Check List for Research Papers

This is a document you can use as a `check list' to see whether your research paper meets certain requirements. I will also use it as an evaluation form, returning a truncated version of this with your paper to point out where it needs more work.

  1. Statement of Purpose

    The Statement of Purpose informs us why you have chosen to write about something. It tells us why you are interested in the topic, and why we should be interested in the topic. It tells us that you have a hypothesis of some sort, and that you are going to test it. It tells us what you are going to do, and how you are going to go about it---whether this is to inform us, persuade us to some action, convince us of your position, or some other goal you may have in mind. If you do this clearly and succinctly, your reader will not have to guess what you have in mind.

  2. Review of Literature

    The purpose of a review of the literature is to show your reader that you know something about the topic you have chosen, and that you are not just blathering off the top of your head. You have researched the topic; you have found what others have said, and you contrast what you think with what they say. You may agree with them, in which case you are primarily reporting to us. You may disagree with them, in which case you have to show why they are wrong and you are right. This means you have to convince us of the rightness of your position, and the error of theirs. In any event, we want to know that you have done your homework: you have done the courteous thing of looking at other peoples' opinions, and you give them the credit that is due. Here's an example of a review of the literature I wrote for a chapter in a book.

  3. Transitions.

    Many research papers suffer from rough transitions; they shift from one topic to another abruptly, without adequately warning the reader that a transition is about to take place. Or, a transition takes place, but the reader is not informed why it is happening, or how it fits into the general scheme of things. For examples of smooth transitions, consider the following:

    1. We have discussed the topic of code-switching in Swahili from what might be termed the point of view of the mechanics of code-switching; i.e. how it operates in Swahili; let us now examine its function in Swahili linguistic culture, i.e. why Swahili speakers choose to code-switch, and when. We will then show how code-switching is used in popular media, print advertising, and other genres.
    2. No discussion of print-medium advertising in Swahili would be complete without a discussion of another, related phenomenon, which is the use of language(s) and varieties in comic books. Particularly instructive are Swahili renditions of Tarzan comics, which depict Tarzan as fluent in Swahili and English, while other characters are depicted only as speaking English inadequately.
  4. Citations.

    1. Do you use a format that cites a minimum of information, e.g. Authorname, date (year), and page numbers?
      "The work of Ferguson (Ferguson 1959:32) is crucial for our understanding of the concept of diglossia."
      "No discussion of language maintenance would be complete without the work of Fishman (1959, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1972, [...])"
    2. Does your paper rely rather heavily on one author/one source only? If it does, it is in effect a review of that work, and should be explicitly stated to be such. Does your paper ignore sources that are in fact crucial to your topic? Does your paper use only sources found on the Internet, ignoring print resources published before 1968?

    3. . How does your paper deal with things that are common knowledge? This does not need to be cited, but it does need to be made clear that you think it is common knowledge, and therefore does not need to be proven. One way you can state this would be as follows:
      Most researchers on the subject of bilingualism accept the notion that one language or code will be dominant, i.e. they assume that individual speakers have more facility, or higher proficiency, in one language than in another; that is, the so-called balanced bilingual is a rare phenomenon. I will follow this practice, but will also point out examples where this has been shown to be problematical.
  5. Style.

    Occasionally I have marked areas where what we call style is problematical. This could be the choice of a particular word, the use of a term that is not justified; the overuse of a particular phrase or locution, or words that seem to come from another register of English, and their use changes the tone of the sentence. An example of this would be to say, e.g. Germany's treatment of the immigrant guest-worker rather than the treatment of the immigrant guest-worker by Germany or the German government/nation. This is both a stylistic problem and also masks a tendency to anthropomorphize, i.e. blame the bad treatment of guest-workers on the whole country, rather than on some other factor.
    Which sounds better, `English's worldwide spread' or `the worldwide spread of English'? `The Queen of England's unruly children' vs. the unruly children of the Q of England'?
    1. Spelling problems are marked in margins etc. with "sp"
    2. Stylistic problems are given alternative suggestions. (sometimes marked in margin "awk" for awkward.)
    3. If some words or phrases are repeated or overused, the mark repet for `repetitious' may appear in the margin.
    4. If the symbol PP appears, it means "start a new paragraph".

  6. Content

    I stated at the beginning of the course ("Helpful Hints...") that I would like your paper to reflect issues and problems we have discussed in various ways during the class. I will not try to summarize these here, but I would like to see evidence that these ideas have been considered, and brought to bear on the material you are discussing. I do not expect you to parrot what others say, or what I have said; I expect you to contrast different ideas and weigh them; or bring two disparate opinions or approaches together and show how the conjunction of these ideas throws new light on the subject.
    Example: Much has been written about the status of French in France, and much has also been written about French attempts to control the corpus of Standard French. What has not often been made clear is how the French themselves do not usually distinguish between corpus and status issues, and that is what I wish to focus on in this paper. As such I introduce no new facts into the situation, but I do introduce a new interpretation of existing facts.
    The content portion of the paper is the main part. If your form is okay, then your content section will be able to concentrate on convincing the reader of your position. If other things are not clear, it will be hard to see what it is you are trying to do.

    • My paper shows evidence of my having thought about the kinds of issues we discussed in class, i.e. language and gender, language and class, lg. and sexuality, lg. and demonization, standard vs. non-standard, etc.
    • My paper vaguely touches on these issues, but doesn't give them much weight.
    • My paper shows very little evidence of my having absorbed anything we discussed in class, or read for class.

  7. Summary

    Summarizing what you have done in your paper is one of the most difficult things to do, and many research papers that are well- organized and excellent in other respects fall apart when it comes to the summary. The summary should do a number of things:
    1. Review what you have done:
      I have discussed in this paper how such issues as code-switching, code-shifting, and bilingualism in Swahili linguistic culture are manifested in print-medium advertising in East Africa. I have attempted to describe in a general way both the mechanics of these phenomena, as well as the social motivation for them, and how advertisers use these techniques for their own means in advertising.
    2. Repeat the main conclusions of the paper, such as the following:
      1. In the process I have attempted to demonstrate that these phenomena are intricately interwoven with social forces identified by various writers as modernization, power-relations, and gender relations in East African society. They do not constitute in any way a failure of the linguistic code, but are in fact a manifestation of shifting identities in the culture.
      2. My own contribution, if any, has been to bring in the work of A, B, and C, and relate their research to the ideas presented by X, Y, and Z, who are the acknowledged primary researchers in this field.
      3. State what inadequacies remain that you could not handle as satisfactorily as you would have liked. (This is far preferable to claiming that you have solved many problems.) State, for example, that more work/research may be needed, or that space or time did not allow for anything but a cursory review. Do not claim too much!
        Example: In the process of this review, an attempt to define the role of language in the definition of ethnicity, I have to conclude that many researchers seem to define ethnicity in a circular or tautological way, i.e., as a constellation of factors involving language, race, descent, culture, history, etc. but often with one or more of these factors missing. Some researchers act as if ethnicity were a given, something that must be present in society, rather than a construct they themselves have invented. And, they often act as if all languages are equal in their impact on ethnicity, or as if any `language' at all would do for their definition of ethnicity , with no sense of the complexity of any one language. My conclusion, therefore, is that ethnicity is a problematical construct, and that in the society I examined, Eastern Rumelia, ethnicity indeed seems to involve a language factor, but having said this, I am unable to state what ethnicity actually means to the Rumelians. Perhaps this is a factor of the recent political shift in eastern Europe, but in any event, the concept of ethnicity seems to be in a very fluid state. Much more work, beyond the scope of this paper, is obviously required.
      • My conclusion needs more work.
      • My conclusion claims more than has in fact been demonstrated.
      • My conclusion flounders around and misses a number of obvious points.

    3. Entertainment Value

      I raise this topic last, because entertaining or amusing the reader (a goal of certain kinds of writing) is usually not the goal of expository writing, though occasional moments of humor or irony are not out of place, and keeping the writing interesting will keep your reader involved. Remember: your reader does not have to read your paper. You must engage your reader, and make him/her interested enough so that your he/she will continue reading. Many of the suggestions made above, which enhance the clarity of the paper, are intended to help you keep your reader engaged and interested all the way through your paper. Otherwise you lose your reader, and the goal of your paper (persuasion, convincement, whatever) is lost.

    4. Abbreviated Checklist

      This abbreviated checklist incorporates the detailed items in the above list, and is what I will hand back to you with your various writing samples, to give point-by-point critiques of weaknesses and strengths.,