More and more students are turning to the Internet when doing research for their assignments, and more and more instructors are requiring such research when setting topics. However, research on the Net is very different from traditional library research, and the differences can cause problems. The Net is a tremendous resource, but it must be used carefully and critically.
The printed resources you find in the Library have almost always been thoroughly evaluated by experts before they are published. This process of “peer review” is the difference between, for example, an article in Time magazine and one in a journal such as the University of Toronto Quarterly. Furthermore, when books and other materials come into the University library system, they are painstakingly and systematically catalogued and cross-referenced using procedures followed by research libraries the world over. This process is the basis for the way materials are organized in the Library, and it makes possible the various search functions of the Web catalogue.
On the Internet, on the other hand, “anything goes.” Anyone can put anything they want on a Web site, there is no review or screening process, and there are no agreed-upon standard ways of identifying subjects and creating cross-references. This is both the glory and the weakness of the Net – it’s either freedom or chaos, depending on your point of view, and it means that you have to pay close attention when doing research on-line. There are a great many solid academic resources available on the Net, including hundreds of on-line journals and sites set up by universities and scholarly or scientific organizations. The University of Toronto Library’s Electronic Resources page is one such academic source. Using material from those sources is no problem; it’s just like going to the Library, only on-line. It’s all the other stuff on the Net that you have to be cautious about.
Here are a few basic guidelines to remember:
- Don’t rely exclusively on Net resources. Sometimes your assignment will be to do research only on the Net, but usually your instructors will expect you to make use of both Internet and Library resources. Cross-checking information from the Net against information from the Library is a good way to make sure that the Net material is reliable and authoritative.
- Narrow your research topic before logging on. The Internet allows access to so much information that you can easily be overwhelmed. Before you start your search, think about what you’re looking for, and if possible formulate some very specific questions to direct and limit your search.
- Know your subject directories and search engines. There are several high quality peer-reviewed subject directories containing links selected by subject experts. INFOMINE and Academic Info are good examples. These are excellent places to start your academic research on the Internet. Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines differ considerably in how they work, how much of the Net they search, and the kind of results you can expect to get from them. Spending some time learning what each search engine will do and how best to use it can help you avoid a lot of frustration and wasted time later. Because each one will find different things for you, it’s a good idea to always use more than one search engine. For specialized search engines and directories you might also like to try Beaucoup which includes 2,500 + search engines and directories or the Search Engine Colossus International Directory of Search Engines that includes search engines from 230+ countries around the world.
- Keep a detailed record of sites you visit and the sites you use. Doing research on the Net inevitably means visiting some sites that are useful and many that are not. Keeping track is necessary so that you can revisit the useful ones later, and also put the required references in your paper. Don’t just rely on your browser’s History function, because it retains the Web addresses or URLs of all the sites you visit, good or bad, and if you’re using a computer at the University the memory in the History file will be erased at the end of your session. It’s better to write down or bookmark the sites you’ve found useful, so that you’ll have a permanent record.
- Double-check all URLs that you put in your paper. It’s easy to make mistakes with complicated Internet addresses, and typos will make your references useless. To be safe, type them into the Location box of your browser and check that they take you to the correct site.
The following points are guidelines for evaluating specific resources you find on the Net. If you ask these questions when looking at a Web site, you can avoid many errors and problems.
- Who is the author?
- Is the author’s name given?
- Are her qualifications specified?
- Is there a link to information about her and her position?
- Is there a way to contact her (an address or a “Mailto” link)?
- Have you heard of her elsewhere (in class, or cited in your course text or in Library material)?
- Has the author written elsewhere on this topic?
- Who is the sponsor of the Web site?
- Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution or organization?
- Does the information reflect the views of the organization, or only of the author? If the sponsoring institution or organization is not clearly identified on the site, check the URL. It may contain the name of a university (U of T Mississauga’s includes utoronto) or the extension .edu, which is used by many educational institutions. Government sites are identified by the extension .gov. URLs containing .org are trickier, and require research: these are sites sponsored by non-profit organizations, some of which are reliable sources and some of which are very biased. Sites with the .com extension should also be used with caution, because they have commercial or corporate sponsors who probably want to sell you something. The extension ~NAME often means a personal Web page with no institutional backing; use such sites only if you have checked on the author’s credibility in print sources.
- Audience Level
- What audience is the Web site designed for? You want information at the college or research level. Don’t use sites intended for elementary students or sites that are too technical for your needs.
- Is the Web site current?
- Is the site dated?
- Is the date of the most recent update given? Generally speaking, Internet resources should be up-to-date; after all, getting the most current information is the main reason for using the Net for research in the first place.
- Are all the links up-to-date and working? Broken links may mean the site is out-of-date; they’re certainly a sign that it’s not well-maintained.
- Content Reliability/Accuracy
- Is the material on the Web site reliable and accurate?
- Is the information factual, not opinion?
- Can you verify the information in print sources?
- Is the source of the information clearly stated, whether original research material or secondary material borrowed from elsewhere?
- How valid is the research that is the source?
- Does the material as presented have substance and depth?
- Where arguments are given, are they based on strong evidence and good logic?
- Is the author’s point of view impartial and objective?
- Is the author’s language free of emotion and bias?
- Is the site free of errors in spelling or grammar and other signs of carelessness in its presentation of the material?
- Are additional electronic and print sources provided to complement or support the material on the Web site?
If you can answer all these questions positively when looking at a particular site, then you can be pretty sure it’s a good one; if it doesn’t measure up one way or another, it’s probably a site to avoid. The key to the whole process is to think critically about what you find on the Net; if you want to use it, you are responsible for ensuring that it is reliable and accurate.
This page is used with permission of the UTM Library.
|Resources for Writers: |
Drafting & refocusing your paper
Once your Research is underway you will need to be able to refocus yout thesis and check to make sure you are using your source material correctly. Below you will find hints and suggestions to help you in this porcess.
Refocusing your research question into a thesis
Summarizing & paraphrasing source material without plagiarizing
Introducing summarized, paraphrased, and quoted material
Integrating quotations (ellipses and square brackets)
Connecting your evidence to your thesis
|1||Refocusing your research topic and developing a thesis|
You've chosen a topic, asked questions about it, and located, read, and annotated pertinent sources. Now you need to refocus your topic. What changes do you need to make in order to account for the available sources? If you chose the topic "Business on the Internet" and focused your efforts on the question of how commercial uses of the Internet are affecting the entire Net, you might not have discovered sufficient sources for your research. While trying to find them, though, you might have located plenty on the question of how businesses are using the Internet; thus it would now be advisable for you to refocus your topic.
Having done so, you must think about what you are going to say in your research essay. Remember that in college writing, research papers, term papers, and research essays are not simply a repetition of what you have read. Rather, they are essays: in them, you express your beliefs about the topic and explain how your research has led you to those beliefs citing that research material to support your argument. Once the topic has been refined sufficiently for the research to begin, the student gradually formed an opinion on the subject, answered the research questions, and refined the topic into a thesis:
|Figure 3:8--focusing your research question into a thesis|
|1. Private citizens on the Internet||General topic|
|2. Censorship on the Internet||More focused topic|
|3 (i). Is the Internet used by pornographers?||Broad yes/no question|
|3 (ii). How is the Net used by pornographers?||Fact-only question|
|4. What attempts have been made to prevent the distribution of pornography on the 'net, and how have Internet users responded to them?||Final research question|
|5. Many Internet users condemn use of the Net by pornographers, but the arguments they make against government intervention or censorship are not persuasive. Any limitation on the use of the Internet will undermine its power.||Thesis -- This thesis both makes a claim and sets that claim within the context of the research. The writer will use the arguments of other Internet users to support the thesis that censorship or restrictions will undermine the power of the Internet.|
|2||Summarizing and paraphrasing |
If you can summarize and paraphrase effectively, you will be able to use the information you discovered in your research to support your thesis. As we have already explained, in college-level research papers, as in published papers, it is unacceptable to put large chunks of other people's prose into your own words without citing them. Nor can you take sentences, substitute a few synonyms and call them summaries. Correct summary and paraphrasing is difficult--but it can be learned. Once you have learned how to summarize and paraphrase, you need to read Section 3 so that you also know how to incorporate the material into your paper without accidentally plagiarizing.
While the summaries you will incorporate into research papers are not usually as long as formal summary papers, you will use similar strategies when you write them, and you must avoid similar dangers. You might find yourself summarizing an argument so that you can respond to it, summarizing other researchers' findings, or summarizing events. Whatever reason you have for needing to summarize, the guidelines below will help you:
- The summary must be significantly shorter than the source. Your purpose is to report the key elements of the argument, or the essential aspects of the thesis, not to represent every detail of it.
- The summary must support your argument, not make it for you. If you find yourself stitching together long summaries of what other people say with little or none of your own analysis or discussion, or if you write a thesis in your introduction and then support it entirely by summarizing what other people say or by repeating the plot of a piece of literature, again with little or no explanation or discussion of your own, the chances are that you are simply "proving the known"--that is, that your thesis is not really a thesis. In both of these cases you are not ready to write the paper: although you are familiar with the material, you can't synthesize or critique what you know; therefore, you are not yet ready to join the academic conversation on this topic. Reread your notes, look for connections, similarities, contradictions, subtle differences in interpretation, and so on, and spend some more time thinking about your thesis.
- The summary must be in your own phrases and sentences. Of course you may use joining words like "when," "and," and so on; however, any key terms must be placed in quotation marks the first time you use them.
- The summary must be an objective report of the source. Do not misrepresent someone else's argument by ignoring the context of the argument. Your purpose in an incorporated summary is to report what other texts have said on this topic and then discuss that topic yourself. If you misrepresent a source, readers will assume that you didn't understand it or that you are somehow gravely biased.
A paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but it uses different words. Unlike the summary, which reports the argument, thesis, or event, the paraphrase also reproduces the attitude and tone of the original text. Before you can write an effective paraphrase, you must fully understand the original text. It might help to think of it as translating the passage. Like a translation from one language to another, a paraphrase remains close to the original but uses totally different words. This metaphor also helps answer the obvious question, "Why would anyone paraphrase instead of quote?" Good scholars paraphrase complex material and material that uses disciplinary or technical terminology into more accessible prose when they are writing for an audience less knowledgeable than they. Paraphrase also helps readers follow the argument, because they don't have to adjust from one prose style to another, which is what happens to your readers when you quote. The smoother your prose, the easier it is to read the paper and follow the argument.
These points will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your paraphrases:
- Keep the paraphrase about the same length as the original. Remember that you are "translating" rather than summarizing or describing.
- Maintain the mood and tone of the original. For this you must pay careful attention to the words you use. For example, "mentions" implies a casual relationship to the material, almost an aside; "defends" indicates that the author of the source takes a supportive position to the material; while "observes" suggests an objective or at least less impassioned position. Use a dictionary to check the actual meanings of words that you use as synonyms.
- If you must use terms from the original, quote them. Even translators of foreign languages must do this when there is no equivalent word in the new language. If the term is important, or you will discuss it at length later, or if no other word will replace it, simply place the word in quotation marks the first time you use it.
|3||Introducing and citing quotations, paraphrases, and summaries|
Introducing and citing the sources that you use allows other scholars to follow the research thread that you followed as they try to answer their own questions. For example, we could tell you about a study that says that everyone needs to get eight hours sleep a night and for every hour one is sleep deprived (every hour below 8) one's IQ falls one point. You might decide that you would like to read that study, too, but we didn't provide citations so you don't know where to find it. You don't even know for sure that such a study exists. Because we did not cite sources, we prevented you from joining that academic conversation, and perhaps gaining some important information about sleep. If you feel frustrated now, that's how other scholars feel when you don't cite sources!
Although each academic discipline has a different way of citing paraphrases, summaries, and quotations, the underlying principle is the same. A citation reveals the name of the author, the name of the text, its publication date, the name of its publisher, and the page number(s) of the material to which you refer. The full or partial citation might be provided in parenthesis at the end of the borrowed material, or it might be provided in a numbered footnote or endnote, but it must be provided. At the end of this chapter we describe five different guidelines (style sheets) for citing material. A great many others are also used in academic writing, e.g., The Chicago Style Manual or the style known as "Turabian" after Kate Turabian, the author of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. If your instructor does not indicate a preference, you may choose the style yourself. But you should choose and use a recognized method; don't make up your own system. The purpose of citations is to convey a large quantity of information in a very small space; thus even the punctuation of citations conveys meaning, and that punctuation varies from one style sheet to another. Readers familiar with the style sheet that the writer has chosen do not have to puzzle over citations in order to decipher the information in them. But if you make up your own style sheet, however consistent it may be, you are forcing your readers to decipher not only the information in the citations but also the means of transmitting that information.
Paraphrased and summarized material must be introduced as well as cited, so that readers know where that material begins and where the author of the paper's ideas end. Consider the example from Michael's first draft of his synthesis paper using material from Unit i of "The Evolution Debate" (Tim Beardsley's "Darwin Denied" pp.000-000).
Figure 3:9--sample of incorrectly introduced summary
It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).
Figure 12:10--sample of summary correctly introduced with a signal phrase
It is one thing to say that anyone can be a scientist no matter what he or she believes, but the point of science is that you have to be open to new ideas and new explanations and not be afraid to throw out the theories you used to hold. If your theory is that God made everything and there was no natural selection, and your research proves otherwise, you aren't going to be able to give up that theory and still go to church on Sundays. Yet, as Beardsley explains, even though most scientists don't think "intelligent design" can explain the existence of life, a quarter of the biology teachers in Kansas favor teaching creationism and evolution side by side in the science class (Beardsley, 32).
You must also introduce quotations in addition to citing them; however, this is for a different reason. If you recall our discussion of your papers as part of a conversation, the reason may be clearer. When you are telling someone about the reactions of two of your friends to a movie, you might say, "When we got out of the movie, Tom's first comment was 'that was really boring,' but Alex said that she enjoyed it." There is no doubt as to who thought what about the film. Tom's comment is introduced and quoted, while Alex's is introduced and summarized. The prose flows smoothly. On the other hand "After viewing the movie: 'that was really boring,' Tom observed" just doesn't sound right. It isn't.
|4||Integrating quotations (using ellipses and brackets)|
Sometimes you will want to use a longer quotation. If it is over four lines it should be set apart from the text, indented, and not placed in quotation marks (almost all methods of citation require it to be double spaced and in the same font as the rest of the paper). Sometimes, though, you will really only need to refer to parts of a long paragraph. In such cases you should use ellipses to indicate that material has been omitted. Use three ellipses if part of a sentence is missing, and four to indicate that you have also cut a period. An example of successful use of ellipses can be seen in the following quotation from Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye in an essay by theorist Deborah McDowell:
Jars on shelves at canning, peach pits on the step, sticks, stones, leaves . . . . Whatever portable plurality she found, she organized into neat lines, according to their size, shape, or gradations of color . . . . She missed without knowing what she missed--paints and crayons (Bluest Eye 88-89).This passage describes a set of related activities of Paula Breedlove, and is used by McDowell to show that Paula's "obsessive ordering" is related to her artistic tendencies. This means that readers don't need the additional material about how she ordered the things; they only need to know that she did. By cutting the inessential material, McDowell makes her point clearer. Notice that she uses capital letters after the four ellipses to show that these are new sentences in the original.
Note: You do not need to use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation. If you say that you are quoting from a novel, your readers know that some of it must have omitted if you just include one sentence. Ellipses are necessary only when readers can't work out that something has been cut.
Sometimes you will need to add "and" or "however" to make a quotation fit smoothly into the sentence you include it in. You can do that as long as you put the added word in square brackets. Another common use of square brackets to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence is the addition of square brackets around "ed" or "s" to indicate past tense or plural. You might quote and alter the previous sentence this way:
The authors claim that square brackets are often "use[d] . . . to make a quotation fit smoothly into a sentence."
You will see many examples of ellipses and square brackets used in the extracts throughout this text. Pay attention to them and you will find it easier to use them in your own prose.
|5||Connecting your evidence to your thesis|
Once you have worked out your thesis and decided what evidence you will use to support it, it might seem clear how the evidence and the thesis are connected. You need to remember, though, that your readers haven't immersed themselves in the conversation as much as you have. They may not be able to immediately see the connection between two ideas, just as you probably couldn't when you began your research. Your task in the paper is to guide your readers toward the same interpretation or explanation of the data as you have reached. This means that once you have drafted the paper, you need to go back over it and make sure that each piece of evidence does its job and supports the thesis. Sometimes this will necessitate adding sentences or phrases to connect a paragraph or series of paragraphs back to the thesis; sometimes a few connecting words like "although," "however," "another example of this," or "in spite of such findings" will be sufficient. Remember that your reader should be able to follow your argument with ease and see at a glance exactly how the evidence supports it. The transitional phrase or topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph will often provide the necessary connection, and will also help your reader move from one idea to the next without confusion.
You can make clear how your evidence supports your thesis by explaining their relationship in your introduction to the paper. The introduction functions like a little map of the paper that shows where it will end up, how it will proceed, and what it will pass on the way. Each main point is listed in the order it will appear in the paper so that readers may see how the points (evidence) relate to each other.
Web Resources | Composition at Drew
For permission to print and use this page, please contact me by e-mail.