Topic outline

  • Course Introduction

    The ability to research topics and incorporate information from your sources into your work is an important skill both in college and on the job.  This course will reinforce the concepts you practiced in English Composition I by introducing you to basic research concepts and techniques.  It will also give you a chance to put these new concepts and techniques to work as you develop a final research paper.  We will begin by looking at how to build research into an effective writing process.  First, you will learn to think of researching not as a requirement for getting a good grade on a paper but as a valuable tool that can make your writing more powerful and convincing.  You will learn how to build research into your writing process so that you can add persuasive power to your finished work.  Through rigorous practice of the fundamental techniques, you will come to see that, like writing itself, research is an act of discovery rather than a search for prefabricated ideas.

    The intent of this course is to teach you how to prepare research for any discipline or subject. We will carefully explore and practice general research techniques and processes that you should be able to apply to many academic disciplines and in your job.

    In Unit 1, you will select a topic that intrigues you, you will conduct preliminary research to focus your topic, and you will develop a thesis statement and a set of questions to help guide the remainder of your research.

    In Unit 2, you will learn strategies for conducting your research and taking careful notes.  We will look carefully at researching on the Internet, but we will also make a point of honing the skills necessary to research topics in a physical library.  So that you may begin to make the most of your resources when you start to write, we will explore some of the techniques that scholars use to record and organize the information that they plan to include in their work.  By the end of the unit, you will have completed detailed notes for your own research project.

    In Unit 3, you will learn how to evaluate and understand the sources you located in the previous units.  You will learn why it is important to put significant effort into reading and evaluating Internet sources, and you will learn how to identify and what you need to take into consideration when you use primary and secondary sources.  You also will get plenty of practice in determining how and when to use sources to help make your point.  By the end of this unit, you will start to understand how to determine whether any source is authoritative, accurate, and current.  You will also have an annotated bibliography that will guide you through the writing process.

    In Unit 4, you will develop your argument and create a detailed outline for your research paper. We will take some time to reinforce and expand upon the rhetorical concepts we introduced in Composition I.  Like the prerequisite course, this unit focuses on how to put your research to work to strengthen your academic writing.  We will study how to use the results of your research and analysis to bolster written arguments and support rhetorical strategies.

    Unit 5 focuses on how to correctly use style standards and citation methodology.  The work in this unit will help you to clearly understand why it is important to document and cite your sources, and to do so consistently and correctly.  We will closely examine the issue of plagiarism, noting the situations that can cause writers to misuse source materials, either consciously or accidentally.  After completing this unit, you will write a complete draft of your research paper.

    Unit 6 prepares you for revising and polishing your paper. We will provide you with detailed editorial exercises that focus on specific elements of sentence and paragraph structure, grammar, and mechanics and which will help you achieve your goal of writing clear, grammatically-sound expository and persuasive prose.

    We will use the Modern Language Association (MLA) standards for citation and formatting. Please refer to Saylor Academy's "MLA Style Resources” (PDF) for a cheat sheet to the most useful MLA sites on the Web throughout this course - and any other course requiring you to write, for that matter.

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  • Unit 1: Research and the Writing Process

    Researching and reporting the results of research are fundamental to academic work in almost every discipline, as well as in many professional contexts. While research in itself may seem like an enormous task when you are just starting a project, it is important to understand that effective research is a straightforward, step-by-step process. By practicing effective research techniques and becoming adept with the tools that are available to researchers, you will begin to see research as an invaluable part of an organized system of study that includes discovery, invention, critical thinking, and clear communication.

    While writing is sometimes viewed as a solitary undertaking, research requires active involvement in a larger community of scholars. You will have a chance to define yourself as a member of a number of communities, and you will begin to see your research as an important part of the conversations that take part among members of your communities. As you begin to see yourself as an active contributor in a community, you will start to understand how the work of others can both enrich your own perceptions and improve your understanding of the topic about which you are writing.

    To help you get started as a contributing member of a community of scholars, we will first explore how your research can support the writing process that you began to develop in Composition I. You will recall that the PWR Method is a process based on pre-writing, writing, editing, and proofreading, so it is probably no surprise to learn that effective research follows a similar process and is based on similar methods of preparation and analysis.

    By mastering the essentials of effective research, you can train yourself to think more carefully about your work at every stage of the writing process. For example, you probably know how much a good quote can help to emphasize an important point, but you may not be conscious of how helpful general background research can be in the very earliest phases of your writing, when you are just beginning to refine your topic and clarify your thesis and argument.

    As we continue to build your experience as a member of a research community, we will explore how effective research can help you appeal to specific audiences and more clearly define the purpose of your writing.

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  • Unit 2: Researching: How, What, When, Where, and Why

    If you are already at work on a writing project, you most likely are well aware that you often need to start writing in order to discover all of your ideas about a subject. In this unit, we will take the discovery process a bit further by exploring how identifying, analyzing, and making effective use of the work of others can do even more to clarify your viewpoint and refine your thesis.

    We will begin by looking at research as a concept. By now, you should feel a little more comfortable thinking of yourself as a researcher and you may be anxious to get started. To get you off on the right foot, we will look at how analysis and planning can streamline your research efforts and help you to make the best use of your findings. After that, we will dig deeply into the research process itself. In addition to learning more about traditional library research methods, you will have a chance to get acquainted with methods for conducting research in person, on your own computer, and on the Internet.

    We will also define primary and secondary sources and will look at some of the merits of using both of these types of information. We will spend quite a bit of time reviewing the tools and techniques for conducting research on the Internet. You will have a chance to explore some of the most useful Internet sites for locating both printed and online information, and you will start to get a clearer idea about where to look for information in specific disciplines and to fulfill specific purposes.

    Finally, we will acknowledge the importance of keeping research well-organized and clearly documented. You will get a chance to practice the best techniques for recording, organizing, and annotating the source information that you want to use.

    By the end of this unit, you should have a good understanding of how to carry out your research in an organized, thoughtful manner. You should also have the opportunity to complete much of the preliminary research for your final paper and to identify any information gaps that may require further investigation.

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  • Unit 3: Reviewing and Analyzing Your Sources

    A successful research paper is more than a well-constructed argument supplemented by facts, figures, and quotations. Like the good writing that it supports, successful research involves planning, careful analysis, and reflection. Before you can incorporate an outside source into your work, you must take some time to think about more than just the facts and ideas that you have uncovered. Is the source authoritative? Is the information substantiated fact, or is it primarily opinion? Is it up-to-date? Is it accurate and complete? These are just some of the essential questions you must ask about each piece of source information that you discover.

    In this unit, you will take an in-depth look at some techniques for analyzing and evaluating the information that you locate. As you review critical reading as a research strategy, you will look very closely at techniques for evaluating and comparing information that you find on the Internet and in print. You will learn some well-established techniques for determining whether a source is reputable and authoritative, and you will acquire some tools for discerning fact and opinion. You will also get to have a little fun as you complete a WebQuest in which you will find and analyze information online.

    By the time you have completed this unit, you should be more confident about how and when to use the sources you have identified, and you should have a basic understanding of how to use your research to effectively and clearly support a well-developed academic paper. You will also be ready to complete your research.

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  • Unit 4: Putting Your Source Material to Work

    Many college research papers are structured primarily as arguments that are supported, at least in part, by evidence gathered from outside sources. A major purpose of the Composition I course was to define written arguments and to practice some techniques for developing them. To help clarify the close relationships between research and argumentation, we will use the first part of this unit to review some of the basics of formulating written arguments. As we do so, you will be able to explore the best techniques for putting research to work in your writing, and we will analyze how these techniques support the fundamental requirements of successful academic writing.
     
    As we discuss the essential components, you should pay particular attention to how your research must support your basic logical structure and rhetorical strategy. This unit will give you a chance to get a little more practice in analyzing and developing written arguments.
     
    You will spend some time investigating how various forms of research can support different writing strategies, including literary analysis, discussions, and comparison-contrast strategies. You will get some more practice in using research and analytical tools, and you will have an opportunity to update your paper if you think it needs it.
     
    Before we begin the more rigorous practice of citation and style in Unit 4, we will take a more general look at how to build quotations, paraphrases, and summaries into your work. You will be able to explore the best uses for all of these forms of reference so that you can use your source material confidently without changing its meaning, tone, or intent - or distorting your own.
     
    At the end of the unit, you will use what you have learned to create a detailed outline that specifies what resources you will use where and develop your arguments more fully.

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  • Unit 5: Writing the Research Paper and Acknowledging Your Sources

    When you write a research paper, the success of your work can depend almost as heavily on the work of others as it does on your own efforts. Your information sources not only provide essential facts and insights that can enhance and clarify your original ideas, source material can help you better understand your own theories and opinions and help you to arrive at more authoritative, clearly drawn conclusions.
     
    Because of the debt that you, as the author of a research paper, owe to your sources, it is essential that you understand how to present, acknowledge, and document the sources that you have built into your work. You should be aware that using accepted standards of style and citation can benefit you as a writer as well. When your references are clearly annotated within your work, you can see where your source material appears, making it that much easier to edit, update, and expand your work.
     
    By following accepted standards to present your work in a manner that is accessible to readers, you also enhance your credibility as a writer and researcher. When your readers can easily identify and check your sources, they are more likely to accept you as a member of their discourse communities. This is especially important in an academic environment, where your readers are likely to investigate your work as a potential source for their own research projects. To put it bluntly, careful adherence to accepted style conventions in academic writing can mean the difference between great success and total failure.
     
    In this unit, we will review the concept of plagiarism and discuss how you can use clear, consistent documentation to avoid even the unintentional misuse of source material. We will also review many of the commonly accepted methods of acknowledging and documenting sources used in writing college research papers. We will pay particular attention to the Modern Language Association (MLA) style standards, because this is the most widely used convention in college undergraduate work.
     
    This unit will culminate in an opportunity to build your selected source material into a fully developed first draft of your final research paper. By the time you have finished the final activity in this unit, you should have accomplished much of the groundwork for your final research paper.
     
    By the time you have finished the work in this unit, you should have a command of the materials and techniques you will need to complete a well-developed academic paper. As a by-product, your final research paper for this course will probably be nearly finished.
     
    The final activity in this unit is to develop a final polished and clearly documented research paper that makes full use of the tools, techniques, and products that you have discovered, developed, and organized during the preceding four units.

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  • Unit 6: Polishing Your Research Paper

    Now that you have completed the draft of your research paper, you will revise and polish it. Keep in mind that writing is a process from the pre-writing phase to drafting to revising your essay. In this final unit, we will review techniques for revising and improving your writing. In revising your paper, you will consider the use of diction, sentence-level issues (e.g., transitional phrases, grammar, tone, etc.), paragraph-level problems (e.g., cohesion, relating the paragraph back to your thesis), and incorporating proper format for MLA style.

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  • Optional Course Evaluation Survey

    Please take a few moments to provide some feedback about this course at the link below. Consider completing the survey whether you have completed the course, you are nearly at that point, or you have just come to study one unit or a few units of this course.

    Link: Optional Course Evaluation Survey (HTML)

    Your feedback will focus our efforts to continually improve our course design, content, technology, and general ease-of-use. Additionally, your input will be considered alongside our consulting professors' evaluation of the course during its next round of peer review. As always, please report urgent course experience concerns to contact@saylor.org and/or our Discourse forums.

  • Final Exam


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