Research Required

When writing a research paper, the research process can be overwhelming and time consuming. Many writers often find themselves sucked into hour after hour of futile searching. Answering a few key questions in the beginning and creating a solid research plan will help focus your mission and guide you through the process efficiently.

Understand Assignment Guidelines

Forget starting research before you know two things: one — what are your guidelines? and two — what topic will fit those guidelines and requirements?

For instance, a topic such as the benefits of smartphone use for high school students, probably isn’t going to be found in peer-reviewed journals. If incorporating peer-reviewed or academic journal sources is a requirement of your assignment, then pick a topic accordingly. How?

Many topics based in the sciences, for instance, genetically modified food, endangered species, green energy, or organ transplantation, will likely have research in peer-reviewed or academic journals, as well as books and respected websites. Some topics that are considered current event issues will often be written about only in newspapers, magazines, or online. Your instructor may have strict guidelines that prohibit the use of these types of sources. Before you get too far into the research process, make certain your topic will work for the type of research your assignment requires. If peer-reviewed or academic research is required, debating the merits of a smartphone use or the pros and cons of a college playoff system might not work.

Finding Quality Research

Think quality over quantity. If your assignment requires 8 sources, citing 16 isn’t going to double your chances of a better grade. Using too many sources often sends up a red flag that you’ve relied too heavily on source material and not your own ideas. Quality sources — books, peer-reviewed journals, scholarly articles, library databases, and some websites — are usually written and reviewed by experts in the field. Some instructors allow “.edu” or “.gov,” websites, but beware that even some “.org” websites can be misrepresentative.

Wikipedia is an often-cited source — but most likely not allowed for an academic writing assignment. Most instructors oppose its use as a source. In addition, using a dictionary or encyclopedia definition isn’t considered “research” so avoid using definitions in place of research.

The best way to locate quality research comes from other quality research. If you’ve found one good source, look at that source’s citation page at the end of the article. Who has your source referenced? These are often the best sources for your topic.

While you might not be able to use Wiki sources in your paper, it’s often not a bad starting point to find other research. Wikipedia’s reference pages are often quite long and a good place to find further research. The search “Smartphones in School” in Wikipedia had 40 reference sources at the end of the page.

Keywords are King

When searching library databases such as EBSCO or ERIC, vary your search terms. Avoid using the same keyword, for instance, simply the one or two word topic, as you’ll usually get poor results. Database searches are all about keywords, and your best results come from careful consideration of search terms.   

Searching keywords related to your topic, however, will most likely return results that are too broad — and too many. Try to focus in on the main points you want to make. Instead of “Smartphone Use in High School” try searching one main point, such as “Phone Apps used in Education.” Instead of “global warming” try “declining ice sheets” or “atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

Organizing Research

As you spend time sifting through research, it’s essential to keep careful records. You’ll save valuable time if you stay organized and maintain careful records so you don’t have to go back and try to find where all your sources came from. Keep research note cards, photocopy materials, or keep a detailed research journal.

Figure 1: Simple Research Notecard

It’s easy to use index cards for research. Simply jot down the identifying information, such as the article title, author, source, URL if web-based, and don’t forget to make a note of how you plan to use it.

Final Thoughts

Start early and schedule ample time for collecting research. This is often the most time consuming part of the essay process, but it’s also the most crucial, and will set you on course for a research paper you can be proud of.  

Once you’ve selected the best source material, it’s important that you understand the research and incorporate the information effectively. Avoid simply gathering data to dump in between paragraphs. You must incorporate the research, connect it to your main points, and contextualize the information.  

6 Editing Tips for a Great Final Paper

You’ve done the hard work of crafting a creative, compelling essay. Before you hand it off for a final grade, follow these 6 final editing tips to polish it to perfection!

Tip #1

Run a spell-check.

Hopefully, you have spell-check run automatically. If not, turn it on (found under the Review tab on the toolbar) to catch misspellings or other sentence-level errors. Keep in mind, however, that the spelling and grammar check doesn’t catch misused words, and often wants to correct things you might not want corrected. See Tip #2.

Tip #2

Run an editing search.

Under the “Editing” tab on the toolbar, click on “Find.” From there, a Navigation tab will open on the left, where you can run a search on commonly misused or confused words, such as then and than, effect and affect, were and where, or definitely and defiantly. Check that you are using words in the correct context, even though they may be spelled correctly, which Spelling and Grammar check won’t find. You can also run a “Find” on #3, there are and there is, to make sure you aren’t over-using them.

Tip #3

Reword sentences that begin with “There are” or “There is.”

Technically, it isn’t incorrect to begin sentences with this phrasing. However, beginning sentences with this lazy phrase creates vague language with no subject. What does “there are” or “there is” really refer to? Instead, revise the sentence to begin with a stronger subject.

For example, There are three characters in this story who are very important can be reworded to say Three characters in this story are very important.

Tip #4

Check for redundancy and wordiness.

Cleaning up repetitiveness and wordiness will make your essay much easier to read, and make you sound like an expert writer. Avoid phrases such as “he was large in size”; “the building is tall in height”; “the doctor was smart and intelligent” — you see what we mean.

Wordy phrases can kill clarity. See the common examples of wordy phrases below with a better substitute:

in addition = also, besides, too

at the present time = now

in the event of = if

until such time as = until

due to the fact that = because, due to, since

Tip #5

Check all in-text citations.

Cross check that every citation in the body of the essay is found on the Works Cited page, if following MLA. Every direct quote should have an author or attributive tag, introducing the quote. Also, make sure that all summaries and paraphrases are cited as well. Double check that punctuation is correct (period goes AFTER the parentheses). If you have a quote with over 4 lines (MLA), it should be blocked (do not use this often). For MLA formatting, blocked quotes begin on a new line, have no quotation marks, are indented 1 inch, double-spaced, with the period in FRONT of the parenthetical citation, as opposed to after.

Tip #6

Double check your References or Works Cited page.

The words, “Works Cited” or “References” (without quotations) should be at the top of the page, not bolded, not italicized, and double-spaced between title and first entry. Make sure the entries are in alphabetical order, double-spaced, with a hanging indent (the second line of entry and subsequent lines of each entry indented). Finally, make sure Works Cited or Reference page is paginated with essay (if essay is 10 pages long, Works Cited or References will be page 11).

Of course, this is an abbreviated list. Your instructor might have his or her own checklist of their personal preferences, such as preferring two spaces at the end of sentences (new guidelines for APA) as opposed to one. Taking time to spit and polish one last time before you hand your essay over might make the difference between an okay grade and a WOW! grade. Taking time to carefully edit will be worth the extra effort.

Generating Essay Topic Ideas

Brainstorm Your Way to a Great Essay Topic

Photo by Pixabay on

Deciding on a topic to write about is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process for many students. With so many choices, we can become paralyzed with indecision. Utilizing some simple invention or brainstorming tools will set you on your way to uncovering an engaging topic, one audiences will be interested in reading, and you will be excited writing about for the next several weeks!


Your instructor might ask you to spend some time “brainstorming” before you begin the writing process. How exactly does one brainstorm?

1.  Take a piece of paper, and list numbers 1-20.
2.  To begin filling in this list, write down what interests you. If you draw a blank, consider what has been going on in your life lately – conversations you have had, or things you have read or heard on the news – and jot them down on your list.

If this seems too overwhelming, try categorizing your list into groups of 5.

Create one list titled POLITICS (this could include current legislation that might affect you or your community; concealed weapons; mandatory military service; electoral system, etc.)

Create one list titled SOCIAL ISSUES (this might include healthcare, deforestation, sharing wealth, etc.)

Create one list titled CULTURAL ISSUES (this might include language reform, race relations, polygamy, etc.)

Create a list titled COMMUNITY ISSUES (this might include things that affect you where you work and live, such as parking, recycling, dorms on campus, A-F grade system, etc.)

Try to generate at least 5 ideas for each category. Once you break it down into manageable chunks, it’s much easier to uncover some interesting and unique topics from current issues. Let’s look at our examples from above. One way to decide if a topic will make a good persuasive paper is to ask a “should” question based on the topic. Let’s look at some of the issues from our examples and put them into a “should” question:

  •   Should the government require mandatory military service?
  •   Should the government alter the tax system to force the rich to share their wealth with the poor?
  •   Should elementary schools require students to learn a second language?
  •   Should colleges and universities abolish the A-F grade scale and GPA system?

Digging Deeper: What do you already know about?

Another way to identify topics you might be interested in writing about is to consider your own knowledge and expertise. Everyone is knowledgeable about something, and many of us are knowledgeable about several things. What topics are you an authority on? Don’t sell yourself short.  A list might include:

  •     Unique hobbies (spelunking, metal detecting, dumpster diving)
  •     Unique skills (second language, yoga master, cartoonist)
  •     Training or education (CPR, computer tech, sign language)
  •    Work Experience (manager, bartender, crisis counselor)
  •     Personal Experience (single parent, football coach, nurse aide)

Now that you have a good list of hobbies, skills, and other knowledge and experience, consider how you can pull a topic out of those lists to compose an interesting essay. Some topics would make great informational essays, while others would make great persuasive essays.

To reduce waste and our reliance on landfills, dumpster diving, or reusing or repurposing someone else’s trash, is a viable alternative.

Yoga has been proven to not only improve balance, lower blood pressure, and fight disease, but can also relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Training in CPR should be mandatory for all public-school teachers.

Bartenders should/should not be held liable for the accidental injury or death of a person by someone they served who was found to be intoxicated.

Taking time in the early stages of the writing process to brainstorm will lead you to unique and engaging topics for your paper. No one wants to write another “Legalize Marijuana” or “Lower Drinking Age” essay like they did for their high school teacher, and I promise instructors don’t want to read another one either. Brainstorming will often lead you to numerous topics you possibly hadn’t even considered.

Give it a try and let us know what you came up with!

Research Note Cards

Compile your research on index cards
to simplify your research process —


When writing a research paper, the final result depends on the effectiveness of your research. Many beginning writers search the internet and copy piles of articles, but fail to take notes as they read. Beginning writers might think they’ll be able to recall what they have read, but without taking careful notes, time is wasted that could be spent writing. When you sit down to write, you’ll have to thumb through pages and pages of articles and try to guess what the purpose of saving them was in the first place! Taking effective notes during the research process saves valuable time, as well as ensures a better research essay.

Many instructors require students to use note cards for research, as note cards are an excellent method to keep careful records of your research. Utilizing note cards makes it easier to keep track of sources, and simplifies the process of creating a Works Cited page if you’re following MLA guidelines, or a Reference page if you’re following APA.
Once you locate a source you think you would like to include in your paper, evaluate the source, thinking how you might utilize it in your paper. Once you have determined the source is reliable and credible, jot down a few bullet points that you might want to include in your paper.

Index cards are a great way to take and save research notes. In the example below, a “code” is used in the upper left corner to indicate the topic, “Cacao Tree”:


In the upper right corner of the example above, the source and any identifying information is listed, including page numbers.

In the center of the card, place the fact, thought, or quote you want to include in your paper. In the example above, the writer has used a bullet-point list to include the major details. You can also paraphrase or directly quote the information you want to use in your paper. Taking time to paraphrase now will save you time in the writing stage.

When complete, the index card should have all of the information you need to begin formatting your outline and begin to write your paper.

Below is another type of note card format. This example places the author and page number at the bottom right; the descriptive heading is at the top, and the source information centered:

note 3

Some writers find it useful to write the full bibliographic information on a separate card for use in compiling the Works Cited page. An alternative is to write the full bibliographic information on the back side of the note card. You might also find it useful to use color-coded cards to easily organize your paper. Below is another example that shows an alternative note taking strategy that includes a direct quote:


There are many different ways to utilize note cards, but one thing is certain: the more effective your note taking skills, the more effective your paper.


What did you say? Writing Dialogue

Computer hackers and cyber crime conceptWhen composing a narrative essay, dialogue is an essential component for creating an engaging story. Without the spoken words, the reader can’t “hear” the characters (the real people who you are introducing to your audience) and get to know them. Simply summarizing what a character said isn’t as engaging or interesting as direct dialogue between characters.

When composing a narrative, you’ll most likely be re-creating conversations from the past. Don’t get too caught up in whether or not you recall exactly what was said. That is less important as how you portray the people in your narrative with their language, mannerisms, and other characteristics of their speech. When trying to decide exactly where and how to incorporate written dialogue, there are 3 essential questions to ask yourself before you begin:

  • Is it AUTHENTIC?

  • Is it ESSENTIAL?


 Is it Authentic?

Authentic dialogue realistically portrays the person speaking. If it’s authentic, the spoken words will sound exactly like the person would sound in real life. This doesn’t mean you have to incorporate slang in every sentence, but it does mean that the diction, word choice, phrasing, and other stylistic choices can easily be attributed to the person who is speaking in the narrative. It shouldn’t be too formal or precise. Below is an exchange of dialogue between a son and his mother:

“Jason,” my mother asked, “what were your activities and pursuits at your elementary school today?”
“I had a full day of activities, Mother.  My teacher was quite stimulating, and recess was especially delightful,” I said.

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? Most likely, an exchange between a mother and young son might sound something like this:

“How was school today?” Mom asked.
“It was okay, I guess.”

The first example obviously sounds stilted and formal, unlike how most families speak. The second example is more realistic. Some writers might choose to even use slang in their speech, such as “I dunno,” or “Kinda good,” but be very careful of overusing phonetic substitutes, as it becomes a bit tedious to read and runs the risk of characters sounding illiterate.


“Hi Jim. How are you?” I asked.
“I’m fine. How are you?” Jim said.
“I’m fine,” I said.

Holy cow, this is BORING! An exchange like the example above is not essential to the narrative. It’s not really doing anything toward moving the narrative forward or showing any kind of characterization of the speakers. Compare this with the following exchange:

“Hey Jim,” Todd said, his voice almost a whisper.
“Hey Todd–everything okay?” Jim asked, concerned.
“It’s my dad,” Todd said, breaking down.

In this exchange, the everyday-ness of the previous example is avoided. There may have very well been niceties exchanged, but in written dialogue, the writer must compress time and get to what’s essential. Here we get tension, we get emotion, and the narrative is propelled forward. Which leads us to essential element #3.

Is It Doing More Than One Thing?

Dialogue, whether in fiction or nonfiction, isn’t meant to simply allow characters to “speak.” If this is all it’s doing, then it isn’t doing enough.

Dialogue should draw a characterization. This means that the dialogue works to show traits of the person speaking, or the relationship between the speakers.  What they say, how they say it, and the tone they use provides the reader with lots of information they wouldn’t get otherwise.

The following excerpt is from Beloved by Toni Morrison, an expert at characterization through dialogue. Notice in this example that Morrison mostly avoids using phonetic spellings, but simply drops words to characterize the speakers:

“Something funny ‘bout that gal,” Paul D said, mostly to himself.
“Funny how?”
“Acts sick, sounds sick, but she don’t look sick. Good skin, bright eyes and strong as a bull.”
“She’s not strong. She can hardly walk without holding on to something.”
“That’s what I mean. Can’t walk, but I seen her pick up the rocker with one hand.”
“You didn’t.”
“Don’t tell me. Ask Denver. She was right there with her.”

In this exchange, Morrison avoids speaker tags, except in the first line to set up the exchange. The “he said, she said” can take away from an otherwise engaging exchange, and here, it isn’t necessary. Also notice that the two people speaking have distinctly different styles, so it’s easy to differentiate each speaker from the other.

Consider everything the following bit of dialogue is doing:

“What’s the capital of Spain?” Jerry asked, pausing over his crossword puzzle.
Susan looked up from her book and rolled her eyes. “Madrid, duh.”
“Why are you so sarcastic all the time?” Jerry slammed his pencil on table. He
looked like he was going to cry. “I don’t think I can take much more of this.”

Poor Jerry! You can cut the tension with a knife! What’s going to happen? Several things are happening with this dialogue-

  1. Characterizes speakers
  2. Shows relationship between characters
  3. Creates tension
  4. Moves narrative forward

When you’re writing dialogue for your narrative, consider why you are incorporating each exchange and know what your purpose is for including it. If it isn’t essential, leave it out.

There really are no secrets to writing effective dialogue, but knowing who your characters are and why you’re incorporating every exchange will help in determining what to leave in and what to take out. Avoid phony or forced speech, and use speaker tags thoughtfully. When you’re finished, read your essay aloud to “hear” what you’ve written. Try reading some essays or short stories to see how other writers do it. Follow these steps, and you’ll be writing dialogue like a pro!

Below is a brief reading list of some of the greatest writers of dialogue you might study.

“Hills Like White Elephants” – Ernest Hemingway.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” – Raymond Carver.

Anything by Elmore Leonard or John Steinbeck.

The Rhetorical Triangle: Identifying Ethos, Pathos, and Logos


The great philosopher, Aristotle, was fascinated with how rhetoric functions. How an individual says something, the emotion, tone, and sentiment used, conveys as much or more meaning than the actual content of the message. Aristotle defined the three key persuasive appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos, and the theory of rhetoric was born.

The concept of the rhetorical triangle is often foreign to most beginning writers; however, the components that make up the rhetorical triangle— logos, ethos, and pathos—are crucial elements to most forms of academic writing. Most casual readers, however, do not always recognize these elements of persuasive argument. However, to be a critical reader and informed audience (as well as a successful writer), it’s essential a reader and writer keep a keen eye toward the elements of these persuasive techniques.

How do we come to understand these appeals as we, writers and readers, construct our own persuasive writing? Let’s break each down to its simplest form, and consider how each are used.


The Greek logos, means word or reason.  Logos is often referred to as the idea, message, reason, or text. Logos relates to the premise, or foundation, of an argument. When an appeal of logos is in the text of an argument, the writer is appealing to reason. As we deconstruct (or construct) an argument, consider if the writer or author has presented an argument with a strong claim (thesis), and reasoning (support).

For logos to be effective, an argument must contain the following:

  • a clear and consistent claim
  • logical reasons
  • effective evidence

For a claim, or thesis, to be effective, it should be specific:

The U.S. should increase funding to prevent underage drinking, as youth are at higher risk of death due to excessive drinking, are more likely to binge drink, and related economic costs are skyrocketing.

In this example, the thesis is clearly stated, and the reasons are clear. But what kind of facts will back up this claim?

Including reliable facts, such as statistics, testimony, surveys, experiments, and even personal experience, is essential for a successful logical appeal (logos). Look at the following statistic. Would a reader interpret this as strong support for the previous claim?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.

The audience, or reader, must determine if this stat is from a trustworthy source. The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, a government agency, and is highly respected. Most readers would probably consider the source quite trustworthy, and not question the data.

Are the facts clearly defined?

An inquisitive reader might wonder what exactly the data means by economic costs, and how they measure those costs. This would need clarification and explanation. But the data source that is used here would most likely be considered credible, as it comes from a government agency with a strong reputation for reliable research.


Greek for “character,” ethos refers to the writer’s (or speaker’s) perspective and credibility. A writer can develop ethos by utilizing effective tone and style; incorporating strong evidence and support; and including fair treatment of opposing views.

When constructing an argument, consider how you, as the writer/speaker, are communicating your message. Questions to consider when determining if ethos is successful include

  • Is the writer knowledgeable on the subject?
  • What are his or her qualifications?
  • Does the writer sound credible?
  • Has the writer presented strong reasoning and support?
  • Is the writer’s tone suitable for the purpose, such as the word choices?
  • Has the writer demonstrated respect for the opposition, or merely declared it invalid?

Television personalities, politicians, and athletes are often used in advertising to promote a product. While the public often admires famous individuals, does that mean we should automatically believe what they say—or sell? Would you put all of your money in an investment solely because an Olympic athlete has promoted the product? Would you follow a trendy diet because a famous TV personality says it’s the best diet ever invented? The writer’s credibility and how he or she has presented the facts weighs heavily if an argument is to be successful.



Pathos, Greek for “suffering” or “experience,” refers to an appeal based on emotions. Many (if not most) politicians use emotional appeals in their arguments: the story of a family who is struggling to make ends meet to push for tax cuts; the image of a glacier breaking away in the arctic to enact tougher environmental measures; the story of a homeless family to push for more affordable housing.

Another common situation pathos is used is fundraising campaigns. Direct mail solicitations almost always rely on pathos to play on the readers’ compassion, whether it be fundraising for polar bears, rain forests, or orphanages.

These types of emotional appeals have been highly criticized, as they are in many ways a form of manipulation, and are often used to mislead the audience. However, effective arguments almost always use appeals to emotions such as fear, sadness, fury, distress, or hope. It’s up to the audience to be well-informed and critical, taking an active approach to analyzing each part of an argument to confirm its validity.

For an effective emotional appeal, the writer must first understand exactly who their audience is and what motivates them. What are their values and beliefs?

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that often one aspect of a text could include all of the rhetorical appeals. They work together, overlapping to strengthen the argument. Remember that as you analyze other writing or are building your own argument, each appeal in the rhetorical triangle—logos, ethos, and pathos—carries some responsibility for the success—or failure—of the argument.



Works Consulted

Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Sixth ed., Boston, Bedford St. Martin’s, 2016.

“Underage Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Aug.  2018, Atlanta, GA., Accessed 15, Apr., 2019.

Bridging the Gaps: All about Transitions


With any type of essay, the writer’s job is to help guide the reader from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph. Effective transitions in an essay act as a bridge for the reader along their reading path, helping the reader to connect sections of texts and relationships between ideas.

When to Use Transitions

A good transition will turn disconnected thinking into a more unified thought. You might use transitions to signal a comparison (similarly, likewise) or contrast (however, nevertheless), to signal an example or a quote (to illustrate, for instance), to signal cause and effect (therefore, accordingly, as a result), and to signal opposition or rebuttal (however, despite, on the contrary, regardless). The chart below shows some commonly used transitional expressions:

(chart from

Transitions in Research Papers

Certain signal words and phrases are used to connect sentences and paragraphs. “Even though” is often used to introduce a contrast.  “For example” is a common transitional phrase that often proceeds a direct quote or paraphrase in a research essay, as in the example below:

Even though there has been a small but steady decrease in the estimated number of smokers globally since 2000, it’s a different matter when it comes to vaping. For example, the number of vapers has been increasing rapidly – from about seven million in 2011 to 35 million in 2016 (LaVito, 2018).

Without the transition phrase “for example,” the sentence flow would sound abrupt and choppy.

Another instance when transitions are especially beneficial in research papers is when introducing the argument’s opposition and rebuttal:

While the military continues to see the number of reported incidents of sexual assault steadily increase each year, they say that surveys they’ve carried out indicate the number of victims is declining. However, many disagree with how the military is analyzing the data. According to Navy Capt. Lory Manning, the military must not rely on an increase in reporting as a sign of progress. Despite the data showing the number of sexual assault victims is declining, it could also mean that more assaults are occurring (Cohen, 2018).

In the previous example, without the transition words to bridge the flow of ideas, the paragraph would be uneven and confusing. Try reading the paragraph without the transitional words in bold. How does it sound?

Let’s take a look at the following paragraph, which incorporates transitional expressions therefore, such as, and however to bridge the sentences and clarify the ideas:

Deciding on a college is often a difficult decision for students. Therefore, most school counselors try to provide students with different resources, such as assessments and college brochures. However, counselors need to provide students with more resources in order to help them make a more informed decision about what college to attend.

In this example, the transitional expressions aid the reader to understand relationships between sentences and their ideas. While the sentences wouldn’t technically be incorrect without transitional words, the flow would be abrupt, and the reader would have to work harder to make connections.

To summarize (transitioning to conclusion!), by incorporating transitional words and phrases into your writing, you’ll create a smooth reading experience for your audience and turn disconnected ideas into a cohesive whole.

For more practice with transitions, visit

Purdue Owl’s exercise on transitions found here.




Cohen, Z., & Browne, R. (2018, April 30). US military sees spike in sexual assault reports. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from

LaVito, A. (2018, October 23). As vaping surges, teen cigarette smoking ticks up after decades of decline. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from teen-cigarette-smoking-ticks-up-as-vaping-surges.html.

Transitions. (2019). Retrieved March 16, 2019, from