Your instructor has asked you to use 2-3 peer-reviewed sources for your research paper (note: biographical information can come from a credible, non-peer reviewed source). What is "peer-review" in the scholarly world and how do you know if your source is peer-reviewed? Let's explore this by first watching a video on credibility:
Now that we understand the characteristics of a credible source, let's look at what makes a source "peer-reviewed:"
Scholarly articles are written by an expert in the subject matter, are research focused, contain original research, and the audience is geared towards other experts. Scholarly articles are often, but not always, peer-reviewed.
Peer-reviewed articles are scholarly articles that also go through a rigorous review process by other experts in the same field before publication. How does the process work?
Popular articles are articles that appear in magazines or newspapers, are not scholarly or peer-reviewed, and are written by journalists or staff members who are not subject matter experts. That is not to say that these types of articles are not credible, but they need do need to be evaluated for credibility more so than their counterparts. Examples:
There are several ways to check and see if the article you are looking at is peer-reviewed:
Databases are collections of information. Research databases are generally arranged by subject area and/or purpose. Below there is a list of suggested databases for your assignment. You can also browse the A to Z Database List to search specific databases or take an interdisciplinary approach by searching all of EBSCO or Gale using the search bars on the library homepage.
<your poet> AND <theme>
<your poet> AND <element of poetry>
<your poet> AND <"poem">
<your poet> AND (element of poetry/theme OR poem)
<your poet> AND (element of poetry/theme AND poem)
wordsworth AND nature
clarke AND meter
burns AND "to a mouse"
browning AND (meter OR my last duchess)
browning AND (meter AND my last duchess)
You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.
Let's look at some examples. Imagine you're writing about John Hughes's film Sixteen Candles (1984).
You take a first pass at writing a thesis:
Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.
Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it's a good start. You've focused on a topic - high school cliques - which is a smart move because you've settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it's not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement - so there's no real "news" for your reader. You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable. If your thesis doesn't go beyond summarizing your source, it's descriptive and not yet argumentative.
The key words in the thesis statement are "romantic comedy" and "high school cliques." One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions.
For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way? How does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does the film challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you'll have a strong thesis.
Tip: Asking "how" or "why" questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.
Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?
Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.
You're getting closer. You're starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies "divisiveness" as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it's important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland - not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.
Tip: Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the "so what" question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?
Take 3. Let's try again. How about this version?
Although the film Sixteen Candles appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important ways, questioning its viewers' assumptions about what's normal.
Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film's larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy.
What's a Strong Thesis?
As we've just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, it's arguable.
This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that's not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It's also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued, or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument.
Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis
A good thesis will be focused on your object of study (as opposed to making a big claim about the world) and will introduce the key words guiding your analysis. To get started, you might experiment with some of these "mad libs." They're thinking exercises that will help propel you toward an arguable thesis.
By examining ___________________[topic/approach], we can see ____________________[thesis- the claim that's surprising, which is important because _____________________.
"By examining Sixteen Candles through the lens of Georg Simmel's writing on fashion, we can see that the protagonist's interest in fashion as an expression of her conflicted desire to be seen as both unique and accepted by the group. This is important because the film offers its viewers a glimpse into the ambivalent yearnings of middle class youth in the 1980s.
Although readers might assume __________ [the commonplace idea you're challenging], I argue that _____________[your surprising claim].
Although viewers might assume the romantic comedy Sixteen Candles is merely entertaining, I believe its message is political. The film uses the romance between Samantha, a middle class sophomore and Jake, an affluent senior, to reinforce the fantasy that anyone can become wealthy and successful with enough cunning and persistence.
Still Having Trouble? Let's Back Up...
It helps to understand why readers value the arguable thesis. What larger purpose does it serve? Your readers will bring a set of expectations to your essay. The better you can anticipate the expectations of your readers, the better you'll be able to persuade them to entertain seeing things your way.
Academic readers (and readers more generally) read to learn something new. They want to see the writer challenge commonplaces - either everyday assumptions about your object of study or truisms in the scholarly literature. In other words, academic readers want to be surprised so that their thinking shifts or at least becomes more complex by the time they finish reading your essay. Good essays problematize what we think we know and offer an alternative explanation in its place. They leave their reader with a fresh perspective on a problem.
We all bring important past experiences and beliefs to our interpretations of texts, objects, and problems. You can harness these observational powers to engage critically with what you are studying. The key is to be alert to what strikes you as strange, problematic, paradoxical, or puzzling about your object of study. If you can articulate this and a claim in response, you're well on your way to formulating an arguable thesis in your introduction.
How do I set up a "problem" and an arguable thesis in response?
All good writing has a purpose or motive for existing. Your thesis is your surprising response to this problem or motive. This is why it seldom makes sense to start a writing project by articulating the thesis. The first step is to articulate the question or problem your paper addresses.
Here are some possible ways to introduce a conceptual problem in your paper's introduction.
1. Challenge a commonplace interpretation (or your own first impressions).
How are readers likely to interpret this source or issue? What might intelligent readers think at first glance? (Or, if you've been given secondary sources or have been asked to conduct research to locate secondary sources, what do other writers or scholars assume is true or important about your primary source or issue?).
What does this commonplace interpretation leave out, overlook, or under-emphasize?
2. Help your reader see the complexity of your topic.
Identify and describe for your reader a paradox, puzzle, or contradiction in your primary source(s).
What larger questions does this paradox or contradiction raise for you and your readers?
3. If your assignment asks you to do research, piggyback off another scholar's research.
Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting.
Now, explain how you will extend this scholar's argument to explore an issue or case study that the scholar doesn't address fully.
4. If your assignment asks you to do research, identify a gap in another scholar's or a group of scholars' research.
Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting. Or, summarize how scholars in the field tend to approach your topic.
Next, explain what important aspect this scholarly representation misses or distorts. Introduce your particular approach to your topic and its value.
5. If your assignment asks you to do research, bring in a new lens for investigating your case study or problem.
Summarize for your reader how a scholar or group of scholars has approached your topic.
Introduce a theoretical source (possibly from another discipline) and explain how it helps you address this issue from a new and productive angle.
Testing Your Thesis
You can test your thesis statement's arguability by asking the following questions:
Does my thesis only or mostly summarize my source?
If so, try some of the exercises above to articulate your paper's conceptual problem or question.
Is my thesis arguable - can it be supported by evidence in my source, and is it surprising and contentious?
If not, return to your sources and practice the exercises above.
Is my thesis about my primary source or case study, or is it about the world?
If it's about the world, revise it so that it focuses on your primary source or case study. Remember you need solid evidence to support your thesis.
"Formulating a Thesis" was written by Andrea Scott, Princeton University. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
 Adapted from Erik Simpson’s “Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis” at http://www.math.grinnell.edu/~simpsone/Teaching/fiveways.html
Your paper must include MLA formatting and citations. Citation styles require very specific order, punctuation, formatting and capitalization - there is no room for creativity! To see MLA rules and examples, visit the MLA Citation Guidelines.
Citations are vital to avoiding plagiarism in a research paper, but they are only one part. One of the most difficult aspects of writing a research paper is paraphrasing correctly. Many students who would never intentionally cheat or plagiarize will accidentally plagiarize through improper paraphrasing. Closely examine the paraphrasing examples below and see the Avoiding Plagiarism tutorial for more information.
Examples of Acceptable and Unacceptable Paraphrasing
The examples below will show you how paraphrase correctly. They're adapted from Paraphrasing by University Libraries, University of Arizona with its gracious permission.
Here's the original text, from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s by Joyce Williams et al.:
The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade.
Here's an unacceptable paraphrase:
The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.
What makes this passage plagiarism?
This is unacceptable paraphrasing because the writer has:
Here's an acceptable paraphrase:
Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the U.S., they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams 1).
Why is this passage acceptable?
Here's an another acceptable paraphrase, using a quotation and paraphrase together:
Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, the demand for workers "transformed farm hands into factory workers" and created jobs for immigrants. In turn, growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall River was one of these manufacturing hubs that were also "centers of commerce and trade" (Williams 1).
Why is this passage acceptable?
Strategies for avoiding plagiarism
1. Put quotation marks around everything that comes directly from the text, especially when taking notes.
2. When you paraphrase, be sure you're not just rearranging or replacing a few words. Instead, read over what you want to paraphrase carefully; cover up the text with your hand, or close the text so you can't see any of it (and so aren't tempted to use the text as a "guide"). Write out the idea in your own words without peeking.
3. Check your paraphrase against the original text to be sure you haven't accidentally used the same phrases or words, and that the information is accurate.
Students often confuse proofreading/editing for revision. The following video explains how these two parts of the writing process are both very necessary and very different from each other:
Here's a few options to get help:
Visit the University of North Carolina's Writing Lab for more writing help. They have many excellent worksheets and tutorials.
Contact the MCC Library if you need help finding or evaluating sources.
During fall and spring semesters, the library is open Monday - Thursday from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M., and Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. for in-person help:
Neal Campus Kingman Library
1971 E Jagerson Avenue
Kingman, AZ 86409
Virtual help is available at the same hours through the website chat at mohave.libguides.com, text at 928-232-4430, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Zoom. Contact the library to set up a Zoom session.
Contact the Student Success Center if you need help writing, editing or formatting your paper. They are located next to the library.
During fall and spring semesters, tutors are available Monday - Thursday from 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. and Friday from 10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
SmartThinking online tutoring also has tutors who will review your paper. You can access SmartThinking through Schoology at the bottom of the lefthand toolbar.
MCC Connect can transfer your call to the Library, Student Success Center or your professor. Call 866-664-2832.