by Sarah Macdonald, Sociology
Assignment 1: Paper Proposal
Assignment 2: Literature Review
Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline
Assignment 4: Research Presentation
Assignment 5: Final Paper
Sociology 190 is a senior capstone course in which students engage in small seminar discussions of a particular topic. In my section of Soc 190, Trasnational Adoption from a Sociological Perspective, I paired in-depth discussions on the topic of adoption with a semester-long research project — each student designed a research question, collected data, and wrote up a 15–20-page research paper on a topic of their choice. I knew that because the research paper seemed overwhelming to my students, they would need guidance and feedback throughout the process. In designing my syllabus and assignments I consulted with syllabi from others in my department that had previously taught similar courses. The resulting assignments are included in this section.
In the process of setting the assignments I learned that students needed very explicit instructions on the format of a formal research paper, the opportunity to discuss their progress frequently in class, and structured opportunities to learn about how to do sociological research. Throughout the semester we had discussions, both as a large group and in smaller groups, about the students’ progress on their projects, which allowed students a chance to receive feedback more often than I was able to give in writing. We also had several formal opportunities to learn about research, for example when I gave presentations to the students on research methods, or when we had a guest speaker talk about their research, or when students had a session with a subject-specific librarian to learn about how to locate secondary sources. Each assignment then served as a research milestone where students got formal feedback from me about their progress. Before each assignment we had in-depth discussions of how to formulate the different components of a research paper, so the assignments include detailed lists of the parts we had already discussed in class. We ended the semester with a mini research conference where students presented their arguments to their peers and received feedback. They then used this feedback and my feedback on the smaller assignments to produce their final research papers.
Assignment 1: Paper Proposal
In no more than 2 double-spaced pages (Times New Roman, size 12 font, one-inch margins) you will:
- Briefly describe and explain your research topic and its importance. You should describe why you think this topic is particularly relevant to our course and why it is an important area of study.
- Clearly present and explain your central research question.
- Identify your data source and method of analysis. How will you collect data and what will you do with the data?
- Explain why these sources of data are appropriate for your research question and how they will help you to answer your question.
Choosing a Research Topic and Question
Your research topic and question must relate to the topic of transnational adoption, but beyond this requirement there are no limitations on the topic that you choose. I recommend that you look through the topics in the syllabus to help you to begin to determine what you are most interested in studying. In addition, the reading entitled “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience” (Engel et al: 2007), should help you to understand the various topics related to transnational adoption that are of particular concern to sociologists.
Choosing a Data Source
Once you have identified your research question, you must choose one of the research methods listed below that will be most appropriate for answering your question.
- In-depth Interviews: You must conduct 3 to 5 in-depth interviews (lasting at least 45 minutes each) with individuals.
- Textual Analysis: You can choose to analyze a set of written or visual texts (books, newspaper articles, news stories, images, films, court documents, government proceedings, etc.). You must choose at least three texts to analyze and may need to choose several texts depending on the types of texts you are analyzing.
- Participant Observation: Spend 5 to 10 hours observing social interaction at a relevant research site. If you decide to do this you must get advance permission from the organization and/or individuals before conducting your observation.
- Quantitative Analysis: You can complete a basic statistical analysis of a data set. You can either use an existing data set or design your own survey and distribute it to at least 30 people to create your own dataset.
 Engel, Madeline, Norma K Phillips, and Frances A Dellacava. 2007. “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 27: 257–270.
Assignment 2: Literature Review
For this assignment you will submit a review of current literature on your topic that will:
- Summarize and synthesize 5 to 10 sources (books or journal articles, not websites or news stories) that are not included in course readings. This means that you should not simply provide summaries of the sources, but should explain how they relate to each other (synthesize how they draw on similar theories, come to similar conclusions, etc.) and/or offer a critique of their content that is relevant to your own research. You may also choose to cite course readings; in fact, I encourage you to do so, but you must cite at least 5 additional sources.
- Explain how your research project is likely to challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on your topic. You must make an argument for what your research will add to literature that already exists on the topic.
The literature review should be 4 to 5 double-spaced pages, size 12 Times New Roman font, one-inch margins.
Additional tips for writing your literature review:
- Do not just choose the first 5 sources that you find; make sure that they are relevant to your research question and topic.
- Think about the literature review as a window into a conversation between researchers about your topic. You’ll want to explain what they have already found out about the topic and then you’ll want to make a strong case for how your research is adding to the conversation.
- Keep your summaries of the articles or books concise and relevant. You don’t need to summarize their entire argument, you just need to give us an idea of what parts are particularly pertinent to your own research.
- The format of your literature review should not just be a list of summaries. Instead you will want to identify some way in which the previous literature has fallen short and has not considered the question that you are interested in studying. This takes quite a bit of work in most cases and will mean that you will have to explain clearly how your research will challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on the topic.
- Edit, edit, edit. You should spend a fair amount of time putting this together and editing as much as possible. If you do a really good job on this portion, it’s likely you’ll be able to paste it into your final paper with minimal changes! Take it very seriously.
- You must use the American Sociological Association’s Style Guide to format your citations. If you use Zotero, it will do it for you automatically. Make sure your in-text citations are also properly formatted. The ASA Style Guide is posted on our course site.
Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline
Part One: Abstract
For this assignment you will write an abstract of no more than 500 words that details the argument you will make in your final paper. The abstract should have the following components:
- Research Question: 1 or 2 sentences describing your topic or research question; this doesn’t need to be in question form.
- Contribution: A statement that explains what empirical or theoretical contribution your research makes to existing literature.
- Methods and Data: An explanation of no more than 1 sentence that explains your methods, i.e. how you collected data to answer your research question.
- Findings: A few sentences that describe the main argument you will make in your paper and what you found as a result of doing your research. It is okay if you haven’t yet finished your research and these findings are only preliminary.
- Concluding Statement/Implications: You will want to include at least 1 sentence that connects back to the problem that you identified at the beginning and that explains any important implications of your research.
Note: The abstract should not include any citations.
Grading: Your grade will be based on the organization and coherence of your writing, the inclusion of all aspects detailed above, and especially on the clarity, feasibility, and appropriateness of the argument that you plan to make in your final paper.
Part Two: Paper Outline
For this assignment you will write an outline of your final paper that details each of the sections of the paper and the overall argument that you will make in each section. The outline can be as long as you would like, but cannot exceed 5 single-spaced pages, size 12 font, 1-inch margins. I recommend that you include as much detail as possible as this will be your last formal opportunity to receive feedback from me.
Please label all sections. For each section you will include a brief paragraph (2–3 sentences) that outlines what you will argue/explain in that section. Then you will outline each paragraph or part of that section (please use the numerical outlining function in Word; you may also use bullet points where necessary). The outline should be as detailed as possible and should include quotations, examples from your research, data that supports your points, etc. You should include the following sections:
- Abstract: A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment.
- Introduction: This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader, and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting and how it contributes to existing literature.
- Literature Review: This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
- Methods: This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible.
- Findings: This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. If you are making your argument in several parts or sections, make sure to include those sections in the outline. The outline for the findings section should show me, in a very detailed way, what the argument is that you are making and how you expect to make the argument. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument).
- Discussion and Conclusion: In this section you will summarize the argument that you make in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.
Assignment 4: Research Presentation
For this assignment you will prepare a very brief presentation of your research for the class. The purposes of this assignment are: a) to learn about the research that students have done as part of this class, b) to have the opportunity to give feedback and suggestions to other students, c) to discuss several topics related to transnational adoption using the foundational knowledge you have gained this semester.
Guidelines for your presentation:
- Your presentation should be about 5 minutes. Please practice ahead of time so that you can make sure that you can fit what you want to say in this time period.
- You should briefly explain your research question, your method, and your most interesting finding. In your presentation you should make some connection back to the topics and/or readings that we have discussed in this class — you can either connect your finding to course material or explain how your research contributes to the literature we have read together as part of this course.
- After your presentation the class will ask questions of you and your panel. Please come prepared to talk in depth about your research and to answer questions about the research process, your findings, how the findings relate to the course, what contribution you are making to the existing literature on your topic, etc.
You will be graded on your ability to clearly and concisely present your research, the connections that you make between your research and course material, and your engagement in a discussion about your topic with other students in the class during the Q&A period.
Assignment 5: Final Paper
For this assignment you will draw on the research proposal, literature review, abstract, paper outline, and the data you have collected through your research to write a polished research paper on your topic. The paper must be 15–20 pages, size 12 font, Times New Roman, margins of no larger than 1”. Please note that your bibliography/works cited and any appendices you choose to include will not be counted in the 15-page minimum.
Required Components for the Final Paper:
Please make sure to label each section with either a section title (e.g., literature review) or a title that communicates the content of the section (e.g., previous research on culture keeping).
- Cover Page: The first page of your paper should be a cover sheet that includes a title that communicates the content of your paper, your name, date, title of the class, and any other information you feel is necessary.
- Abstract (∼250 words): A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment. It should be single-spaced and should be placed immediately preceding the introduction.
- Introduction (1–3 pages): This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader (e.g., historical context), and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting, and how it contributes to existing literature.
- Literature Review (4–6 pages): This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
- Methods (1–2 pages): This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible. You should also explain why your sample is likely not representative of the general population you are studying and what biases are present as a result of your research design.
- Findings (7+ pages): This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument). You may choose to divide this section into sub-sections, but each sub-section should have a clear title. Make sure that you are making an argument and that each paragraph in this section connects back to your central argument.
- Discussion and Conclusion (2+ pages): In this section you will summarize the argument that you have made in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.
- Appendices: If you did interviews or a survey you must include an appendix with your questions. You should refer to the appendix in the methods section. You can also include appendices with additional information (e.g., coding, statistics) if you feel that it is necessary. The appendices do not count in the page count.
- Bibliography/Citations: Remember that you must cite at least ten sources in your paper. While many of these will likely be in the literature review, you should also cite where necessary in the other sections of the paper. At least 5 sources must come from readings that were not included in the course syllabus. All parenthetical citations and the works cited/bibliography page must be in ASA format. Formatting instructions are posted on our course website.
In writing this paper please make sure to look back over your previous assignments at my comments and to incorporate changes into your final paper. You are welcome to use any part of your previous assignments verbatim, but I urge you to edit carefully. This paper should be a polished, final paper and not a draft. This means that you will need to finish the paper in advance of the deadline to allow ample time for editing.
Co-authored by Renae Hintze
It’s a beautiful sunny day, you had a big delicious breakfast, and you show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for your first class of the day. Just as you’re getting comfortable in your chair, your teacher hits you with it:
A 5-page, size 12 font research paper… due in 2 weeks.
The sky goes black, your breakfast turns to a brick in your stomach. A research paper? FIVE pages long? Why???
Maybe I’m being a little over-dramatic here. But not all of us are born gifted writers. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most of us struggle a little or a lot with writing a research paper.
But fear not!! I can help you through it. If you follow these 11 steps I promise you will write a better essay, faster.
1. Start early
We all do it. We wait until the LAST day to start an assignment, and then something goes wrong at the LAST minute, and Woops! We get a bad grade.
ALWAYS start your essays early. This is what I recommend. Especially since writing a research paper requires more effort than a regular paper might.
I have a 3-week timeline you can follow when writing a research paper. YES, 3 weeks!! It may sound like waaay too early to start, but it gives you enough time to:
- Outline and write your paper
- Check for errors
- Get pointers from your teacher on what to improve
All of this = a better grade on your assignment. You’re already going through all the effort — why not be positive that you’ll get the best results??
2. Read the Guidelines
Ever taken a shirt out of the dryer to find it has shrunk 10 sizes too small?
It’s because the shirt probably wasn’t meant to go in the dryer, and if you had read the tag, you’d have saved yourself one whole article of clothing!
Before you even START on writing a research paper, READ THE GUIDELINES.
- What is your teacher looking for in your essay?
- Are there any specific things you need to include?
This way, you don’t have to finish your essay only to find that it needs to be re-done!
3. Brainstorm research paper topics
Sometimes we’re assigned essays where we know exactly what we want to write about before we start.
Write an essay on my favorite place to travel?? I know where I’M going to choose!
But there are probably more times where we DON’T know exactly what we want to write about, and we may even experience writer’s block.
To overcome that writer’s block, or simply avoid it happening in the first place, we can use a skill called mind-mapping (or brainstorming) to come up with a topic that is relevant and that we’re interested in writing about!
Here’s an example of a mind-map I just did for Influential People!
By writing whatever came to my mind and connecting those thoughts, I was able to come up with quite a few influential people to write about — I could come up with EVEN MORE if I kept writing!!
See here I can choose to write about Hillary Clinton and how she may have an influence on women and women’s rights in society.
Following this method, you can determine your own research paper topics to write about in a way that’s quick and painless.
4. Write out your questions
To get the BEST research, you have to ask questions. Questions on questions on questions. The idea is that you get to the root of whatever you are talking about so you can write a quality essay on it.
Let’s say you have the question: “How do I write a research paper?”
Can you answer this without more information?
Not so easy, right? That’s because when you “write a research paper”, you do a lot of smaller things that ADD UP to “writing a research paper”.
Break your questions down. Ask until you can’t ask anymore, or until it’s no longer relevant to your topic. This is how you can achieve quality research.
5. Do the research
It IS a research paper, after all. But you don’t want to just type all your questions into Google and pick the first source you see. Not every piece of information on the internet is true, or accurate.
Here’s a way you can easily check your sources for credibility: Look for the who, what, and when.
- Who is the author of the source?
- What are they known for?
- Do they have a background in the subject they wrote about?
- Does the author reference other sources?
- Are those sources credible too?
- What does the “Main” or “Home” page of a website look like?
- Is it professional looking?
- Is there an organization sponsoring the information, and do they seem legitimate
- Do they specialize in the subject?
- When was the source generated — today, last week, a month, a year ago?
- Has there been new or additional information provided since this information was published?
Double-check all your sources this way. Because this is a research paper, your writing is meaningless without other sources to back it up.
Keep track of your credible sources!
When you find useful information from a credible source, DON’T LET IT GO. You need to save the original place you found that information from so that you can cite it in your essay, and later on in the bibliography.
You don’t want to have to go back later and dig up the information a second time just to list the source you got it from!
To help with this, you may be familiar with the option to “Bookmark” your pages online — do this for online sources.
There IS another tool you can use to keep track of your sources. It’s called Diigo, and it’s what we use at Student-Tutor to build an online database of valuable educational resources!
You can create a Diigo account and one free group for your links. Check out this video on how to use Diigo to save all your sources in one convenient location.
Now, of course there are other ways besides the Internet to get information, and there’s nothing wrong with cracking open a well-written book to enrich your essay’s content!
Ways to get information when writing a research paper
- The Internet
6. Create a Thesis Statement
How to write a thesis statement is something that a lot of people overlook. That’s a mistake.
The thesis statement is part of your research paper outline but deserves its own step. That’s because the thesis statement is SUPER important! It is what sets the stage for the entire essay.
How do you write a thesis statement?
Here’s a color-coded example:
7. Create an outline
Once you have constructed your thesis, the rest of the outline is pretty simple. It should mimic the structure of your thesis!
Here’s a color-coded research paper outline you can follow:
8. Write your research paper
Here it is — the dreaded writing. But see how far we’ve already come?
We already know what we’re going to write about, and where we’re going to write it. That’s a lot easier than taking a pen straight to your paper and hoping for some magical, monk-like inspiration to come, am I right?
As you write, be sure to pin-point the places where you are inserting sources. I’ll talk about in-text citations in just a moment!
Here are some basic tips for writing your essay from International Student:
- Generally, don’t use “I/My” unless it’s a personal narrative
- Use specific examples to support your statements
- Vary your language — don’t use the same adjective 5 times in a row
9. Cite your sources
This goes along with the second step — make sure to check your essay guidelines and find out BEFOREHAND what kind of citation style your teacher wants you to use.
Like I promised earlier, Purdue University has a great article that provides instructions on and examples on how to cite different types of sources WITHIN your text. Reference this when you’re not sure what to do.
As a general rule of thumb, in-text citations usually go AFTER the sentence drawing from the source, but BEFORE the period of that sentence, in parentheses. If more than one sentence is referencing the same source, try to place it at the last of those sentences.
However, no matter what you cite INSIDE your writing, all the sources you use for the paper need to be included in your bibliography.
This goes on a separate page, after your main essay and may be titled “Works Cited” or “Bibliography”. (Make sure to check the guidelines, and ask your teacher!)
For this, I’m going to introduce you to an awesome, totally free citation tool called EasyBib.
Important Tip: Make sure that when you use EasyBib, you are filling in a template provided by EasyBib and NOT asking EasyBib to pull information directly from the source. EasyBib can’t always find information that is there, and your citation will be incomplete without it!
By selecting “Manual Cite”, EasyBib will provide you with a template for filling in the necessary information to create your citation.
You can then ask EasyBib to generate the source in the citation format you’ve selected. Copy and paste that source into your bibliography — easy!
10. Read your essay
Why do I need to read my essay if I wrote it?
You’d be surprised what you’ll catch the second, third, and bazillionth time around reading your own writing! Not that you have to read THIS a bazillion times… just once or twice over will do.
I recommend that you read your essay once-through, and the second time read it aloud. Reading your essay aloud reinforces your words and makes it easier to recognize when something is phrased strangely, or if you are using a word too often.
11. Have someone else read your essay
Lastly it is always important that someone else besides you read your essay before you submit it.
Find a professional who can give you constructive feedback on how to improve your essay — this may be a tutor or a teacher. It can also be someone who specializes in the subject you are writing about.
The absolute BEST person to review your essay would be the teacher that assigned it to you.
And yes, many teachers WILL read the essay they assigned before it is due and give you pointers on how to make it better. They want you to succeed and they’re the ones grading it — I think it’s safe to say they know what they’re talking about!
For most of us, writing a research paper is no walk in the park. Unfortunately, it’s important that you know how to do it!
Let’s review the steps to make this process as PAINLESS as possible:
- Start early — 3 weeks in advance!
- Read the guidelines
- Mind map/Brainstorm research paper topics
- Write out your questions
- Do the research (Remember to keep track of your sources!)
- Create a Thesis Statement
- Create an outline
- Write your essay
- Cite your sources (In-text and in your bibliography)
- Read your essay (twice and once aloud!)
- Have someone ELSE read your essay — try your teacher first.
Do you have experience writing a research paper? What process did you use, and was it effective? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students eliminate academic stress, boost confidence, and reach their wildest dreams through college tips and digital age knowledge they are not teaching in school. I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. Currently, I am traveling across America delivering presentations, rock climbing, adventuring, and helping inspire the leaders of tomorrow. Let's become friends! Follow my journey via my YouTube Vlog for inspirational value added tips!