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The Curious Researcher

A Guide to Writing Research Papers

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Bruce Ballenger Boise State University


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For Rebecca, who reminds me to ask, Why?

Publisher: Joseph Opiela Executive Editor: Suzanne Phelps Chambers Editorial Assistant: Erica Schweitzer Senior Supplements Editor: Donna Campion Senior Marketing Manager: Susan Stoudt Production ]Ilanager: Eric Jorgensen Project Coordination, Text Design. and Electronic Page Makeup:

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The author and publisher are grateful to the many students who allowed their work to be reprinted here. We would also like to acknowledge the following copyright holders for permission to use their materials in this book:

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Ballenger, Bruce P.

The curious researcher: a guide to writing research papers/ Bruce Ballenger.–6th ed.

p. em. Includes index. ISBN 978-0-205-74526-5

1. Report writing-Handbooks, manuals, etc. manuals, etc. I. Title. LB2369.B246 2009 808′.02-dc22

2. Research-Handbooks,


This book includes 2009 MLA guidelines.

Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States.


Longman is an imprint of

PEARSON ISBN 13: 978-0-205-74526-5 www.pearsonhighered.comISBN 10: 0-205-74526-1



Preface xx

Introduction: Rethinking the Research Paper 1

E X ERe I S E 1 Collecting Golf Balls on Driving Ranges and Other Reflections 1

Learning and Unlearning 4

Using This Book 4

The Exercises 4

The Five-Week Plan 5

Alternatives to the Five-Week Plan 6

The Research Paper and the Research Report 7

Discovering Your Purpose 7

How Formal Should It Be? 9

When “Bad” Writing Is Good 10 :1:

Thinking Like an Academic Writer 10

“Essaying” or Arguing? 11

The Research Essay and Academic Writing 13

Becoming an Authority by Using Authorities 15

“It’s Just My Opinion” 15

Facts Don’t Kill 16

E X ERe I S E 2 Reflecting on “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons” by Bruce Ballenger 17

The Question Habit 25


vi Contents

Chapter 1 The First Week 27

The Importance of Getting Curious 27

Learning to Wonder Again 27

Getting the Pot Boiling 28

E X ERe I S E 1. 1 Building an Interest Inventory 29

Other Ways to Find a Topic 33

What Is a Good Topic? 35

Checking Out Your Tentative Topic 35

Making the Most of an Assigned Topic 36

EX ERe I S E 1.2 The Myth of the Boring Topic 37

Developing a Working Knowledge 39

Research Strategies 40

E X ERe I S E 1. 3 Seeing the Broad View 40

The Reference Librarian: A Living Source 46

Narrowing the Subject 47

Circling the Lighthouse 47

From Landscape Shots to Close-Ups 48

E X ERe I S E 1. 4 Finding the Questions 48

E X ERe I S E 1. 5 Finding the Focusing Question 50

EX ERe I S E 1.6 Finding the Relationship 51

Possible Purposes for a Research Assignment 52

E X ERe I S E 1. 7 Research Proposal 53

Reading for Research 55

EX ERe I S E 1.8 Ways of Reading to Write 55

Reading Rhetorically 57

Reading Like an Outsider 58

Contents vii

Chapter 2 The Second Week 61 Developing a Research Strategy 61

Google VB. the Library 62

A Complementary Research Strategy 64

Find Sufficient Information by Using the Best Search Terms 65

Controlled Language Searches Using Library of Subject Headings 65

Boolean Searching 67

Magic Words on the World Wide Web 68

Find Varied Sources 70

Primary vs. Secondary Sources 72

Objective vs. Subjective 72

Stable or Unstable? 73

Find Quality Sources 73

When Was It Published? 73

Why Journal Articles Are Better Than Magazine Articles 74

Look for Often-Cited Authors 75

Not All Books Are Alike 75

Evaluating Online Sources 76

A Key to Evaluating Internet Sources 77

Developing Focused Knowledge 81

What About a Thesis? 82

Suspending Judgment? 82

What Do You Presume? 82

What Are You Arguing? 83

Library Research Techniques 85

Finding Books 85

Understanding Call Numbers 86

viii Contents

E X ERe I S E 2. 1 Library Investigations 87

Coming Up Empty-Handed? 89

Checking Bibliographies 89

Interlibrary Loan 89

Finding Magazine and Journal Articles Using Online Databases 90

Finding Newspaper Articles with Online Databases 93

Advanced Internet Research Techniques 94

Types of Search Engines 95

E X ERe I S E 2. 2 Research on the Internet 96

Living Sources: Interviews and Surveys 99

Arranging Interviews 99

Finding Experts 99

Finding Nonexperts Affected by Your Topic 101

Making Contact 101

Conducting Interviews 102

Whom to Interview? 102

What Questions to Ask? 102

During the Interview 104

Notetaking 104

The E-Mail Interview 105

Finding People on the Internet 105

Making Contact by E-Mail 106

The Discussion Board Interview 106

Deciding What to Ask 107

Planning Informal Surveys 107

Defining Goals and Audience 107

Types of Questions 108

Survey Design 110

Avoid Loaded Questions 110

Ayoid Vague Questions 110

— Contents ix

Drawbacks of Open-Ended Questions 110

Designing Your Multiple-Choice Questions 111

Continuum Questions 111

Planning for Distribution 112

Conducting Surveys 112

Distribution 112

The Internet Survey 113

Chapter 3 The Third Week 115 Writing in the Middle 115

Becoming an Activist Notetaker 116

EX ERe IS E 3.1 Getting a Word in Edgewise 118

EX ERe I S E 3.2 “Say Back” to a Source 121

Recognizing Plagiarism 121

I Read What You Said and Borrowed It, Okay? 122

Why Plagiarism Matters 124

Sources Are from Mars, Notetakers Are from Venus 125

Paraphrasing 126

E X ERe I S E 3. 3 Paraphrase Practice 126

Summarizing 127

E X ERe I S E 3. 4 Summary Practice 128

Quoting 129

When to Quote 129

Quoting Fairly 131

E X ERe I S E 3. 5 Dialogic N otetaking: Listening In, Speaking Up 131

“Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism” by Christine Rosen 134

Notetaking Techniques 143

The Double-Entry Journal 144

x Contents

Other Notetaking Techniques 153

The Research Log: A Jay Leno Approach 153

Narrative Notetaking 157

First Layer: Story the Source 160

Second Layer: Rapid Summary 160

Third Layer: Narrative of Thought 160

Online Research Notebooks 161

When You’re Coming Up Short: More Advanced Searching Techniques 162

Advanced Library Searching Techniques 163

Advanced Internet Search Techniques 164

Thinking Outside the Box: Alternative Sources 166

Chapter 4 The Fourth Week 169

Getting to the Draft 169

When the Experts Disagree 170

Evaluating Conflicting Claims 170

EX ERe I S E 4. 1 Do Concealed Guns Reduce Crime? 171

E X ERe I S E 4. 2 Reclaiming Your Topic 174

An Application Example 176

Deciding Whether to Say 1 181

Getting Personal Without Being Personal 182

Beginning at the Beginning 182

Flashlights or Floodlights? 183

Writing Multiple Leads 185

E X ERe I S E 4. 3 Three Ways In 187

Deciding on a Voice 189

Considering Purpose, Audience, Subject, and Who You Are 190

Contents xi

The Differing Voices of Research 192

Writing for Reader Interest 193

Working the Common Ground 194

Topics for Which Common Ground Is Hard to Find 195

Putting People on the Page 196

Using Case Studies 197

Using Interviews 197

Writing a Strong Ending 198

Endings to Avoid 198

Using Surprise 200

Organizing the Draft 201

Delayed Thesis Structure 202

Question-Claim Structure 204

Essaying or Arguing: An Example 206

Writing with Sources 207

Blending Kinds ofWriting and Sources 207

Handling Quotes 208

Quick Tips for Controlling Quotations 211

Grafting Quotes 211

Sandwiching Quotes 211

Billboarding Quotes 212

Splicing Quotes 213

Handling Interview Material 214

Trusting Your Memory 215

Citing Sources 215

An Alternative to Colliding Footnotes 215

I Hate These Theses to Pieces 216

Driving Through the First Draft 218

A Draft Is Something the Wind Blows Through 218

xii Contents

Chapter 5 The Fifth Week 221 Revising for Purpose 221

EX ERe I S E 5. 1 Wrestling with the Draft 223

The Thesis as a ‘fool for Revision 226

E X ERe I S E 5. 2 Dissecting the Fish 227

Using a Reader 229

What You Need from a Reader 229

E X ERe I S E 5. 3 Directing the Reader’s Response 229

Attacking the Draft 230

EX ERe I S E 5.4 Cut-and-Paste Revision 231

Examining the Wreckage 232

Revising for Information 234

Finding Quick Facts 234

Revising for Language 235

Listening to the Voice 237

Avoid Sounding Glib 237

How to Control Information 238

Verbal Gestures 240

Scrutinizing Paragraphs 242

How Well Do You Integrate Sources? 242

Is Each Paragraph Unified? 242

Scrutinizing Sentences 242

Using Active Voice 242

Using Strong Verbs 244

Varying Sentence Length 244

Editing for Simplicity 247

EX ERe I S E 5.5 Cutting Clutter 247

Stock Phrases in Research Papers 247

— Contents xiii

Preparing the Final Manuscript 248

Considering “Reader-Friendly” Design 249

Following MLA Conventions 250

Proofreading Your Paper 250

Proofreading on a Computer 250

Looking Closely 251

EX ERe I S E 5.6 Picking Off the Lint 251

Ten Common Mistakes 252

Using the “Find” or “Search” Function 254

Avoiding Sexist Language 255

Looking Back and Moving On 256

Appendix A Guide to MLA Style 257 Part One: Citing Sources in Your Essay 259

1.1 When to Cite 259

The Common Knowledge Exception 259

1.2 The MLA AuthorlPage System 260

The Basics of Using Parenthetical Citation 260

1.2.1 Placement of Citations 262

1.2.2 When You Mention the Author’s Name 264

1.2.3 When There Is No Author 264

1.2.4 Works by the Same Author 265

1.2.5 Indirect Sources 266

1.2.6 Personal Interviews 267

1.2.7 Several Sources in a Single Citation 267

Sample Parenthetical References for Other Sources 268

1.2.8 An Entire Work 268

1.2.9 A Volume of a Multivolume Work 268

1.2.10 Several Sources for a Single Passage 268

xiv Contents

1.2.11 A Literary Work 269

1.2.12 An Online Source 269

Part Two: Format 270

2.1 The Layout 270

2.1.1 Printing 270

2.1.2 Margins and Spacing 270

2.1.3 Title Page 270

2.1.4 Pagination 272

2.1.5 Placement of Tables, Charts, and illustrations 272

2.1.6 Handling Titles 272

2.1.7 Italics and Underlinings 273

2.1.8 Language and Style 273

Names 273

Ellipsis Points 274

Quotations 274

Part Three: Preparing the “Works Cited” Page 275

3.1 Format 276

Alphabetizing the List 276

Indenting and Spacing 276

3.2 Citing Books 277

Title 277

Edition 278

Publication Place, Publisher, and Date 278

Page Numbers 278

Sample Book Citations 279

3.2.1 A Book by One Author 279

3.2.2 A Book by Two Authors 279

3.2.3 A Book with More Than Three Authors 279

3.2.4 Several Books by the Same Author 279

3.2.5 An Entire Collection or Anthology 279

3.2.6 A Work in a Collection or Anthology 280

Contents xv

3.2.7 An Introduction, Preface, Foreword, or Prologue 280

3.2.8 A Book with No Author 280

3.2.9 An Encyclopedia 281

3.2.10 A Book with an Institutional Author 281

3.2.11 A Book with Multiple Volumes 281

3.2.12 A Book That Is Not a First Edition 282

3.2.13 A Book Published Before 1900 282

3.2.14 A Translation 283

3.2.15 Government Documents 283

3.2.16 A Book That Was Republished 283

3.2.17 An Online Book 284

3.3 Citing Periodicals 284

Author’s Name 284

Article Title 284

Periodical Title 284

Volume Number 285

Date 285

Page Numbers 285

Sample Periodical Citations 286

3.3.1 A Magazine Article 286

3.3.2 A Journal Article 286

3.3.3 A Newspaper Article 287

3.3.4 An Article with No Author 288

3.3.5 An Editorial 288

3.3.6 A Letter to the Editor 289

3.3.7 A Review 289

3.3.8 An Abstract 289

3.4 Citing Nonprint and Other Sources 290

3.4.1 An Interview 290

3.4.2 Surveys, Questionnaires, and Case Studies 291

xvi Contents

3.4.3 Recordings 291

3.4.4 Television and Radio Programs 292

3.4.5 Films, Videotapes, and DVDs 292

3.4.6 Artwork 293

3.4.7 An Advertisement 293

3.4.8 Lectures and Speeches 293

3.4.9 Pamphlets 294

3.5 Citing CD-ROMs and Other “Portable” Databases 294

3.5.1 A Nonperiodical Database 294

3.5.2 A Periodical Database 295

3.6 Citing Online Databases 296

Other Recent Changes by the MLA 296

Is It Also in Print? 297

Long and Ugly URLs 298

Sample Online Citations 299

3.6.1 An Article 299

3.6.2 An Article or Abstract in a Library Database 299

3.6.3 An Online Book 302

3.6.4 A Web Site or Page from a Web Site 303

3.6.5 An Online Posting 303

3.6.6 An E-Mail Message 304

3.6.7 A Sound Clip or Podcast 304

3.6.8 An Online Video 304

3.6.9 An Interview 305

3.6.10 A Blog Entry or Blog Comment 305

3.6.11 An Online Image 306

3.6.12 Synchronous Communication (MOOS, MUDS, IRCS) 306

Part Four: Student Essay in MLA Style 307

“In Search of the Great White” by Amanda Stewart 308

Contents xvii

Appendix B Guide to APA Style 319

Part One: How the Essay Should Look 322

1.1 The Layout 322

1.1.1 Page Format 322

1.1.2 Title Page 322

1.1.3 Abstract 322

1.1.4 Body of the Paper 324

1.1.5 Handling Quoted Material 325

1.1.6 References Page 326

1.1.7 Appendix 327

1.1.8 Notes 327

1.1.9 Tables and Figures 327

1.1.10 Language and Style 328

Part Two: Citing Sources in Your Essay 328

2.1 The APA AuthorlPage System 328

2.1.1 When the Author Is Mentioned in the Text 328

2.1.2 When the Author Isn’t Mentioned in the Text 328

2.1.3 When to Cite Page Numbers 329

2.1.4 A Single Work by Two or More Authors 329

2.1.5 A Work with No Author 330

2.1.6 Two or More Works by the Same Author 330

2.1.7 An Institutional Author 330

2.1.8 Multiple Works in the Same Parentheses 331

2.1.9 Interviews, E-Mail, and Letters 331

2.1.10 New Editions of Old Works 332

2.1.11 A Web Site 332

Part Three: Preparing the “References” List 332

3.1 Order of Sources 332

3.2 Order of Information 333

xviii Contents

Author 333

Date 333

Article or Book Title 333

Periodical Title and Publication Information 333

3.3 Sample References 334

3.3.1 A Journal Article 334

3.3.2 A Journal Article Not Paginated Continuously 335

3.3.3 A Magazine Article 335

3.3.4 A Newspaper Article 335

3.3.5 A Book 336

3.3.6 A Book or Article with More Than One Author 336

3.3.7 A Book or Article with an Unknown Author 336

3.3.8 An Encyclopedia Entry 337

3.3.9 A Dictionary 337

3.3.10 A Book with an Institutional Author 338

3.3.11 A Book with an Editor 338

3.3.12 A Selection in a Book with an Editor 338

3.3.13 A Republished Work 338

3.3.14 AnAbstract 339

3.3.15 A Source Mentioned by Another Source 339

3.3.16 A Book Review 340

3.3.17 A Government Document 340

3.3.18 A Letter to the Editor 340

3.3.19 A Published Interview 341

3.3.20 A Film, Videotape, or Online Video 341

3.3.21 A Television Program 341

3.3.22 A Musical Recording 342

3.3.23 A Computer Program 342

3.4 Citing Electronic Sources 342

3.4.1 An Electronic Version of an Article Also in Print 343

Contents xix

3.4.2 An Article Only on the Internet 343

3.4.3 An Electronic Text 344

3.4.4 An Article or Abstract from a Library Database 344

3.4.5 A Part of a Work 345

3.4.6 An Online Journal 345

3.4.7 A Newspaper Article 345

3.4.8 An Entire Web Page 346

3.4.9 An Article on a Web Site 346

3.4.10 An Audio Podcast 346

3.4.11 A Blog 347

3.4;12 A Wiki 347

3.4.13 Discussion Lists 347

3.4.14 E-Mail 348

Part Four: Sample Paper in APA Style 348

“What’s Love Got to Do with It? Compatability and Marital Success” by Jennifer Suittor 349

Appendix C Understanding Research Assignments 359 Analyzing the Purpose of the Assignment 360

Argumentative Research: Open or Closed? 361

Audience 362

Emphasis on Formal Qualities 363

Types of Evidence: Primary or Secondary 365

Index 367

Preface Placing Inquiry at the Heart of the Course

Several years ago, the Boyer Commission offered a national report on the state of undergraduate education in America’s research universities. The report was sobering. Among other things, the com­ mission complained that undergraduates, particularly first- and second-year students, experience a curriculum dominated by knowl­ edge transmission-large lectures rather than seminars-and rarely get the chance to “enter a world of discovery in which they are active participants, not passive receivers.” Commission members called for a “radical reconstruction” of undergraduate education. “The ecology of the university,” they wrote, “depends on a deep and abiding under­ standing that inquiry, investigation, and discovery are the heart of the enterprise…. Everyone at a university should be a discoverer, a learner.” The freshman year, in particular, should provide “new stimulation for intellectual growth and a firm grounding in inquiry­ based learning.”

The Curious Researcher answers that call. It is a sad fact that most students misunderstand formal academic research. Because it often reports conclusions-the results of the process of inquiry­ students naturally assume that the research writer didn’t engage in an act of inquiry in the first place. They assume that the aca­ demic writer always sets out to prove rather than to find out, that she scrupulously avoids ambiguity and is more concerned with answers than questions. The conventional research paper in the composition course-often students’ first introduction to academic research-reinforces all of these mistaken assumptions about the nature of inquiry.

Teaching the Spirit of Inquiry

While The Curious Researcher features plenty of material on the conventions of research writing-citation methods, approaches to organization, evaluating sources, how to avoid plagiarism, and so on-a major emphasis of the book is introducing students to the


Preface xxi

spirit of inquiry. The habits of mind that good research writers develop is something we can teach that is truly multidisciplinary. That spirit is charged with curiosity, of course-the itch to know and learn and discover. But it also involves the ability to ask researchable questions, the instinct to look in the right places for answers, a willingness to suspend judgment, and an openness to changing one’s mind. Embracing the spirit of inquiry must begin with the belief that one can be an inquirer, a knower, an active agent in making knowledge.

I think this affective dimension of critical thinking is under­ rated, especially when it comes to writing research papers. That’s why this book promotes the research essay, a potentially more sub­ jective, less formal, often more exploratory mode than the formal argumentative research paper. The research essay is, I think, a much better introduction to research and research writing and excellent preparation for more conventional academic research because it places the writer in the center of the discourse. As a result, he cannot avoid his role as the main agent of the inquiry nor can he escape the question of his own authority in the conversation about what might be true. When it’s a good experience, the writer of the research essay often adopts a new identity as a knower.

I am often amazed at what students do with this new freedom. I believe little is lost in not prescribing a formal research paper, particularly in an introductory composition course. As students move on from here to their declared majors, they will learn the scholarly conventions of their disciplines from those best equipped to teach them. In the meantime, students will master valuable library skills and learn many of the technical elements of the research paper, such as citation methods and evaluating sources. But most important, students will discover, often for the first time, what college research is really about: using the ideas of others to shape ideas of their own.

Ways of Using This Book

Since procrastination ails many student researchers, this book is uniquely designed to move them through the research pro­ cess, step-by-step and week-by-week, for five weeks, the typical period allotted for the assignment. The structure of the book is flexible, however; students should be encouraged to compress the sequence if their research assignment will take less time or ignore it altogether and use the book to help them solve specific problems as they arise.

xxii Preface

Students who follow the five-week sequence usually find that they like the way The Curious Researcher doesn’t deluge them with information, as do so many other research paper texts. Instead, The Curious Researcher doles information out week-by-week, when it is most needed.

The Introduction, “Rethinking the Research Paper,” chal­ lenges students to reconceive the research paper assignment. For many of them, this will amount to a “declaration of independence.” During “The First Week,” students are encouraged to discover topics they’re genuinely curious about and to learn to develop a “working knowledge” of their topics through library and Web research. This working knowledge will guide them as they decide on a tentative focus for their investigations. In “The Second Week,” students develop a research strategy, hone their skills in evaluat­ ing sources, and then begin working to develop a “focused knowl­ edge” of their topics by systematically searching for information in the library and on the Web. In “The Third Week,” students learn notetaking techniques, the dangers of plagiarism, and tips on how to conduct a search that challenges them to dig more deeply for information. During “The Fourth Week,” students begin writing their drafts; this chapter also gives tips on integrating sources, structure, voice, and beginnings. In “The Fifth Week,” students are guided through the final revision.

In this edition of The Curious Researcher, the details about citation conventions and formats for both the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) are in Appendixes A and B, respectively. This organization makes the information easier for students to find and use. Sample student papers-one in MLA format and one in AP A format-are included as well.

Unlike other textbooks, which relegate exercises to the ends of chapters, The Curious Researcher makes them integral to the process of researching and writing the paper. Though techniques such as fastwriting and brainstorming-featured in some of the writing exercises-are now commonplace in many composition classes, they have rarely been applied to research writing and certainly not as extensively as they have been here. Fastwriting is an especially useful tool, not just for prewriting but for open-ended thinking throughout the process of researching and writing the paper. The exercises are also another antidote to procrastina­ tion, challenging students to stay involved in the process as well as providing instructors with a number of short assign­ ments throughout the five weeks that will help them monitor students’ progress.

Preface xxiii

Features of the New Edition

Writing a textbook is like discovering an aunt you never knew you had. She arrives unexpectedly one summer and stands at your door beaming and expectant. Naturally, you welcome her in. How charming she is, and as you get to know your aunt you get to know yourself. This is her gift to you. At some point, many months later, you see her luggage by the door, and with a certain sadness you send her off. “Come again,” you yell as she ambles off. “Come again any­ time. I’ll miss you!” And you do. Your fondness for this newly discov­ ered relative grows as you learn that others, people who aren’t even blood related, like her too.

Two years later, your aunt appears at your door again, and of course you’re glad to see her. She inhabits your house for the sum­ mer, and, while she does get a bit demanding, that doesn’t diminish your fondness for the old girl, at least not much. You’ve grown to know her well, and while familiarity doesn’t breed contempt you do develop a slight weariness. You’ve heard all the same stories a few times, and her voice, well, her voice can get a bit irritating at times. This time when she leaves you confess that you’re just a little bit relieved, happy to move on to other things.

But, bless her heart, your aunt has got something of a following and this has given her a new lease on life. It also seems she got a lease on your life, and once more she appears one summer day at the door expecting to stay until September or October. You do love her, but you wish she wouldn’t visit so often, and though her stay is often pleasant, you feel compelled to remind her that she’s getting older and maybe a bit out of fashion. You do what you can to remake her into someone you don’t mind spending the summer with.

This sixth time around, I think I’ve made substantial improve­ ments in The Curious Researcher that make it current with the lat­ est advances in information literacy, more streamlined, and more relevant to the actual practices of student writers. Here are a few of the highlights of the sixth edition:

• Google us. the library. Not so long ago, students really needed to walk through the doors of the university library to write academic papers. Now, with the explosion of online databases, full-text documents, Google Scholar, and digital texts, most students are quite confident that they don’t have to leave their rooms to get the work done. Is the library irrelevant? Hardly. But in this edition of The Curious Researcher I take time to explore the practical advantages and disadvantages of online research and research at the library. More than ever, a

xxiv Preface

complementary research strategy, one that combines the best of both, will strengthen student work.

• New sources for information. One of the exciting developments since the last edition is the growth of Web blogs, podcasts, streaming video, and other sources of information that, until recently, were rarely mined for academic research. The sixth edition provides a fresh look at what new sources are available online.

• Expanded treatment of citations. Along with discussion of new electronic sources is more guidance on how to cite them using both MLA and APA formats. I’ve also increased the number of sample citations to provide more comprehensive coverage.

• The story of a research essay. For the first time, The Curious Researcher follows the progress of a single student researcher, Amanda Stewart, from the beginning of her project to the end. In each chapter, she shares the results of her own experience with many of the exercises, a process that culminates with her final essay, the featured MLA student paper in Appendix A

• What about Wikipedia? Viewed with scorn by some academics, the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a student favorite. The sixth edition tackles questions about the virtues and draw­ backs of the popular site.

• The NEW MyCompLab website. The new MyCompLab integrates the market-leading instruction, multimedia tutorials, and exer­ cises for writing, grammar and research that users have come to identifY with the program with a new online composing space and new assessment tools. The result is a revolutionary application that offers a seamless and flexible teaching and learning environ­ ment built specifically for writers. Created after years of extensive research and in partnership with composition faculty and stu­ dents across the country, the new MyCompLab provides help for writers in the context of their writing, with instructor and peer commenting functionality, proven tutorials and exercises for writ­ ing, grammar and research, an e-portfolio, an assignmentbuilder, a bibliography tool, tutoring services, and a gradebook and course management organization created specifically for writing classes. Visit for more information.

A few weeks ago, I fell off of a ladder and broke my wrist. This was the second time in three years I’ve done this. This time, when I hit the concrete and noticed that my right wrist was contorted, my first thought was that I wouldn’t play the guitar again. My second

Preface xxv

thought was that I wouldn’t be able to type and meet the deadline for this revision of The Curious Researcher. My third thought was ouch. That thought pretty much stayed with me for the next few days.

Finally, it settled in that I was a very lucky man. I hadn’t fallen on my head, my wife Karen was a tremendous comfort, my friends ral­ lied, and somehow I would find a way to get the writing done. I was lucky, too, that before that ladder collapsed beneath me I had asked one of my former students, Amanda Stewart, to help me with this new edition. This bright young woman was a huge help, offering feedback on the manuscript from a student’s perspective, doing the exercises in the book and sharing her journal work, researching new online infor­ mation sources, and writing an essay that is featured in the back of the book as a memorable example of what a curious researcher can do.

lt also helped that I had an understanding editor at Pearson/Longman, Suzanne Phelps Chambers, who never asked me after I took that spill when I’d be able to send more manuscript, though that must have been on her mind. Her subsequent attention to this book, and the attention of her assistant Erica Schweitzer, made things go much more smoothly as I began typing first with one hand, and then, awkwardly, with both. Suzanne is a new editor for me, and I look forward to working with her on other projects without the handicap of broken bones. Suzanne’s colleague and my former editor, Joseph Opiela, is a lion in the field of educational publishing, and I’m grateful that he took a chance on a young writer who wanted to write a different kind of composition textbook.

The Curious Researcher began in 1991 when I began to feel that the conventional research paper, a fixture in most composition courses, was largely a failed assignment. Students hated it, and while instructors thought that teaching research was an important obligation, many dreaded the assignment, too. Professor Thomas Newkirk, a colleague at the University of New Hampshire, encour­ aged me to re-imagine instruction in college research, and it was largely his encouragement that led to this text’s first edition. Since then, I’ve collaborated with legions of colleagues and students on how this book evolved, and they have helped me make it better. I’d like to mention a few.

Kim Woods

Dr. Michelle Payne is a colleague who has been an inspiration and help to me for decades on this book and others. She has had a tremendous impact on helping me understand rhetoric, argument, and writing pedagogy. Barry Lane, now an internationally known consultant and teacher to teachers, was once my office mate at University of New Hampshire, and over the years his enthusiastic support of my approach in The Curious Researcher motivated me to return to the book again and again. Dr. Brock Dethier, Utah State University, is also a long-time friend and intellectual companion

xxvi Preface

who has always challenged me to think more deeply even as my lungs burn while trying to keep up with him on hikes up Northern Rockies peaks. Finally, Dr. Deborah Coxwell-Teague, Florida State University, has been an unflagging supporter of the book and offered advice from her experience using the text with the hundred or so teaching assistants she leads in their program every year.

My students are always the most important reason I keep returning to The Curious Researcher. Since the book first appeared in 1994, I’ve benefited from the writing, experience, advice, and enthusiasm of students who have been willing to this approach a try. I still see their faces when I rewrite this text, including those who were in my classes 25 years ago. The success of this book has much to do with them. When I open any page of The Curi­ ous Researcher these students flutter out, like feathers pressed between its pages that were left there long ago, as reminders of my debt to them.

I would like to thank those individuals who have reviewed my book. Reviewers for the fifth edition included the following: Patricia P. Buckler-Purdue University North Central; Deborah Coxwell Teague-Florida State University; Chris Frick-Colorado College; Don Jones-University of Hartford; Nadene Keene-Indiana Univer­ sity Kokomo; Jennifer Morrison-Niagara University; and Lois Sampson-Cowley College. I would also like to extend my thanks to the reviewers of this edition: Marilyn Annucci-University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; Garnet Branch-University of Louisiana at Lafayette; George Clark-University of Southern Mississippi; Denise Coulter-Atlantic Cape Community College; Deborah Coxwell Teague-Florida State University; Tamara Harvey-George Mason University; Lisa R. Neilson-Marist College; Paula Priamos­ California State University, San Bernardino; and Amy Randolph­ Waynesburg University.

And finally, I am most indebted to my wife, Karen Kelley, who in the beginning helped me see this pr~ject through during a difficult time in our lives.



Rethinking the Research Paper

Unlike most textbooks, this one begins with your writing, not mine. Find a fresh page in your notebook, grab a pen, and spend ten minutes doing the following exercise.


Collecting Golf Balls on Driving Ranges and Other Reflections

Most of us were taught to think before we write, to have it all fig­ ured out in our heads before we pick up our pens. This exercise asks you to think through writing rather than before, letting the words on the page lead you to what you want to say. With practice, that’s sur­ prisingly easy using a technique called fastwriting. Basically, you just write down whatever comes into your head, not worrying about whether you’re being eloquent, grammatical, or even very smart. It’s remarkably like talking to a good friend, not trying to be brilliant and even blithering a bit, but along the way discovering what you think. If the writing stalls, write about that, or write about what you’ve already written until you find a new trail to follow. Just keep your pen moving.

STEP 1: Following is a series of sixteen statements about the research paper assignment. Check the five statements you think most students believe about the assignment. Then, in your notebook, write fast for five minutes about whether you think the statements you checked are true. Speculate about where these ideas about research papers come from and why they might make sense. If you disagree with any of the statements you checked, explore why wrongheaded ideas


2 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

about the assignment have endured. Whenever you feel moved to do so, tell a story.

• It’s okay to say things the instructor might disagree with. • You need to follow a formal structure. • You have to know your thesis before you start. • You have to be objective. • You can’t use the pronoun 1. • You can use your own experiences and observations as evidence. • The information should come mostly from books. • You have to say something original. • You’re always supposed to make an argument. • You can use your own writing voice. • Summarizing what’s known about the topic is most important. • You’re writing mostly for the instructor. • You’re supposed to use your own opinions. • The paper won’t be revised substantially. • Form matters more than content.

STEP 2: Now, consider the truth of some other statements, listed below. These statements have less to do with research papers than with how you see facts, information, and knowledge and how they’re created. Choose one of these statements* to launch a five-minute fastwrite. Don’t worry if you end up thinking about more than one statement in your writing. Start by writing about whether you agree or disagree with the statement, and then explore Why. Continually look for concrete connections between what you think about these statements and what you’ve seen or experienced in your own life.

There is a big difference between facts and opinions.

Pretty much everything you read in textbooks is true.

People are entitled to their own opinions, and no one opinion is better than another.

There’s a big difference between a fact in the sciences and a fact in the humanities.

When two experts disagree, one ofthem has to be wrong.

No matter how difficult they are, most problems have one solu­ tion that is better than the others.

*Source for part of this list is Marlene Schommer, “Effects of Beliefs about the Nature of Knowledge,” J oumal ofEducational Psychology 82 (1990): 498-504.


…. Rethinking the Research Paper

Very few of us recall the research papers we wrote in high school, and if we do, what we remember is not what we learned about our topics but what a bad experience writing them was. Joe was an exception. “1 remember one assignment was to write a research paper on a problem in the world, such as acid rain, and then come up with your own solutions and discuss moral and ethical aspects of your solution, as well. It involved not just research but creativity and problem solving and other stuff.”

For the life of me, 1 can’t recall a single research paper I wrote in high school, but like Joe, 1 remember the one that I finally enjoyed doing a few years later in college. It was a paper on the whaling industry, and what 1 remember best was the introduction. I spent a lot of time on it, describing in great detail exactly what it was like to stand at the bow of a Japanese whaler, straddling an explosive harpoon gun, taking aim, and blowing a bloody hole in a humpback whale.

I obviously felt pretty strongly about the topic. Unfortunately, many students feel most strongly about getting

their research papers over with. So it’s not surprising that when I tell my Freshman English students that one of their writing assignments will be an eight- to ten-page research paper, there is a collective sigh. They knew it was coming. For years, their high school teachers prepared them for the College Research Paper, and it loomed ahead of them as one of the torturous things you must do, a five-week sentence of hard labor in the library, or countless hours adrift in the Internet. Not surprisingly, students’ eyes roll in disbe­ lief when 1 add that many of them will end up liking their research papers better than anything they’ve written before.

1can understand why Joe was among the few in the class inclined to believe me. For many students, the library is an alien place, a wilderness to get lost in, a place to go only when forced. Others carry memories of research paper assignments that mostly involved taking copious notes on index cards, only to transfer pieces of information into the paper, sewn together like patches of a quilt. There seemed little purpose to it. ”You weren’t expected to learn anything about yourself with the high school research paper,” wrote Jenn, now a college fresh­ man. ”The best ones seemed to be those with the most information. 1 always tried to find the most sources, as if somehow that would auto­ matically make my paper better than the rest.” For Jenn and others like her, research was a mechanical process and the researcher a lot like those machines that collect golf balls at driving ranges. You venture out to pick up information here and there, and then deposit it between the title page and the bibliography for your teacher to take a whack at.

4 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

Learning and Unlearning

I have been playing the guitar ever since the Beatles’ 1964 American tour. In those days, everyone had a guitar and played in a group. Unfortunately, I never took guitar lessons and have learned in recent years that I have much “unlearning” to do. Not long ago, I finally unlearned how to do something as simple as tying my strings to the tuning keys. I’d been doing it wrong (thinking I was doing it right) for about forty years.

Recent theories suggest that people who have developed a great deal of prior knowledge about a subject learn more about it when they reexamine the truth of those beliefs, many of which may no longer be valid or may simply be misconceptions. The research paper, perhaps more than any other school assignment, is laden with largely unexam­ ined assumptions and beliefs. Perhaps some of the statements in the first part of Exercise 1 got you thinking about any assumptions you might have about writing academic research papers. Maybe you had a discussion in class about it. You may be interested to know that I pre­ sented that same list of statements to 250 first-year writing students, and the statements are listed in the order they were most often checked by students. In that case, however, students checked the statements they agreed with. For example, 85 percent of the students surveyed agreed that “it’s okay to say things the instructor might dis­ agree with,” something I find encouraging. However, 60 percent believed that they had to know their thesis before they began their papers, an attitude that implies discovery is not the point of research.

The second part of Exercise 1 might have got you thinking about some beliefs and attitudes you haven’t thought much about­ what a “fact” is, the nature and value of “opinions;” and how you view experts and authorities.

I hope that these beliefs about the assignment you are about to undertake and your perspectives on how knowledge is made and evaluated are views that you return to again and again as you work through this book. You may find that some of your existing beliefs are further reinforced, but I’d wager that you might find you have some unlearning to do, too.

Using This Book

The Exercises Throughout The Curious Researcher, you’ll be asked to do exer­

cises that either help you prepare your research paper or actually



… Using This Book

help you write it. You’ll need a research notebook in which you’ll do the exercises and perhaps compile your notes for the paper. Any notebook will do, as long as there are sufficient pages and left mar­ gins. Your instructor may ask you to hand in the work you do in response to the exercises, so it might be useful to use a notebook with detachable pages.

Several of the exercises in this book ask that you use tech­ niques such as fastwriting and brainstorming. This chapter began with one, so you’ve already had a little practice with the two meth­ ods. Both fastwriting and brainstorming ask that you suspend judg­ ment until you see what you come up with. That’s pretty hard for most of us because we are so quick to criticize ourselves, particularly about writing. But if you can learn to get comfortable with the slop­ piness that comes with writing almost as fast as you think, not both­ ering about grammar or punctuation, then you will be rewarded with a new way to think, letting your own words lead you in sometimes surprising directions. Though these so-called creative techniques seem to have little to do with the serious business of research writ­ ing, they can actually be an enormous help throughout the process. Try to ignore that voice in your head that wants to convince you that you’re wasting your time using fastwriting or brainstorming. When you do, they’ll start to work for you.

The Five-Week Plan

But more about creative techniques later. You have a research paper assignment to do. If you’re excited about writing a research paper, that’s great. You probably already know that it can be inter­ esting work. But if you’re dreading the work ahead of you, then your instinct might be to procrastinate, to put it off until the week it’s due. That would be a mistake, of course. If you try to rush through the research and the writing, you’re absolutely guaranteed to hate the experience and add this assignment to the many research papers in the garbage dump of your memory. It’s also much more likely that the paper won’t be very good. Because procrastination is the enemy, this book was designed to help you budget your time and move through the research and writing process in five weeks. (See the box, “Steps to Writing Your Research Essay.”) It may take you a little longer, or you may be able to finish your paper a little more quickly. But at least initially, use the book sequentially, unless your instruc­ tor gives you other advice.

This book can also be used as a reference to solve problems as they arise. For example, suppose you’re having a hard time finding enough information on your topic or you want to know how to plan for an interview. Use the Table of Contents by Subject

6 Introduction / Rethinking the Research Paper

Steps to Writing Your Research Essay

Week One

• Discover your subject • Develop “working know ledge” of your subject • Narrow your subject by finding your focusing question

Week Two

• Plan a research strategy that balances library and Inter­ net sources

• Fine-tune search terms • Begin developing “focused knowledge” of your subject • Plan interviews or surveys

Week Three

• Write about your find • Try advanced searching techniques • Conduct interviews and surveys

Week Four

• Write the first draft

Week Five

• Clarify your purpose, and hone your thesis • Revise draft • Edit, proofread, and finalize citations

as a key to typical problems and where in the book you can find some practical help with them.

Alternatives to the Five-Week Plan

Though The Curious Researcher is structured by weeks, you can easily ignore that plan and use the book to solve problems as they arise. The Contents by Subject in the front of the text is keyed to a range of typical problems that arise for researchers: how to find a topic, how to focus a paper, how to handle a thesis, how to search the Internet, how to organize the material, how to take use­ ful notes, and so on. The overviews of Modern Language Associa­ tion (MLA) and American Psychological Association (AP A) research



… The Research Paper and the Research Report

paper conventions in Appendixes A and E, respectively, provide complete guides to both formats and make it easier to find answers to your specific technical questions at any point in the process of writing your paper.

The Research Paper and the Research Report

In high school, I wrote a research “paper” on existentialism for my philosophy class. I understood the task as skimming a book or two on the topic, reading the entry on “existentialism” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, making some note cards, and writing down everything I learned. That took about six pages. Was I expressing an opinion of some kind about existentialism? Not really. Did I organize the information with some idea about exis­ tentialism I wanted to relay to readers? Nope. Was I motivated by a question about that philosophy I hoped to explore? Certainly not. What I wrote was a research report, and that is a quite different assignment than most any research paper you’ll be asked to write in college.

Discovering Your Purpose For the paper you’re about to write, the information you collect

must be used much more purposefully than simply reporting what’s known about a particular topic. Most likely, you will define what that purpose is. For example, you may end up writing a paper whose purpose is to argue a point-say, eating meat is morally suspect because of the way stock animals are treated at slaughterhouses. Or your paper’s purpose may be to reveal some less-known or surprising aspect of a topic-say, how the common housefly’s eating habits are not unlike our own. Or your paper may set out to explore a thesis, or idea, that you have about your topic-for example, your topic is the cultural differences between men and women, and you suspect the way girls and boys playas children reflects the social differences evi­ dent between the genders in adults.

Whatever the purpose of your paper turns out to be, the process usually begins with something you’ve wondered about, some itchy question about an aspect of the world you’d love to know the answer to. It’s the writer’s curiosity-not the teacher’s-that is at the heart of the college research paper.


8 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

In some ways, frankly, research reports are easier. You just go out and collect as much stuff as you can, write it down, organize it, and write it down again in the paper. Your jobis largely mechani­ cal and often deadening. In the research paper, you take a much more active role in shaping and being shaped by the information you encounter. That’s harder because you must evaluate, judge, interpret, and analyze. But it’s also much more satisfying because what you end up with says something about who you are and how you see things.

Where Did the Research paper Come From? .

Do you want to know whom to blame or Whom to thank? The undergraduate assignment fIrst arose in the fIrst decade of the 20th century, a development related to two things: the rapid growth of the size of university library collections and the trans­ formation of American colleges into places that privileged research rather than cultivating character and eloquence.

It’s hard to underestimate this revolution in the goal of American universities. Until after the Civil War, going to college meant preparing for a “gentlemanly” profession like religion or law, and the purpose of college was to make sure that graduates were well-spoken, well-read, and virtuous. In just a few decades, this goal was abandoned in favor of the idea that universities should advance human knowledge.

Documented research papers were the method fot accom­ plishing this new mission. Professors wrote research papers, and then, naturally, they assigned them to their graduate stu­ dents. As graduate students assumed undergraduate teaching roles, they started to assign research papers to their students.

The very first research papers were often called “source themes,” expository essays that were casually written rather than formaL By the 1920s, however, the research paper hardened into. a relatively rigid form-one that owed its existence less to gen­ uine inquiry than to the worship of the qualities of scientifIc method: objectivity, impersonality, originality, and documenta­ tion. Most research paper assignments today are still captive to this history. They seem to focus more on formal requirements than to the larger purpose of the endeavor: discovery .

._-_._-_. —~-

9 How Formal Should It Be?

How Formal Should It Be?

When I got a research paper assignment, it often felt as if I were being asked to change out of blue jeans and a wrinkled Oxford shirt and get into a stiff tuxedo. Tuxedos have their place, such as at the junior prom or the Grammy Awards, but they’re just not me. When I first started writing research papers, I used to think that I had to be formal, that I needed to use big words like myriad and ameliorate and to use the pronoun one instead of 1. I thought the paper absolutely needed to have an introduction, body, and conclusion-say what I was going to say, say it, and say what I said. It’s no wonder that the first college research paper I had to write­ on Plato’s Republic for another philosophy class-seemed to me as though it were written by someone else. I felt at arm’s length from the topic I was writing about.

You may be relieved to know that not all research papers are necessarily rigidly formal or dispassionate. Some are. Research papers in the sciences, for example, often have very formal struc­ tures, and the writer seems more a reporter of results than someone who is passionately engaged in making sense of them. This formal stance puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the validity of the data in proving or disproving something, rather than on the writer’s indi­ vidual way of seeing something. Some papers in the social sciences, particularly scholarly papers, take a similarly formal stance, where the writer not only seems invisible but also seems to have little rela­ tion to the subject. There are many reasons for this approach. One is that objectivity-or as one philosopher put it, “the separation of the perceiver from the thing perceived”-is traditionally a highly valued principle among some scholars and researchers. For example, if I’m writing a paper on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and I confess that my father-who attended AA-drank himself to death, can I be trusted to see things clearly?

Yes, if my investigation of the topic seems thorough, balanced, and informative. And I think it may be an even better paper because my passion for the topic will encourage me to look at it more closely. However, many scholars these days are openly skeptical about claims of objectivity. Is it really possible to separate the perceiver from the thing perceived? If nothing else, aren’t our accounts of real­ ity always mediated by the words we use to describe it? Can lan­ guage ever be objective? Though the apparent impersonality of their papers may suggest otherwise, most scholars are not nearly as dis­ passionate about their topics as they seem. They are driven by the same thing that will send you to the library or the Web over the next few weeks-their own curiosity-and most recognize that good

10 Introduction / Rethinking the Research Paper

research often involves both objectivity and subjectivity. As the son of an alcoholic, I am motivated to explore my own perceptions of his experience in AA, yet I recognize the need to verifY those against the perceptions of others with perhaps more knowledge.

When “Bad” Writing Is Good

You might find it tempting to simply dismiss formal academic writing as “bad” writing, particularly after writing the less formal research essay. But that would be a mistake. Some academic writing only seems bad to you because you’re not familiar with its conven­ tions-the typical moves writers in that discipline make-nor are you aware of the ongoing conversation in that field to which a partic­ ular academic article contributes. It’s a little like stumbling into the electricians’ convention at the Hyatt while they’re discussing new regulations on properly grounding outlets. Unless you’re an electri­ cian, not a whole lot will make sense to you.

In a way, The Curious Researcher represents an apprentice­ ship in academic writing much like an apprenticeship to a master electrician. Among other things, you’ll learn how to ground an outlet-learn some of the technical moves academic writers use, such as citation, incorporating source material, and using indexes-but even more important I hope you’ll learn to think like an academic writer. Ironically, I think this is easier to practice by not necessarily writing formal academic research papers because they so often conceal the open-ended, even messy, process of inquiry. Less formal exploratory essays seem to make the process of inquiry more apparent.

Thinking Like an Academic Writer

What does it mean to think like an academic writer? Quite a few different things, of course, some of which vary from discipline to discipline. But there are a few habits of mind or perspectives that I think often shape academic inquiry no matter what the field.

1. Inquiry, especially initially, is driven by questions, not answers. 2. It is normal and often necessary to suspend judgment and to

tolerate ambiguity. 3. New knowledge or perspectives are made through the back

and forth of conversation in which the writer assumes at least two seemingly contrary roles: believer and doubter, generator and judge.

“Essaying” or Arguing? 11

4. Writers take responsibility for their ideas, accepting both the credit for and the consequences of putting forth those ideas for dialogue and debate.

Your instructor may want you to write a formal research paper. You should determine if a formal paper is required when you get the assignment. (See the box, “Questions to Ask Your Instructor about the Research Assignment.”) Also make sure that you understand what the word formal means. Your instructor may have a specific format you should follow or tone you should keep. But more likely, she is much more interested in your writing a paper that reflects some original thinking on your part and that is also lively and inter­ esting to read. Though this book will help you write a formal research paper, it encourages what might be called a research essay, a paper that does not have a prescribed form though it is as carefully researched and documented as a more formal paper.

“Essaying” or Arguing?

Essay is a term that is used so widely to describe school writing that it often doesn’t seem to carry much particular meaning. But I have something particular in mind.

The term essai was coined by Michel Montaigne, a sixteenth­ century Frenchman; in French, it means “to attempt” or “to try.” For Montaigne and the essayists who follow his tradition, the essay is less an opportunity to prove something than an attempt to find out. An essay is often exploratory rather than argumentative, testing the truth of an idea or attempting to discover what might be true. (Mon­ taigne even once had coins minted that said Que sais-je?-“What do I know?”) The essay is often openly subjective and frequently takes a conversational, even intimate, form.

Now, this probably sounds nothing like any research paper you’ve ever written. Certainly, the dominant mode of the academic research paper is impersonal and argumentative. But if you consider writing a research essay instead of the usual research paper, four things might happen:

1. You’ll discover your choice of possible topics suddenly expands. If you’re not limited to arguing a position on a topic, then you can ex­ plore any topic that you find puzzling in interesting ways and you can risk asking questions that might complicate your point of view .

12 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

Questions to Ask Your Instructor About the Research Assignment

It’s easy to make assumptions about what your instructor expects for the research paper assignment. After all, you’ve probably written such a paper before and may have had the sense that the “rules” for doing so were handed down from above. Unfortunately, those assumptions may get in the way of writing a good paper, and sometimes they’re dead wrong. If you got a handout describing the assignment, it may answer the questions below, but if not, make sure you raise them with your instructor when he gives the assignment.

• How would you describe the audience for this paper? • Do you expect the paper to be in a particular fOTIl1 or orga­

nized in a special way? Or can I develop a form that suits the purpose of my paper?

• Do you have guidelines about format (margins, title page, outline, bibliography, citation method, etc.)?

• Can I use other visual devices (illustrations, subheadings, bulleted lists, etc.) to make my paper more readable?

• Can I use the pronoun I when appropriate? • Can my own observations or experiences be included in

the paper if relevant? • Can I include people I interview as sources in my paper?

Would you encourage me to use “live” sources as well as published ones?

• Should the paper sound a certain way (have a particular tone), or am I free to use a writing voice that suits :my sub­ ject and purpose?

2. You’ll find that you’ll approach your topics differently. You’ll be more open to conflicting points of view and perhaps more will­ ing to change your mind about what you think. As one of my students once told me, this is a more honest kind of objectivity.

3. You’ll see a stronger connection between this assignment and the writing you’ve done all semester. Research is something all writers do, not a separate activity or genre that exists only upon demand. You may discover that research can be a revision strategy for improving essays you wrote earlier in the semester.

The Research Essay and Academic Writing 13

4. You’ll find that you can’t hide. The research report often encour­ ages the writer to playa passive role; the research essay doesn’t easily tolerate passivity. You’ll probably find this both liberat­ ing and frustrating. \Vhile you may likely welcome the chance to incorporate your opinions, you may find it difficult to add your voice to those of your sources.

You may very well choose to write a paper that argues a point for this assignment (and, by the way, even an essay has a point). After all, the argumentative paper is the most familiar form of the academic research paper. In fact, a sample research paper that uses argument is featured in Appendix B. It’s an interesting, well­ researched piece in which the writer registers a strong and lively presence. But I hope you might also consider essaying your topic, an approach that encourages a kind of inquiry that may transform your attitudes about what it means to write research .

.The Research Essay and Academic Writing

“If I’m going to have to write formal research papers in my other classes, why should I waste my time writing an informal research essay?” That’s a fair question. In fact, the research essay you’re about to write is different in some ways from the more formal academic scholarship you may be reading as you research your topic (see Figure 1, “Research Essays vs. Research Papers”). And it’s also a bit different from research papers you may write in other classes. But the methods of thought, what I call the “habits of mind” behind academic inquiry, are fundamentally the same when writing the research essay and the formal research paper.

Because the research essay makes visible what is often invisible in formal academic writing-the process of coming to know what you’ve discovered about your topic-it’s a great introduction to what academic research is all about. And because it removes what is often an artifice of objectivity in research papers, the research essay is like a hound flush­ ing a grouse from the brush-writers can’t hide under the cover ofinvis­ ible authorship, concealing themselves in the safety of “one wonders” or “this paper will argue.” Writers wonder and argue. Your questions, anal­ ysis, or assertions take center stage in the research essay as they do just as fundamentally, though less explicitly, in formal academic research. The research essay is good practice for this essential element of all aca­ demic inquiry: what you think and how you came to think it.

;…I ,.j;o.

InformalRt;s~arch Essay < What do they have in COIl1Il1on? or.’ ‘>J oC ~ I I 1-“chPaP:

• Often explicitly subjective, using the first person

• Exploratory • Written for an audience of

nonexperts on the topic • Few rules of evidence • Thesis may be delayed rather

than stated in introduction • Writer may express

tentativeness about conclusions • Structure determined by

purpose and subject • Process of coming to know often


v • Motive is to answer a

question or solve a problem

• Establish context of what has already been said about the <;fue!’)tion or problem

• DQubt aIld ambiguity naturalpart ofprocess’ · Have a tne,sisor tentative claim!, • Use evidence/infoI’Il1ation to explore. or’ prove claiIl1

• Often avoids the first person • Argumentative • Written for other experts on

the topic • Established rules ofevidence • Thesis often stated in

introduction • Conclusions stated

authoritatively • Form usually prescribed • Story of how conclusions were

reached limited to methods

FIGURE 1 Research Essays vs. Research Papers

…. :;:; l

15 Becoming an Authority by Using Authorities

Becoming an Authority by Using Authorities

Whether formal or less so, all research papers attempt to be authoritative. That they rely heavily on a variety of credible sources beyond the writer who helped shape the writer’s point of view. Those sources are mostly already published material, but they can also be other people, usually experts in relevant fields whom you interview for their perspectives. Don’t underestimate the value of “live” and other nonlibrary sources. Authorities don’t just live in books. One might live in the office next door to your class or be easily accessible through the Internet.

Though in research papers the emphasis is on using credible out­ side sources, that doesn’t mean that your own experiences or observa­ tions should necessarily be excluded from your paper when they’re relevant. In fact, in some papers, they are essential. For example, if you decide to write a paper on Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, your own reading of the book-what strikes you as important-should be at the heart of your essay. Information from literary critics you dis­ cover in your research will help you develop and support the asser­ tions you’re making about the novel. That support from people who are considered experts-that is, scholars, researchers, critics, and practitioners in the field you’re researching-will rub off on you, mak­ ing your assertions more convincing, or authoritative.

Reading and talking to these people will also change your thinking, which is part of the fun of research. You will actually learn something, rather than remain locked into preconceived notions.

lilt’s Just My Opinion”

In the end, you will become an authority of sorts. I know that’s hard to believe. One of the things my students often complain about is their struggle to put their opinions in their papers: “I’ve got all these facts, and sometimes I don’t know what to say other than whether I disagree or agree with them.” What these students often seem to say is that they don’t really trust their own authority enough to do much more than state briefly what they feel: “Facts are facts. How can you argue with them?”

Step 2 of Exercise 1 that began this chapter may have started you thinking about these questions. I hope the research assignment you are about to start keeps you thinking about your beliefs about the nature of knowledge. Are facts unassailable? Or are they simply claims that can be evaluated like any others? Is the struggle to evaluate conflicting

16 Introduction / Rethinking the Research Paper

claims an obstacle to doing research, or the point of it? Are experts sup­ posed to know all the answers? What makes one opinion more valid than another? What makes your opinion valid?

I hope you write a great essay in the next five or so weeks. But I also hope that the process you follow in doing so inspires you to reflect on how you-and perhaps all of us-come to know what seems to be true. I hope you find yourself doing something you may not have done much before: thinking about thinking.

Facts Don’t Kill

You probably think the words research paper and interesting are mutually exclusive. A prevalent belief among my students is that the minute you start having to use facts in your writing, then the prose wilts and dies like an unwatered begonia. It’s an understand­ able attitude. There are many examples of dry and wooden informa­ tional writing, and among them, unfortunately, may be some textbooks you are asked to read for other classes.

But factual writing doesn’t have to be dull. You may not consider the article “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons” (see the following exercise) a research paper. It may be unlike any research paper you’ve imagined. While the piece includes citations and a bibliography-two features of most research papers-it reads more like a personal essay, with narrative strands, personal experiences and observations, and a personal voice. “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons” is an essay like those I encourage you to write-it grows from an experience I had while traveling in Italy that quickly became a research project on pigeons. I knew little about them except that a pair insisted on roost­ ing under the eaves of my Boise, Idaho, home, clucking and cooing at all hours and splattering the bedroom window with droppings. I was not amused. When in Italy I felt a bit differently about pigeons as I watched them sweep in and out of the piazzas in great flocks, feeding at the feet of tourists.

The essay you are about to read explores my ambivalence about the birds, a question that naturally led me to research their habits and behaviors, methods of controlling them, and even a bit of philos­ ophy that speculates about animal consciousness. While “The Both­ ersome Beauty of Pigeons” is not a formal academic research paper (I write those, too), it does reflect many of the features of academic writing and especially academic inquiry. For example, the essay is driven by questions, works toward a controlling idea or thesis, involves my willingness to suspend judgment, and attempts to build

Facts Don’t Kill 17

on the ideas of others to extend my own thinking. While the essay is personal-growing from my experience–it attempts to say some­ thing larger; it is an effort to comment on “our” experience, and uses research to help enrich those understandings.

The purpose of research writing is not simply to show readers what you know. It is an effort to extend a conversation about a topic that is ongoing, a conversation that includes voices of people who have already spoken, often in different contexts and perhaps never together. The research writer begins with his own questions, and then finds the voices that speak to them. He then writes about what others have helped him to understand. As you read “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons,” look for the traces of this process of inquiry. It may also inspire you to have a similar adventure.

Reflecting on “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons”

Read my research essay first for pleasure, and then reread it with a pen in your hand. Use two opposing pages of your notebook to explore your response to the piece. Begin on the left page by:

• Jotting down, in quotes, your favorite line or passage from the essay.

• Copying a passage-a few lines or paragraph-that uses out­ side research. Choose one that you particularly liked or didn’t like, or both.

• Composing, in your own words, what you think is the main idea or thesis of the essay. Begin by speculating about exactly what central question seemed to be behind the essay. What do you think I was trying to understand? What is it that I came to understand by the end of the essay?

Shift across to the opposing, or right, page of your notebook. Looking to the left at the notes you just took, begin a seven-minute fastwrite that explores your thinking in response to one or more of the following questions:

• When you write your research essay, what techniques or meth­ ods could you use to keep the essay interesting to readers even if it is fact-based?

• In what ways was “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons” unlike what you understood to be a research paper? Does it challenge those assumptions in ways that make you more interested in

18 Introduction / Rethinking the Research Paper

research? What questions does the essay raise about what you’re supposed to do in your research assignment?

• Explore your thoughts about the contents of the essay. Did you find you could relate in some way to what the essay seemed to say? Did you learn anything about yourself, or about pigeons, or our relationships to nature that struck you in some way?

The Bothersome Beauty ofPigeons by Bruce Ballenger

The cardboard display tables of the mostly African vendors in Florence’s largest piazzas are marvels of engineering. They are designed t() be light and portable, and to fold in an instant without disrupting the orderly display of fashionable sunglasses, silver cigarette lighters, or art posters. I watch these street entrepreneurs from the steps of the city’s great cathedral, Santa Maria della Fiore, as they work the roving bands of Italian schoolchildren on school holiday. It is a hard sell. The vendors line up side by side and though many sell exactly the same kinds of sun­ glasses or lighters or posters, they don’t seem to aggressively compete with each other; in fact, they borrow money from each other to make change, and laugh together at quiet comments I can’t hear.

For a few moments my attention to the scene strays, and when I look back the vendors and their cardboard displays have simply vanished. At first, I can’t figure out a reason for the disappearing act. Nor can I explain the street vendors’ sudden return minutes later, sweeping in like the flocks of pigeons that are everywhere in these squares. Then I see the small Renault of the Florence polizia driving slowly down an adjacent street, where two officers sit stiffly in their crisp blue uniforms and white leather belts; the police seem bored, indifferent, not even remotely interested in the sudden flight their slow passage through the square inspires.

The vendors are apparently unlicensed and the police routinely attempt to flush them out, but this is clearly a half-hearted cam­ paign. Who can blame them? The vendors are everywhere, lingering at the edge of crowds, a fraternity of friendly bandits clutching their neatly folded cardboard tables, each equipped with a convenient han­ dle of rope and duct tape. Within seconds of the officers’ departure, the vendors descend on the square again, once again unfolding their tables to which the merchandise magically adhered.

I watch this flight and return again and again, and along with it I notice the pigeons, who participate in a similar performance of their

Facts Don’t Kill 19

own in these same squares. The birds are also everywhere, in bold flocks that peck at the heels of the sloppy eaters, each bird turning a greedy red eye up at the diner, the other eye fixed on the ground before it. It is impossible to ignore the pigeons, and tourists delight in tossing food and witnessing the free-for-all at their feet. I find myself looking for crumbs from the pannini I have just finished for lunch, wondering at my own impulse to feed a bird against which I had recently waged war.

Pigeons seem to inspire such paradoxical feelings. Pigeon rac­ ers in the Bronx tenderly kiss the beaks of their birds, finally home after flying 500 miles to their lofts after a remarkable feat of solar navigation (Blechman). Meanwhile, pigeon haters host Web sites like and propose plans for ridding cities of the “vermin,” including the tactical use of tennis rackets and loaves of bread (Thorne). Most of us, I think, can swing both ways in our feel­ ings towards pigeons, an ambivalence that doesn’t seem to apply to other “pests” because pigeons occupy an odd category of creatures that we can both love and hate, animals that are untidy and irritat­ ing yet, at times, utterly enchanting.

Florence does not feed a pigeon lover’s longings nearly as well as Venice. In Florence’s Piazza San Giovanni, where I sat, there were no seed sales, a business that thrives in Venice’s St. Mark’s square. For one euro, tourists there can buy a small bag of seeds to feed the pigeons, who respond to the encouragement by gathering in great flocks around the seed thrower. The birds lose their grace and shame­ lessly stumble over each other with eagerness, pecking wildly at the stone street and even eating out of the tourist’s hand or perching on his head. This becomes a photographic occasion as tourists stand, arms outstretched before the great church, covered with pigeons.

One guidebook recommends that this feeding should be fol­ lowed by throwing an article of clothing in the air, which like the police and the sunglass vendors, makes the pigeons take flight in a sudden pulse of wings, only to circle back in their greed and quickly land again at the tourists’ feet (Steve 91). The same guidebook offers advice on dealing with pigeon droppings in one’s hair-an obvious hazard for the pigeon lover and hater alike-suggesting that it’s far better to wait until the stuff dries because it’s easier to remove (85).

Such a thing goes completely against instinct. Among my most chilling childhood memories is politely heeding the patrol boy who commanded me to stop before I crossed the street in front of my home. He towered above me, no doubt growing some in memory, and I didn’t see him gather the spit in his mouth to deposit on the top

20 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

my head. I ran home, heedless of traffic, my vision blurred by tears and my fingers wildly clawing at my fouled hair.

It is also, I think, instinctual for human beings to respond warmly to many other animals, particularly those that we find attractive. Pigeons would seem to qualify. They are, after all, close relatives to doves-the lovely white birds of peace-and despite the unsettling red eyes, brown in the youngsters, most Columbia livia have smoothly sculpted bodies of blue-gray, and a certain grace when they’re not pecking at the stale remnants of someone’s lunch. While people rant online about the pestilence of pigeons, it’s easy to find organizations of pigeon lovers all over the Web, including the many pigeon fanciers who race them from the rooftops of New York City and other urban areas around the world. Apparently, the fighter George Foreman and actor Paul Newman are among them. Others admire the pigeons’ intelligence, something that has been demon­ strated by behaviorists like B. F. Skinner who selected pigeons as their primary study subjects. “Pound for pound,” gushes Pigeons. com, citing a University of Montana study, “[the pigeon] is one of the smartest, most physically adept creatures in the animal kingdom” (“Resources”). One recent study even demonstrated that pigeons could learn to distinguish between a Van Gogh and a Chagall (Watanabe 147).

It takes special skills to thrive in the world’s cities, and pigeons, also called rock doves, are endowed with several ecological advantages that allow them to indulge in ”high risk” behavior and escape unscathed. The birds, introduced to North America from Europe in the 1600s, possibly find in urban canyons the high cliffs of their wild ancestors (“F AQs”), and from their high perches they can live and breed and look down on the rest of us.

But they have other evolutionary advantages as well, some of which save them from the well-placed kicks of pigeon-haters or the tires of speeding taxis. For one thing, they “suck” puddle water rather than take it in their beaks and throw their heads back to swallow it, something like the difference between drinking a juice box and slinging back a shot of tequila. Sucking is quicker, appar­ ently, and in very short order they get the water they need, 10 to 15 percent of their body weight daily. In addition, because they can store food in a crop, a pouch in the throat, pigeons can quickly gorge on bread crumbs and seed as the birds weave between the shuffling feet of busy urbanites and then fly to a safe roost to digest what they gathered (Wells and Wells 324).

It’s hard not to admire these traits that give the birds such bio­ logical success, and yet somehow these evolutionary gifts seem unfair and unearned. I’m disappointed that, say, bluebirds weren’t


21 Facts Don’t Kill

given these advantages, birds that would use them more graciously, judiciously. Pigeons are punks. Looking them in the eye, I’m sure they know this but they just don’t care. Yet looking at pigeons also reminds me of my own arrogance, and I both hate them and love them for it.

“The problem with pigeons,” said Lia Bartolomei, an Italian who led me through the churches of Lucca one day, “is that they turn marble to dust” (Bartolomei). She then pointed to the small statues and marble carving on the church that were pocked and disfigured. The blame seemed clear. Apparently marble is particu­ larly vulnerable to the acid in pigeon droppings, an unintended consequence of the birds’ ,passion to roost on high places as their ancestors did on cliffs.

This is made worse by the pigeon’s social nature. Unlike most other birds, they apparently are not particularly territorial, some­ thing that is obvious watching pigeons stumble over each other pur­ suing breadcrumbs. In great concentrations, the birds produce especially damaging piles of droppings, stuff that not only turns marble to dust but can be an ideal medium for fungus that can cause histoplasmosis and cryptococcossis, both lung infections in humans (“Health Hazards”). It costs the city of London $150,000 a year to clean up pigeon poop in Trafalgar Square alone (“Proposed”).

It’s the decay of marble monuments, the caked pigeon poop on city bridges, the messy nests on office buildings, and the health threats of dung fungus that long ago thrust the pigeon into the category of “pest.” This is an undesirable label if you happen to be the plant or animal that earned it because life for such things can suddenly become complicated. The rock dove-cousin to the bird of peace, messenger for the Romans, brave racer for the homing pigeon enthusiast-also earned the unlovely name of “skyrat.” Pigeon­ haters find comrades on the Web and confer on the most effective poisons. Their anthem is folksinger Tom Lehrer’s song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” a macabre tune noting that When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide / But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide (Lehrer). But despite the rants of pigeon-haters, (some of which are tongue-in-cheek) pigeons are not rats because among other things they aren’t ugly. “Pests” like these make things complicated for us, too.

Like every urban area in the U.S., the pigeon thrives in Boise, Idaho, where I live, and recently I went to war with a pair determined

22 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

to roost in the eaves of our turn-of-the century craftsman home. Let me be clear about one thing: I am a lover of wild birds, even hooligan crows who moodily gather in the neighborhood trees in late afternoon muttering curses. I never disliked pigeons, and even admired their success and intelligence. But the white and green streaks on my win­ dows, and the pile of droppings at my back door turned me against them. The pigeons’ indifference to my shouts and shirt waving when­ ever I found them on the eaves began to infuriate me.

It is human to rail against nature from time to time, and it may even be human nature. It’s true that one of the ecological lessons of our time is that our determined efforts to dominate the natural world are not, generally, successful or wise. Ecologically speaking, then, the belief that we’re apart from nature, that it can be easily “managed,” doesn’t help ensure our survival as a species; in fact, our grand engineering efforts often endanger our survival. But aren’t these often matters of scale? Pigeon wars, like the battle against dandelions in a suburban lawn, may not matter as much in the eco­ logical scheme of things, or at least this is what we tell ourselves. Still, these campaigns against the wild things that threaten our tidy world-bugs and weeds, rats and pigeons-can say a great deal about the ecology of emotion that shapes our response to nature.

Pigeons, unlike rats, aren’t very good enemies. They are attrac­ tive, and the sweep oftheir flocks in and out ofthe squares and streets in Europe or America, expanding and contracting against the bright sky, can almost seem like breathing. Virginia Woolf compared the movement of the great flocks of starlings in the fall to the throwing of a net with “thousands of black knots” expanding and then contracting as the birds settle on the tops of trees (Woolf 5). From a distance, flocks of pigeons can seem like that, and unless you’ve imprinted images from Hitchcock’s film The Birds, even the throbbing wings of dozens ofthe birds landing at your feet can be a little thrill.

Years ago, when I lived on the New England coast, I went on several whale watches to Stellwaggen Bank, an offshore area where there is an unusual concentration of the animals, including some of the rarest like the Right Whale. On every one of these trips, I noticed that there was a longing not only to see these great animals but to get close to them. I sensed this desire had as much to do with the longing to make contact-to look in the eye of a whale, to feel a mutual presence between watcher and animal-as it did the desire to simply get a good look at something that large. I wonder if it’s that same longing that feeds the pigeon watchers in St. Mark’s square as they feed the pigeons. This might explain why there could be such an outcry when, several years ago, London’s mayor proposed to end the long history of pigeon feeding in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Facts Don’t Kill 23

“People come from abroad just to do it,” said one critic of the proposal. “For many children the pigeons are the first contact they have with animals. If a pigeon lands on a child’s shoulder, it will paint a good picture in their mind and who then know that animals are worth caring for” (“Proposed”). I’m not sure what is behind this longing to get close. But perhaps it appeals to the biological memory, buried deep, that we are indeed a part of nature, not apart from it. Eye contact is the closest thing we get to a language of intimacy with wild things, though we won’t look a rat in the eye. We don’t want to get close to just anybody.

Yet these two feelings, our separation and connection to the natural world, are always in conflict, even among those who have tutored themselves to believe in one rather than the other. This seems especially true when confronted with creatures like pigeons, who aren’t easy to hate and aren’t easy to love, who both foul the nest and yet possess the beauty of a gray river stone, smoothed by the timeless movement of current. All of this was on my mind as I pounded small nails into my pigeons’ favorite perches under the eaves and cut the tops off of them to make them sharp, one of the many methods recommended by experts for “controlling” pigeons. Another popular method that uses something called Avitrol, com bait laced with toxic chemicals, might even mean killing them. The language of “pest control,” like the language of warfare, is not immune to euphemism.

Most of the tactics recommended against pigeons, however, are intended to simply make life uncomfortable for them, methods that are more likely, as one combatant put it, to create “a good public rela­ tions image” (Loven 3): a perception problem, by the way, that cam­ paigns against rats don’t have. These more benign methods of pigeon combat include “porcupine wire,” electric wires on roosting places, or chemical pastes that the birds find distasteful. Several cities are experimenting with pigeon contraceptives. Shouting, water pistols, and twirling T-shirts provide momentary satisfaction but are not con­ sidered effective. It was a plastic long-eared owl with a head that moves in the wind that fmally scared my pigeons away. I moved the owl every two days, and found a strange satisfaction in bullying the birds with what I imagine is their worst nightmare. A big owl with a twirling head would scare the devil out of me if I were a pigeon.

My pigeons moved next door where an elderly couple feed them bird seed and have the time and the willingness to clean up after their new charges; so it seems, in this case, things worked out for everyone. But the large flocks still haunt the piazzas in Florence and Venice, the squares in London, and similar places in nearly every city across the globe. Despite their ability to distinguish between a

24 Introduction I Rethinking the Research Paper

Van Gogh and a Chagall, pigeons still deposit droppings that deface the great marble statues and facades-the works of art and architec­ ture that are part of our human heritage-and yet people still buy bags of seed for about a dollar and pose for photographs, drenched in doves. Meanwhile, officials in these cities continue, sometimes qui­ etly, to wage war against the birds.

Some historians believe that another war, this one in Viet Nam more than thirty years ago, was one that we could never win because politicians were unable to convince Americans to fully commit to it. That was a hard sell, too, because most Americans were smart enough to eventually realize that even with a full commitment the rewards of “winning” would not be worth the cost. We battle the birds with the same lack of conviction. Like Viet Nam, “pigeon con­ trol” is a war that we will never win because we also battle our own conflicting desires: the feeling that it is our obligation to protect and preserve humankind’s great works and our hunger to coexist with at least the more appealing creatures with which we share space in our cities. We struggle, as we always have, with the sense that we are both a part of and apart from other species on the planet.

I’ve managed to scare the pigeons away from the eaves of my house. But it’s not so easy to flush them from where they roost now in the back of my mind, cooing and clucking defiantly, daring me to hate them. I can’t. This aggravates me because I know that part of the rea­ son is, quite simply, that pigeons are not rats. It seems unlikely that pigeons know this, though certain philosophers believe that some animals know what it’s like to be that animal (Nagel 435-50). Ifthis is true, I imagine pigeons may be aware that they’re fouling the head of a human being when they roost on the copy of Michelangelo’s David in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. It is part of the pigeon “experience” to sit confidently on marble heads, knowing that the unthinking stone beneath their feet is neither a source of food nor threat, just a benign roost from which they can turn their red eyes to the humans on the ground below. We look back at them with amusement and disgust, curiosity and contempt-the conflicting feelings and desires that both­ ersome beauty in nature often arouses. Meanwhile, pigeons hasten the mortality of marble, turning a dream to dust.

Works Cited Bartolomei, Lia. Personal Interview. 15 Apri12002. Blechman, Andrew. “Flights of Fancy.” Smithsonian Magazine March 2002:



Facts Don’t Kill 25

“Frequently Asked Questions.” Project Pigeon Watch. 5 May 2002 <http://!ppw/faq.htm>.

“Health Hazards Associated with Bird and Bat Droppings.” Illinois Department of Public Health-Health Beat. 2 May 2002 <http://W\V\ public/hb/hbb&bdrp.htm>.

Lehrer, Tom. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” 7 May 2002 <http://www.>.

Loven, Judy. “Pigeons.” Animal Damage Management: Purdue Cooperative Extension Service. April 2000. 4 pgs. 7 May 2002 <http://WW>¥.entm.purdue. edu/Entomology/ ext/targets/ ADMiindex.htm>.

Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review 83 (1974): 435-50.

“Proposed Trafalgar Square Changes Ruffle Feathers.” 15 November 2000. 2 May 2002 <WW\ 11 I 15/Britaln. trafalgar.ap!>.

“Resources: Interesting and Amazing Facts about Pigeons.” Resources. 2 May 2002 <http;/IWW\>.

Steve, Rick. Rick Steve’s Italy, 2001. Emeryville, CA: Avalon, 2001. Thorne, Jacob. “Jacob Rants Semkoherently about Pigeons.” 18 November

2002 < glorious/pigeons .html>. Watanabe, Shigeru. ”Van Gogh, Chagall, and Pigeons: Picture Discrimina­

tion in Pigeons and Humans.” Animal Cognition 4 (2001): 147-151. Wells, Jeffrey V. and Allison Childs Wells. “Pigeons and Doves.” The Sibley

Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Illust. David Allen Sibley. New York: Knopf, 2001, 319-325.

Woolf, Virginia. “Death of a Moth.” Eight Modern Essayists. 6th ed. William Smart. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995, 5-7.

The Question Habit

The most uninspired research “vriting lumbers along from fact to fact and quote to quote, saying “Look at what I know!” Demonstrating knowledge is not nearly as impressive as using it toward some end. And the best uses of research are to answer questions the writer is really interested in. In the next few days, your challenge is to find those questions.\V\

The First Week


The Importance of Getting Curious

A few years back, I wrote a book about lobsters. At fIrst, I didn’t intend it to be a book. I didn’t think there was that much to say about lobsters. But the more I researched the subject, the more ques­ tions I had and the more places I found to look for answers. Pretty soon, I had 300 pages of manuscript.

My curiosity about lobsters began one year when the local newspaper printed an article about what terrible shape the New England lobster fIshery was in. The catch was down 30 percent, and the old-timers were saying it was the worst year they’d seen since the thirties. Even though I grew up in landlocked Chicago, I’d always loved eating lobsters after being introduced to them at age eight at my family’s annual Christmas party. Many years later, when I read the article in my local newspaper about the vanishing lobsters, I was alarmed. I wondered, Will lobster go the way of caviar and become too expensive for people like me?

That was the question that triggered my research, and it soon led to more questions. What kept me going was my own curiosity. If your research assignment is going to be successful, you need to get curious, too. If you’re bored by your research topic, your paper will almost certainly be boring as well, and you’ll end up hating writing research papers as much as ever.

Learning to Wonder Again

Maybe you’re naturally curious, a holdover from childhood when you were always asking, Why? Or maybe your curiosity paled as you got older, and you forgot that being curious is the best reason for wanting to learn things. Whatever condition it’s in, your curiosity must be the driving force behind your research paper. It’s the most


28 Chapter 1 I The First Week

essential ingredient. The important thing, then, is this: Choose your research topic carefully. If you lose interest in it, change your topic to one that does interest you, or find a different angle.

In most cases, instructors give students great latitude in choos­ ing their research topics. (Some instructors narrow the field, asking students to find a focus within some broad, assigned subject. When the subject has been assigned, it may be harder for you to discover what you are curious about, but it won’t be impossible, as you’ll see.) Some of the best research topics grow out of your own experience (though they certainly don’t have to), as mine did when writing about lobster overfishing or pigeons. Begin searching for a topic by asking yourself this question: What have I seen or experienced that raises questions that research can help answer?

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