Tips on Writing a Research Paper
*You're barely back from vacation and your teacher asks you to do a report or a research paper on a current issue. You believe strongly in the right to life and so you’d like to do your paper on some aspect of the abortion issue. But where do you start?
Of course, you'll still have the responsibility to write the paper, watch your grammar, and turn in your paper in a timely fashion. Here's some practical advice and suggestions on how to think through assembling your paper.
Some Hints on Choosing a Topic
Deep or Wide? – Do you want to give your reader a general background on the topic or do you want to write in-depth on one aspect of the debate? If you choose to go general, you'll basically just be introducing the topic and outlining some of its broad ramifications. But you can still show why the issue is important and address some of the most salient facts. For example:
• The number of abortions
• The significance of that number
• The reasons women have abortions
• Who has abortions
• The profits that drive the abortion industry
• A sense of the humanity of the unborn child
Life has many facets – If you decide you want to look at one issue in depth, there are many possible topic areas.
• Discuss a baby's first months in the womb
• Study stem cells
• Partial-birth abortion
• Discuss the history of the right-to-life movement
• Report on Missing Persons - Abortion's Economic Impact
• Describe Abortion's Impact on Minorities
Doing Your Research
Write it down – When you find some information relevant to the topic you've chosen, write down exactly what your source says and fully document the original source. That means saying no more and no less than what the source says. Indicate the author, the name of the article, the publication, the date, and any further publication data.
If you cite Roe v. Wade or any of the other High Court abortion cases, make sure you characterize these correctly by checking Supreme Court Decisions: Abortion.
Assembling Your Information
• Assemble Your Sources – Get all your notes and resources together. Take a look at what you've got. Are there any gaps in your research? If you're looking at the history of abortion, do you have the information on The History of National Right to Life, and Wisconsin Right To Life, a key participant in the battle over abortion?
• Think through your arguments - What are the points you need to emphasize to best make your case? What is the logical order of your arguments? Do you have evidence for the arguments you intend to make?
• Outline your Paper - Your teacher may be your best guide here and he or she probably has a specific format in mind. It's often as simple as identifying your thesis, lining up the main points of your argument, supplying the evidence you need to make those points, and then summing up your research in a conclusion.
• Factsheets – Factsheets such as the Teens & Abortion: Why Parents Should Know and The Pain of the Unborn not only supply you with the facts, but also provide good examples of how a topic can be organized and can help you spotlight the strongest and most relevant arguments.
Writing Your Paper
• Pay attention to the basics - You may have a great argument and possess the most compelling evidence. But if you can't express it in a clear and concise way, you'll impress no one. Follow standard rules of grammar so that subjects and verbs agree, sentences don't run on, proper nouns are capitalized, etc. Check your spelling. Have someone else read your paper or read it out loud to see if any phrases or sentences are jarring or confusing.
• Know your audience - Quotes from Scripture, Pope John Paul II's "Gospel of Life," etc. may fit in nicely to your paper if you are encouraging people of faith to take up the right-to-life cause. In a public school, however, it may be more effective to argue the right-to-life cause from a human rights or civil rights perspective. Not everyone recognizes the same religious authority, but your teachers will take note of material from medical texts and journals about the development of the unborn child or abortion's physical and psychological effects on women. (Problems After Abortion)
• Stick to the Facts - If you don't have a source for some statement you want to make, don't make it. If you have conflicting sets of data, get the sources for each one and see which one holds up best.
- Know the difference between an "assertion" and an "argument." "Abortion hurts women" is an assertion. It may be true enough, but once you make this assertion, you must back up your point with argument and evidence.
- Resist the temptation to relate personal anecdotes unless they are absolutely relevant and be careful about unwarranted extrapolations.
• Keep your cool - Never personally attack and avoid hyperbole. Give opposing arguments their due both because that is being intellectually honest and because it tells your teacher he or she does not need to view your solid counter-evidence with suspicion.
Can we guarantee you'll get an A+ on your research paper? Sorry, no. A great deal of that is still up to you.
But with links found here and at National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, you'll have the ideas and information you need to address some of the hottest topics in America today. You'll be better and smarter for it. And that's what education is all about.
*BY Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. and Joe Landrum
Dr. O'Bannon is National Right to Life Education Trust Fund director of education and research, and Joe Landrum is administrative assistant for NRLC public information.