This is the second in a series of posts aimed at helping you with your research papers. Read the first on creating an argument here. This post is more directly pointed at research, which you should be working hard at, in preparation for your annotated bibliographies, due April 2.
2. You must use good research well.
A key element of this paper is coming up with your own thesis (see #1), but you also need to show that you have done enough research and are informed enough on the topic to make your argument reliable: this is all about establishing your ethos as a writer. Believe it or not, you all are now experts on Golden Age children’s literature, more than the average person on the street. You belong to a community of experts and you want to demonstrate that you are in conversation with those experts. As such, you should be looking for expert opinions to use in your paper. If you are working primarily on the literature aspect, you should be looking at the peer-review journals that we talked about in the library. For those of you who are focusing more on the cultural aspects, (marketing, media, bestsellers), there will be peer-reviewed journals that deal with these topics, but you may also be looking at different kinds of experts: the heads of marketing firms, newspaper/magazine editors, publishing industry insiders. You should all be good at evaluating the sources and should be able to tell the difference between a reliable online source and one that would not be considered academic or trustworthy. As always, avoid sites like Wikipedia, Ask.com, or sparknotes. If you choose to use less reliable sources (blogs, newspapers, magazines), you will need to take a moment to justify your choices in your paper, in order to shore up your ethos.
There are a couple of expert-level ways to incorporate research into your papers.
The first is called a lit review: it is where you spend a few paragraphs talking about what academics say in general about a text. A lit review is designed to briefly summarize the scholarship that has already been done on a topic in order to contextualize your argument. So, for example, if you were writing about the class themes in The Wizard of Oz, you might spend a paragraph or two summarizing the general arguments that have made by citing specific articles and paraphrasing their main arguments, then noting how your thesis expands on those arguments or where it goes off in a different direction.
The second way to incorporate research is the one you have most likely used before: using quotes or paraphrases from articles that agree with you in order to support your claims. For some of you, this will be quite easy to do. For others, it may be difficult for you to find articles on the exact book and topic you are writing about. The good news is, if no one else has published an article on your topic, you are pretty much in original research territory. The bad news is, you are going to have to widen your research search parameters to look for themes, topics, key concepts or ideas that cross-over into other books. You will likely find sources that support your general theory, but apply that theory to a different primary text: you are going to need to do the work of extrapolating that theory and applying it to the text you have chosen. So, if you were writing about technology and media in Bumped, you may not find any other articles on that exact topic. However, you may find an article on technology and media in The Uglies or Feed. You should read those articles and use the same ideas to support your own argument.
The third way to incorporate research is to pick a fight with another expert (in other words, respectfully disagree, point out the flaws in another expert’s argument while advancing your own as stronger and better supported by the text). As a relatively new expert, this can be risky (especially if you are doing it at a conference where that expert might be in attendance.) However, as an expert, you are in a position to disagree with someone else’s assessment of the books we have read or the way they construct the concept of utopia/dystopia. If you choose to go this route, make sure you back up what you are saying and provide clear explanations for why your interpretation is more correct.