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Humanities Libertexts

9: The Research Paper

  • Page ID
    15915
  • Although analysis is a crucial phase in writing about any subject, the next step of contributing to society’s knowledge and understanding is to participate in the scholarly dialogue on the subject. This point can be clarified by comparing a biology lab report with a scholarly scientific article. During the lab experiment, the scientist might examine a cancer cell, for example, after it has been treated with a particular substance. This first-hand (or primary) research is necessary to discovering whether the substance will have the desired effect on the cell. However, what if other scientists have tested this same substance on cancer cells previously? The results of your experiment do not exist in a vacuum. Chances are that you chose this substance for testing because, in your reading of existing scholarship, you learned which other substances have already been tried and what the outcomes of those experiments were. In testing this substance, you and your team may have altered the conditions of the experiment a bit to see if, under slightly different circumstances, the substance will act differently than it has in previous experiments. As the research is refined, and scientists continue to communicate their discoveries to each other and to the world, the body of knowledge on the subject grows and deepens. As a result of this “team” effort, human understanding expands. The dialogue among scholars, conveyed through academic articles and books, is a crucial resource for any researcher.

    While it might be a bit intimidating to enter this dialogue as a college freshman, one must start somewhere! Certainly, you may feel strange disagreeing with something an expert in the field has said about your subject, but participating in this dialogue becomes easier with practice. One can disagree with a scholar while maintaining a tone respectful of that scholar’s credentials and experience. After all, we are grateful for the groundwork our predecessors have laid for our own studies. However, things change, and with the benefit of hindsight, as well as of new technologies and new discoveries, your generation will undoubtedly further human understanding. You are encouraged to take up the mantle with curiosity and determination.

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