Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.


What makes a research paper differ from writing any sort of college paper? Doesn't everything we write require some sort of research? Even a personal narrative requires intuitive inquiry and the exploring of one's memory.

The difference is that researching is not the same thing as searching. We understand research to be "scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry."

In science, research means exploring a hypothesis formally using established protocols like the scientific method. In non-scientific scholarship, research may mean close to the same thing.

In both cases, it is assumed that before you embark on your own original inquiry, you have sought out the current state of information and knowledge pertaining to your topic. Your goal as a researcher is to join the conversation that is already going on in the field. You are not operating as a free agent here, but acting in concert with all others who are trying to advance knowledge.

We can profitably think of knowledge-making in any field as a pyramid. Your contribution will add one piece of stone to the edifice. In mortaring it down, you lay it upon a foundation that has already been established. And when you do lay it down, alongside others, you make it possible for those that come after you to build a new level on top of what you and your colleagues have established.

Let's say that I and a co-researcher write an article in which we demonstrate that features of "women's language" match characteristics of the "prestige dialect" associated with political and corporate power in the United States. We base this article partly on original observation. But just as important is the research of others. In doing our research we find some studies which identify and define "women's language," others which identify and define "men's language," and yet others which map and name the "prestige dialect." Our original contribution is to put "women's language" and the "prestige dialect" together for the first time and to make some modest conclusions, the most important of which is that "women's language resembles official language much more closely than men's does."

This is our stone in the pyramid. It is beyond the scope of our task to deal with the surprising sociological implications of what we've been able to demonstrate (what does one make of the fact that even though women speak the "official language" better than men do, they have traditionally been excluded from the halls of power?). But we can rest assured that others will come along and use our study as well as others to build yet another level of understanding and practical application.

So how does one get into the necessary conversations (notice I have made the word plural, to recognize the interdisciplinary nature of much research)?

For that you need a search strategy.