College Research Paper: Purposes and a Writing Guideline
In higher education, the term “research paper” is a broad term for assigned papers that call for a student to investigate a topic and put it into written form. The immediate purpose of such an assignment is to have the student learn something about a topic and present what they’ve learned effectively to their professor; therefore, the research paper is evaluated based on what the student has said on the topic and how they have said it.
Most research papers incorporate information from library catalogs, periodical indexes, bibliographies, primary and secondary sources, journals, books and other published documents, etc.
Most upper-level college professors expect their students to know how to write a research paper by the time they have reached their class or course – which they should have learned in freshman English Composition; however, students may find themselves being assigned the research papers in other classes as well, including those beyond the freshman year, to not only develop their writing skills but to master the techniques and conventions (the useful practices and rules) of formal, academic research. It is the skill they will be able to use for the rest of their lives – and certainly beyond their academic career.
The research paper also introduces the student to an array of possibilities for learning, helping them to consistently discover information that helps them make sense out of the world that is rarely orderly, classified and compartmentalized. This type of assignment helps the student find similarities and differences, think critically about practical problems, issues, and topics, and trains them to order information and knowledge into meaningful patterns – habits of mind that are developed and cultivated with a thorough, rigorous education, which are then ingrained in the student’s way of thinking to benefit them for a lifetime. In essence, like the purpose of education itself, research paper assignments help the student by teaching them how to advance their education on their own.
The student’s ability to find and evaluate information – which is strengthened most effectively through writing research papers – will benefit them in their chosen career field after college and even in their personal life. For example, if a student wants to be a journalist, but they have no idea how to conduct interviews or even how to write an article for a newspaper, they can learn how to do so by conducting thorough research; if a student is worried their grandmother is being illegally exploited financially by a lawyer or creditor, that same student, having no knowledge of legalities, could research laws and guidelines to better protect their loved one. Or a dairy farmer knowing a nuclear power plant is going up within a mile of their farm will need to research the hazards of nuclear energy and how it may affect their crops. There are an infinite number of practical applications for the skills one learns through doing the kind of research needed to write a research paper.
We've got a good guideline for writing a research paper:
The kind of research papers assigned in higher education are not the ones given mostly in secondary education, where a student has to provide a very basic, general overview of a subject. That may call for a research paper on the life of the Benjamin Franklin, the history of New York City, or the implications of Emancipation Proclamation.
But in college or at the university level a student may be assigned a research paper where they have to take a stance on a certain subject, basically an argumentative research paper, with a thesis and evidence to support their argument; or, if they’re assigned an analytical research paper, they must evaluate and use their logical reasoning skills to further their understanding of a topic, subject or issue.
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