, and she has to find answers.

As writers, we must approach our research with the same authentic curiosity and openness to discovery. One of my English professors once told me that the biggest mistake students make in research is to go into it already knowing what they are looking for. I have found this to be very true, since for me, this approach limits my research, and it’s boring! There is no room for discovery (which is what makes an exciting paper) if you already know what you are looking for.

Therefore, you can’t make a discovery without the desire to know or question. Below are a few strategies for developing a curiosity for your research.

  • Ask yourself (and your resources) questions!
  • If you find an article you like, see if other scholars have cited it. It can be very helpful to see what other scholars are saying about your topic! This strategy is called bibliography mining, and Google Scholar is a great tool for this.
  • Look for buzzwords or patterns. Scholarly articles often have subject terms listed above or near the abstract, and you can use these to see connections between different ideas in various articles, which can create a roadmap of discovery.

With these tools, you are equipped to dive into meaningful and exciting research!

Sydni Hammar is a junior majoring in English, and works as an editor for Mistake House, a student-run literary magazine at Principia College.

*Proulx’s essay appeared in Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times (2002).

The bibliographic research journal

by Shamus Jarvis

As any scholar who has composed an extensive paper can attest, the research process plays an essential role in developing a thought-provoking and original piece of scholarship. Effective research methods include not only identifying appropriate sources, but also properly documenting those sources so that one can utilize the information gleaned from various books, journals, etc. when it comes time to write the paper.

A bibliographic research journal is one such method of documentation that is less formal than a complete annotated bibliography, but is nonetheless an exceptionally helpful tool to use when engaging in a project that will necessitate extensive research. Comprised of three essential elements—1) a proper citation, 2) a summary of the source, and 3) notable quotations—a bibliographic research journal allows one to record an author’s main thesis and identify other key ideas in an organized manner.

While you should format your own bibliographic research journal in a way that best suits your research needs, I will offer my personal format preferences as a guideline for what the journal might look like.

  1. The first piece of information included for each journal entry should be a properly formatted citation. Be sure to consult your professor as to which citation style he or she expects you to use (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.).
  2. Next, create a summary of the source. What is the author’s principal thesis? Does he or she articulate any especially innovative ideas within the source? Be sure to include only summary information; do not comment on whether or not you agree with the author. This section should be roughly one paragraph long and only contain the author’s ideas.
  3. Thirdly, include quotations from the source. This is an appropriate section in which to jot down your initial reactions to a particular idea or the source as a whole. Do you mainly agree or disagree with the author? Does the source seem credible? Does the author reference any sources that you have already investigated? All of these are reasonable questions to ask yourself when examining a source.

If you anticipate analyzing a significant number of sources (e.g., fifty or more), it might be wise to include a slightly abbreviated summary section in order to save yourself some time. Again, a bibliographic research journal is entirely for your own benefit, and as you become a more proficient researcher, you will undoubtedly develop your own note-taking style that suits you well.

Shamus Jarvis is a senior theatre and English double major. He will direct a one-act play and present his postcolonial reading of Lord of the Flies later in the semester.

Conquer the exegesis process (Part II)

Here is the second half of the instructions on how to conquer the exegesis process. Created by Katie Hynd, the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern for the Religion Department in the fall of 2013, these images were taken to help as you start the exegesis process. Good luck, and have fun!

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After discussing how both the various translations and the research of a word have affected your understanding of your chosen passage, it’s time to check out the dictionaries and commentaries! All the books in my arms are various dictionaries. They define words and concepts from the Bible. In contrast, a commentary is specifically about the book your passage is found within. After studying my passage, which is Luke 10.38-42, I decided I wanted to learn more about Martha and Mary. Therefore, I looked up their names in various dictionaries and analyzed them. You get to decide what interests you. The commentaries and dictionaries will help you write these sections: Literary Context, Social and Historical Context, and the Theological and Ethical Reading of the Passage. Get ready to research! Read the commentaries’ introductions and outlines. 
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If you find something you want to learn more about, then it’s time to do more research. Go to the stacks! Most of the texts you will use are  on the third floor of the library (call number starts with BS) closest to the big windows looking toward the concourse.
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Want even more information? Check out the online database ATLA! After entering your search terms and being specific in your search terms, make sure the text you are interested in states “PDF Full Text” at the bottom. If you can’t access the article, then you can’t access the article.
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Don’t forget to think and develop your own thoughts about the passage you are researching. This is your project, and you get to write about your own connections when you write the Conclusion and Application section. Also, when you write your introduction, you get to speak to your reader about how this text impacted you. Have fun with it.
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The bibliography. This is the most important section of your paper.  Don’t let it scare you. You get to tame the bibliography. We are using the SBL style, and the “Principia College Biblical Studies Citation Guide” will become your best friend. Read it before you ask for help, but also be sure to ask for help if you are confused. This style uses footnotes, like Chicago style. Remember to keep track of your sources as you write. I suggest creating the bibliographic citations for each source you use AS YOU USE IT. That way you don’t have to search for your sources the night before each section of your paper is due.
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Now that you’re done, put all your sources on the shelving cart. Leave the shelving to the library workers. It doesn’t help anyone if you shelve a book in the wrong section. Also, the library likes to know how often books are used, and when they shelve the books you have used, they check them “in.” That being said, if you can’t find a book, ask the circulation desk about it. They may not have processed the book you want. Last note: do not leave reference materials in your study carrel. Even if you are going to dinner and plan on being back in half an hour, reference materials are for everyone, and there may be someone who only has that half our of time to work on their exegesis. You will probably be writing your paper with lots of others doing the same assignment.

Now you’re done! (At least with learning about the research process.)

Conquer the exegesis process (Part I)

The following images and text were created by Katie Hynd, the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern for the Religion Department in the fall of 2013. Use them as a starting point and a reference when you begin writing your exegesis paper. Good luck, and have fun!

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Welcome to the Library! Come prepared. Bring a mug and sweater, along with your computer and notebook.
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This section of the library, the Reference Room, is going to become your new home. The first step in the process of writing an exegesis is to become very familiar with your passage. Read it in the NRSV along with all its footnotes, the chapter’s introduction, and the book’s introduction. This will help you question the passage and become familiar with your passage’s controversies and/or significant points. In terms of writing, don’t worry about the introduction right now. Move straight into the section “Translations and Word Study.”
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Now it’s time to compare various translations of the Bible. Since we are reading the passage in English, and not the original Hebrew or Greek, the translation of any one Bible is not necessarily the closest to the source text. It is significant to look at how different translators interpret the Bible. We can gain a different understanding of the text if we read how different people translated it. It also helps you with the next task which is…
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…to compare words! It will help if you also make a chart of different translations of your text
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Now it’s time to understand why different translators interpreted a word differently. Start by looking up a word from your passage in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This concordance only corresponds to the KJV. The word you look up will list the different passages in which your word is referenced. Look for your passage and then the number to the right of that passage. Then, in the back of the book (in the Hebrew section if your passage is in the Old Testament, or in the Greek section if your passage is in the New Testament), your word’s number will correspond to a Hebrew or Greek term and its definition.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Yea or naysayer

by Laura Tibbetts

I used to think that the process of writing a research paper was essentially the following:

  1. Gather information.
  2. Come up with a thesis.
  3. Write about the information in order to prove the thesis.

However, a couple years ago, I read a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein called They Say / I Say, which changed my perspective a bit.

One of the topics of the book is the importance of including a “naysayer” in thesis papers. The term “naysayer” refers to someone who disagrees with a point that you are trying to prove. It may seem counterintuitive to include contradictory ideas in your paper, but when used correctly, the contradictory ideas can make your thesis even stronger.

Why?

Because they provide an opportunity to respectfully explain that while the naysayer’s opinions are valuable, your thesis should be considered correct for whatever reasons you present in your paper.

This allows you to show that you are aware of the different perspectives on your topic and that you have thought through them and chosen your thesis for a reason.

The point of the naysayer is to create a conversation that allows you to prove your thesis, or argument. Without a naysayer, your thesis paper would be purposeless, because you would basically be trying to prove a point that no one was even questioning in the first place.

The naysayer does not necessarily have to be a specific scholar; it could be the opinion of a group of people, or it could simply be a common perception about your topic that you would like to debate (e.g. “It may seem that…” or “It is generally believed that…”).

Whatever form it takes, a naysayer is a valuable tool for making research papers more meaningful, interesting, and convincing.

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Did he say “Bible extra Jesus”?

by Katie Hynd

How is an exegesis paper different from a research paper? Why do we write these “extra Jesus” papers in Bible classes, anyway? These are two questions I asked last year as I began my post-graduate teaching internship with the Religion Department. I was determined to find answers.

Essentially, an exegesis paper is a research paper. The Religion Department uses the word “exegesis” instead of “research” because there are specific requirements for papers in Bible classes that a typical research paper doesn’t include (or that a research paper requires that an exegesis paper foregoes).

An exegesis paper does not argue a thesis statement or answer a research question. It is guided by a Bible passage.

In Bible classes the word “passage” is used frequently. A passage is a short selection of Bible verses. This short selection can be as short as one line from the Bible, or it can be up to five or six Bible verses. The length is up to you and your professor.

You will become very familiar with the Bible passage you select. After selecting your passage and reading the surrounding text, your exegesis assignment sheet will ask you to answer questions about the literary, social, historical, and theological context of this passage.

The word “context” can seem complicated, and it threw me off when I was writing my exegesis. Don’t let it derail you! Context simply means the surroundings or setting. So, when you are given the prompt to research the literary context, you are being asked to analyze the text that comes before and after the passage you’ve selected—the surroundings. Similarly, the questions about your passage’s social and historical context are asking you to share the setting of your passage. And finally, the questions about your passage’s theological context are asking you to analyze how God is referenced in the surrounding text and how He is portrayed in your passage.

While there are lots of differences between an exegesis paper and a research paper, in both you are expected to write an introduction and a conclusion. The intro and conclusion give you the space to tell your professor what you thought about your passage before you started researching and what you think about it now that you have written a complete paper.

Recently I was surprised when chatting with a few of my friends about their experiences writing an exegesis paper. They told me they enjoyed the space to research a Bible passage. They liked learning more about how to use Bible resources and what to do when they have questions about Bible lesson selections.

So if you choose a passage that deeply interests you or bothers you or you simply want to learn more about, researching and writing an “extra Jesus” paper can be fruitful. Wishing you all the best!

If you want to learn about the root of the word “exegesis” or why religion papers use Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) style or what to do if you are lost and confused in the research process, please see Exegesis Paper FAQs.

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.

Quotation alteration

by Shamus Jarvis

As a follow-up to my recent post describing how to integrate quotations effectively, I would like to explain how to modify quotations in order to further help you achieve a seamlessly integrated quotation.

There are two tools (or punctuation marks) used to modify a quote:

  1. Ellipses
  2. Square brackets [ ]

An ellipsis (…) signifies an omission from a quotation. This punctuation mark is especially useful if you are quoting a particularly lengthy passage and want to limit the amount of quoted material that appears in your essay. For example, assume I wanted to integrate the following quote from Sense and Sensibility into my paper: “‘I felt myself,’ she added, ‘to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us to each other’” (Austen 133).

By omitting a couple of words from the passage, I can call my reader’s attention to specific phrases that are significant to whatever claim I am making, thereby increasing the strength of the quotation: Marianne’s decision to correspond with Willoughby through written letters reflects her misconstrued notions concerning the state of her relationship with him, causing her to later admit that “[she] felt [herself] … to be as solemnly engaged to [Willoughby], as if the strictest legal covenant had bound [them] together” (Austen 133).

You will notice that this integrated quotation combines both methods of quote modification. The square brackets indicate pronouns that I have substituted in order to clarify the subject of the quotation. It is important to recognize that as a result of these substitutions, I have not altered the meaning of the original quotation. Square brackets are useful in altering certain words so that your quotation is grammatically correct within the context of the sentence that appears in your paper.

As a result of utilizing these two punctuation marks in altering quotations, you should be able to produce an effective integrated quote that fluidly transitions between your own words and the quotation.

 

Shamus is about to begin his final year of study at Principia College and looks forward to spending part of his upcoming fall semester studying abroad in England.

A quote sandwich to remember

by Shamus Jarvis

When writing any research paper, there is a common temptation to incorporate numerous quotations into the paper with the expectation that a lot of external quotes, lacking interpretation, will lend authority to your argument. Unfortunately, an overabundance of quotes actually detracts from a writer’s thesis because the writer’s own voice becomes overshadowed by the various scholars that he or she is quoting in the paper. Although there is no specific rule regarding a maximum or minimum number of quotations a writer should include in each paragraph of a research paper, writers should endeavor to include original thought as much as possible and use quotations sparingly and judiciously.

In order to use quotations effectively to support your thesis, ensure that the following three elements accompany every source that you cite in your paper:

  1. a signal phrase to introduce the quote,
  2. the actual quotation, and
  3. explication that describes the significance of the quote.

Signal phrases allow you to transition smoothly from your own words to those of the person being quoted. These phrases set up the reader for the quotation by indicating who is being quoted and including any needed context for the quote. For example, if a writer wanted to include a quote from a particular speech, he or she might use the following signal phrase: In his 2014 State of the Union Address, United States President Barack Obama stated, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Immediately following the quotation, the writer must include careful explication that illustrates the significance of the quote. Explication goes beyond mere summary and instead helps the reader understand how the quote relates to the writer’s thesis. Depending upon how important a quote is in the context of a paper, writers should devote at least one sentence to explication so that the reader understands how the quotation relates to the writer’s argument.

It might be helpful to think of integrated quotations as a sandwich, with the quotation nestled between a signal phrase and explication. The following is an example of an effective integrated quotation “sandwich”:  As Caryl Phillips acknowledges in his introduction to Heart of Darkness[Signal Phrase] “One of the great paradoxes of the novel is that while Marlow dislikes Kurtz for having abandoned all decent standards, he also admires this ivory trader for having had the courage to fearlessly explore his ‘dark’ side” (xiii). [Quote] Through the paradoxical nature of Marlow’s feelings toward Kurtz, Joseph Conrad effectively establishes Kurtz as an enigmatic figure whose ultimate submission to the forces of darkness accentuates the moral conflict between barbarism and civilization throughout the novella. [Explication]

Remember, all quotations should relate to the writer’s central claim and must be followed with explication so as not to distract from a writer’s own words. Signal phrase + Quotation + Explication = an effective integrated quotation.

 

Shamus is in his third year studying Theatre and English at Principia and looks forward to studying abroad in England for the fall semester. He will appear in the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale upon returning to campus in October.

Reading scholarly articles—demystified

by Clayton Harper

In order to be a good researcher, you must be a good reader, or at least a diligent and strategic one. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I’ve noticed that students struggle to use ideas from their research to strengthen the arguments in their writing and participate in demanding classroom discussions. Let me say a few things to address that.

Reading scholarly articles and academic sources is hard. Writers will often dress up simple ideas in complex language. Many will throw as much jargon at their readers as they can. Name-dropping can be frequent and disorienting. Some of this complexity is important to understand. Some of it is unnecessary.

In order to “get something” out of your sources, you must read as a writer. That means reading a scholarly article by identifying the elements you use yourself to write a paper. Generally, this means separating the content of an article into claims and evidence. Scholarly articles tend to be composed of claims, which are statements that argue a broad concept, trend, or  idea; and evidence, which includes specific examples that support or illustrate each claim. When you read, underline or note on a separate piece of paper (or a Word document, if you prefer working digitally) all the claims you find. Sometimes a paragraph contains only one claim. Sometimes there will be more. For the most part, though, an article has much more evidence than claims.

By focusing on the claims of an article, you will remember more of its content. When you read an article to understand its claims/evidence structure, the content will condense into a handful of main ideas. Now you understand what you have read, and it’s much easier to remember 5-10 general ideas than 25 pages of wordy stuff. If you can discipline yourself to do this, you may also remember important bits of evidence that are linked to each claim. And if you don’t, because you underlined or took notes as you read, you will know exactly where to look to refresh your memory.

Don’t be discouraged by the reading process. No one flies through this stuff nodding their head and walking away with complete comprehension. Good readers are workmanlike. They take sources one piece at a time and slowly assemble the larger picture from the bits they understand. Don’t get hung up on the desire to master a source. Do take the steps to extract something that is understandable and useful from what you read. That’s the point of research, isn’t it?

Clayton Harper is a creative writing major and writing tutor at Principia College. He never doodles during class and isn’t known to daydream about crazy adventures to write about later.

Citation starters

by Shannon Naylor

Let’s meet Annie, a freshman at Imaginary University. She has just been assigned her first college paper and has listened to the list of all the possible punishments for plagiarism, intentional or not. She learned one citation style in high school, but now she’s expected to know three different ones for three different classes and she has started to panic. What on earth is she supposed to do?

If, like Annie, you are panicking over citations, stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Here are some easy steps towards citing sources with confidence.

Which way do I cite? Find out what writing style you need for the paper in question. Most college papers will be written in MLA, APA, or Chicago styles, but sometimes you’ll need something different. Consult the assignment or ask your professor.

How do I cite? Check with the library for the proper style manual or ask a TA or writing tutor how to format the citations properly. The library website is helpful too: http://library.principiacollege.edu/citation-help. These will give you the specifics for whatever style you are required to use.

When and what do I cite? You cite whenever you include specific data, exact quotes or paraphrases. You will most likely use in-text citations, although the style will determine whether you use parenthetical citations, footnotes, or endnotes. All of your sources should be collected in a works cited, bibliography, or references page.

What makes something “common knowledge”? Sometimes it’s easy to tell. Let’s visit Annie again. Say she is writing a paper on the geology of Hawaii. So far, she knows that Hawaii is an island in the Pacific Ocean. This is common knowledge—she knew this before starting her research. In her research, she learns that there are three kinds of lava: pillow, aa, and pahoehoe. She never knew this before, but all of the articles in which she has encountered this fact treat it like common knowledge. It is. This is an example of field-specific common knowledge: the average Joe (or Annie) might not be familiar with it, but it is old news to geologists. Annie continues her research and finds measurements for how far lava has spread on Hawaii per annum. This data is not common knowledge and should be cited.

Why do I cite? At first, citing sources may seem like a chore, but it’s really just a written form of politeness. One day in class, Annie has a group discussion and shares an original, insightful thought about the readings. When their group shares with the class, Bob shares her idea without mentioning that Annie came up with it. She is frustrated. Published articles, essays, and studies are all part of a larger academic conversation and, like Annie, the authors deserve to be credited for their ideas. This is why we cite our sources.

Shannon Naylor is a junior studying creative writing and theatre. She is currently enjoying a break from school—but not from writing!