Distinguishing the Differences between different Types of Research Papers
There are several different ways to approach a research paper. Sometimes an instructor will specify what type of research paper they expect to receive, but occasionally the writer will be given the liberty to choose a format on their own. The chosen format will set the tone for the entire paper, so choosing the format that best suits the information or end goal will be significantly helpful to time management and overall success of the assignment. Writers who familiarize themselves with the following options will have the advantage of choosing the best way to present their information.
Argumentative-This is a good structure for writers presenting a debated topic. First, explain the two popular, but opposite, opinions on the issue. Then, use the research to persuade the reader to one side of the issue. The idea is to draw the reader in favor of the writer’s opinion emotionally, while also presenting facts and data that support this viewpoint and argue against contradictions.
Compare and Contrast-This type of paper is used to compare two different subjects and how they relate to one another in both similarities and differences. This is often a format chosen in English courses to compare two or more literary pieces. The goal is not to persuade the reader, but to enlighten them toward the philosophical distinctions between varying viewpoints of related topics or genres.
Cause and Effect-These papers guide the reader through a series of “chain of event” scenarios. Data will be provided to increase the validity of the statement that choosing A will cause B and so forth. It is important to remember that cause and effect papers are not written based on opinion, but on quantifiable evidence with supporting documentation. If supporting evidence can be found, this format can be both informational and intriguing for the reader.
Analytical-The goal of this paper is to present a variety of view-points on a subject without forming an opinion. The writer is simply providing the reader with as much information as possible, but allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Present each view equally and with supplemental documentation to support each claim. End your paper with a summary of the facts and leave out any influential statements.
Report-Report papers are merely an organized and detailed list of facts about a topic. Choose a subject, research it, and convey the evidence to the reader using quotes, graphs, interviews, and experiments. Again, the goal is not to persuade, but to give as much detail on a subject as possible.
The length of the project will be determined by the instructor, but when given the freedom to choose a format, writers have the luxury of being more creative with their project. Consider the topic carefully, and choose the structure that best accomplishes writer’s main goal.
Genre and the Research Paper
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez
Last Edited: 2011-03-30 09:06:38
Research: What it is.
A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking, source evaluation, organization, and composition. It is, perhaps, helpful to think of the research paper as a living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to a specific topic. Primary and secondary sources are the heart of a research paper, and provide its nourishment; without the support of and interaction with these sources, the research paper would morph into a different genre of writing (e.g., an encyclopedic article). The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field. It is also possible to identify a research paper by what it is not.
Research: What it is not.
A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one's interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers.
Two major types of research papers.
Argumentative research paper:
The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial. For example, it would be difficult for a student to successfully argue in favor of the following stance.
Cigarette smoking poses medical dangers and may lead to cancer for both the smoker and those who experience secondhand smoke.
Perhaps 25 years ago this topic would have been debatable; however, today, it is assumed that smoking cigarettes is, indeed, harmful to one's health. A better thesis would be the following.
Although it has been proven that cigarette smoking may lead to sundry health problems in the smoker, the social acceptance of smoking in public places demonstrates that many still do not consider secondhand smoke as dangerous to one's health as firsthand smoke.
In this sentence, the writer is not challenging the current accepted stance that both firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke is dangerous; rather, she is positing that the social acceptance of the latter over the former is indicative of a cultural double-standard of sorts. The student would support this thesis throughout her paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade her audience that her particular interpretation of the situation is viable.
Analytical research paper:
The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. For example, perhaps one is interested in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has read the poem intently and desires to offer a fresh reading of the poem to the academic community. His question may be as follows.
How should one interpret the poem Beowulf?
His research may lead him to the following conclusion.
Beowulf is a poem whose purpose it was to serve as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities.
Though his topic may be debatable and controversial, it is not the student's intent to persuade the audience that his ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, his goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress his particular analysis of the topic. The following is an example of what his thesis statement may look like once he has completed his research.
Though Beowulf is often read as a poem that recounts the heroism and supernatural exploits of the protagonist Beowulf, it may also be read as a poem that served as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities found in the Danelaw.
This statement does not negate the traditional readings of Beowulf; instead, it offers a fresh and detailed reading of the poem that will be supported by the student's research.
It is typically not until the student has begun the writing process that his thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance.