Effective Research Writing: A Few Keys Ideas

There are really just a few key fundamentals to keep in mind when it comes to producing effective research writing and avoiding plagiarism:

  • First, the basic structure of an argument is always to state the idea and then provide the support; in almost all cases, you are responsible for laying out the idea, thesis, or topic in your own words. Don't let sources do this for you.
  • Second, be transparent for your reader: when we read a novel or poem we might like having a little mystery or something left up to the reader's imagination, but that isn't true for most academic writing. Academic writing should be as transparent as possible. That means effectively introducing sources so that the reader knows precisely why they are there.
  • Third, don't hide the work you have done: If an assignment has required you to do research, then by all means foreground the fact that you have done research. This means that you quote your sources by effectively integrating them into your writing. You name authors and titles where appropriate. You provide context for who wrote what. You quote directly rather than paraphrase. And you abandon the notion that you need to do research, change the words, and then pass that research off as your own writing.

Notice how this looks when you put the pieces together in the following example:

Topic sentence and refinement—The idea in my own words:

The narrative voice is an important component in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." It helps to show how excluded Emily is from the town she lives in, since the narrative voice often speaks for the whole town but not for Emily herself.

Support with quotation from the primary text (the short story):

For example, at one point in the story the narrator says that the townspeople thought Emily would kill herself and that "it would be the best thing" (text on p. 685 of the full Tenth Edition, p. 520 of the Shorter Eleventh Edition, and p. 312 of the Portable Tenth Edition).

(Notice my use of "for example" so that my reader knows immediately how the quotation is connected to my topic sentence: I am providing a specific example of the idea.)

This shows that:

This quotation shows how the narrator speaks for the entire town, but also how excluded from that communal group Emily herself is.

(I explain to my reader explicitly how the quotation proves my topic idea.)

Incorporate a secondary source from my research:

Judith Fetterley, in her article, "A Rose for 'A Rose for Emily,'" also explores the "communal nature" of Emily's funeral, which provides another instance of the town acting as one entity, apart from Emily (text on p. 696 of the full Tenth Edition, and p. 531 of the Shorter Eleventh Edition).

(Here I use an introductory phrase to highlight the fact that I am using a research source: I provide the source author's name and the title of the article.)

Notice how transparent this kind of writing is: I lay out an idea directly, I tell my reader that I am providing an example, and I quote from the text directly. Then I explain how the quotation proves my idea, after which I introduce a research source, pointing out the author and original place of publication:

Idea → Example → Support → Explanation → Source

Nothing is left up to the reader to figure out. I have done the work myself.