A guide to planning research projects based
on L. Faigley’s Brief Penguin Handbook
edited by Seth Ward
The following guide to
planning research projects is based very closely on Section 5, chapters 16-20,
of Lester Faigley, The Brief Penguin Handbook,
Analyze the task. Which of these tasks are involved?
Analysis or Examination: Look at an issue in detail, explaining how it has evolved, who or what it affects, and what is at stake.
Review of scholarship.
Survey of opinions.
Evaluation: make critical judgments
Argument: assemble evidence supporting a claim you make.
Identify potential readers.
How familiar are they with your subject? What are they likely to know about the subject? What aspects will interest them? What Background info do you need to supply? What opinions or beliefs are your readers likely to have? Do you want to inform your readers or persuade them to change their beliefs or take some action?
Assess project length and scope
What kind of research? How long is the paper? How many sources will you need? What steps are required?
Set a schedule
Find a topic
Ask a question and draft a working thesis
Define the kind of research you need to do
Start working bibliography
Read and evaluate sources
Summarize and paraphrase your sources
Review your goals and thesis
Plan your organization
Decide what material from your sources to include
Write the first draft
Review your draft
Revise your draft
Edit and check formatting of your revised draft
Submit final draft.
Develop a broad context before you narrow your focus
Use subject dictionaries and encyclopedias on line, use your textbooks. Use the University Library: both books in the stacks and references the University Library makes available on line.
Ask a Question and Draft a Working Thesis
Consider a broad context, but then determine a well-defined topic within that context. Then write a “Research Question” and a “Working Thesis” that defines an initial response to the question. The Working Thesis is a single sentence, although it might reach 25-35 words long. Faigley does not give much further guidance about how to do this in this chapter—he did that back in Chapter 3. He concludes this section by stating “…The key to writing an effective thesis is finding a topic that is neither too vast nor too narrow, and one that is not obvious. You may have to adjust your working thesis more than once as you plan and begin drafting.” (34) His examples illustrate that the working thesis is not necessarily limited to the narrow response to the Research Question. The Working Thesis often also lays out the likely significance of the research findings. One of Faigley’s examples here gives no answer to the question at all; it suggests that there is no single answer but offers a typology of answers.
The Working Thesis will be much more valuable if you write a full paragraph following the Working Thesis. This paragraph will give a fuller sense of the primary and secondary sources, the contents and issues of the paper, and the potential significance of the findings.
Decide what kind of research
Primary and secondary research
Your paper should have primary sources as well as secondary research. Undergraduates are not usually required to use never-before examined literary finds, historical documents or artifacts in the original language, but should view critical reading of reasonably accessible primary sources already used by scholars as a necessary component of the research paper. The accessible primary sources may shape the kind of research you can do.
Plan your field research
For the most part, this section will not be relevant for this course. Certain types of field research require a written release from persons interviewed.
(Chapter 17) Finding Sources
Library, Web, Books, Keywords, Articles, Lexis/Nexis etc.
Faigley gives a lot of attention to this. And so should we. A classroom exercise may help students to identify primary and secondary sources. Reference librarians can help you access databases in the university library.
A Working Bibliography
Bibliographic references need “4 fields:” Author, Title, Publication info (including date), and Location.
This is applied in different ways to: Books, individual chapters in multi-authored books, journal articles, webpages, etc. Some types of sources get special treatment: you should let readers know what Bible you have in front of you if this is relevant, but you need to cite it as book, chapter and verse—not as edition and page.
Take some notes on each source, and make sure to distinguish direct quotes, paraphrases, and your own evaluation of the source. Describe briefly the most important ways the source relates to the research question or working thesis. Use web and published sources, general or reference works and books or articles which relate specifically to your research. It will be helpful to draw up an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources, with one to three sentences about a number of these sources. A “literature review” essay of similar length can eventually be part of your paper.
Chapter 18 Evaluating Sources
Criteria for evaluation: Source--Organization--Author—Timeliness—Evidence—Biases—Advertising. These criteria may be used in evaluating websites as well as published books and articles. Faigley uses these criteria well to assess the credibility of websites. Anyone can, and does, put up a website and while they are highly useful and readily “Googled,” care should be used in determining the source, reliability and biases of the information, judgments and opinions they contain.
Chapter 19 Avoiding Plagiarism
Quoting-Summarizing-Paraphrasing-Citing ideas. Plagiarism or “assembling” of papers from other sources can be a serious academic offence. Please take special care to uphold the standards of academic integrity in your writing.
Chapter 20 Writing the Research Project.
Review goals and thesis
Purpose (analysis, review, survey, evaluation, argument),
Length and Scope of paper.
Sources: Located, read, evaluated and taken notes.
Plan your organization
How will you group your ideas? Decide what your major points will be and how these points support your thesis? Group your research findings so that they support your major points.
Incorporate quotations, summaries and paraphrases effectively
Faigley identifies overuse of quotations as the “worst mistake” of student papers next to plagiarism. “The purpose of using sources is to support what you have to say, not to say it for you…. [Stringing] together a series of long quotations…leaves your readers wondering whether you have anything to say.” (224)
Introduce your sources correctly and don’t overdo them.
Write your draft
Announce your thesis in your introductory section, and include a conclusion which reviews the paper and tells readers what is significant about it.
Review your draft
Faigley suggests a peer review.
Revise, Edit, and Check Formatting.
Allow me a final note
about documentation styles: In Section 6, Chapters 21-25, Faigley
presents a very good review of different systems of documentation: footnotes,
endnotes, in-text citations, and other modes of reference documentation.
Although some instructors insist on adopting an arbitrary method—MLA or