How to write a research paper


Katarzyna Dziwirek


Ê Pick out a topic that interests you. This is the crucial part!! If you choose an issue that you care about and want to work on, writing the paper will not be a chore but an intellectual joy. If you have trouble coming up with a topic, please consult the list of previous student papers on the class website. Talk to the instructor. Pick up a copy of a linguistic journal to see what scholars are writing about. Talk to the Slavic librarian. Talk to other students about what they are working on. Talk to your family and friends (Tell me dear, is there something you always wanted to know about language X but were afraid to ask? Let me research that for you!). Linguistics is such a great field that you are bound to find inspiration somewhere! J


Ë There are different types of research papers. The good ones follow the three basic steps of the scientific method.


DATA: Description of the phenomenon the author is trying to explain.

HYPOTHESIS: An explanation of what is going on (why are certain sentences grammatical, or

why some sentences are ungrammatical, a new explanation of a historical change, the cultural

motivations behind certain linguistic behaviors, etc.)

EVIDENCE: Evidence that the proposed hypothesis is correct, or arguments supporting the

claim. This often involves arguing that other explanations are not adequate, as they do not

account for the same range of facts as the author’s hypothesis.


This type of paper frequently entails field-work: asking native speakers for grammaticality judgements, conducting surveys on how people view certain speech expressions, listening to, taping, and analyzing conversations, etc.


Ì In point Ë we are talking about original research. While it is my hope that all students do some original research during their tenure at the university, I realize that it is not always possible to do this for every class. Another type of research paper is also entirely acceptable. We might call it a fact-finding or report paper. In this type of paper the student picks a topic (e.g. the extinct Polabian language, language politics in Slovakia, the Common Slavic kinship terms, Norwegian compliments, Spanish apologies), and summarizes the current body of knowledge on this issue. If at all possible, the report paper, like original research papers, should also make a claim, typically involving a critical evaluation of the sources. Sometimes it is just: “here we are, this is the current state of knowledge on this issue”, but often, especially if there are conflicting explanations of the phenomenon under consideration, this type of paper requires an assessment of which explanation the student finds more credible and why.


Í A final point. Writing a research paper is NOT the same as creative writing. The author should not talk exclusively about their beliefs, convictions, experiences, etc. Anecdotal evidence is fine, as it often helps to make the point more clearly, and/or serves as a good introduction or conclusion, but it should only be used together with verifiable evidence, never by itself. Thus papers on My experience as a girl growing up in New Jersey or The culture of Bulgaria as seen by me when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, will no doubt make wonderful reading, but do not work as RESEARCH papers. In general, in research papers we try to avoid phrasing like “I believe” and use expressions like “I claim” and do our best to support our claims with independently verifiable evidence.