Interactive tools to help you explore paper topics:
Databases to help you explore topics:
What are the characteristics of a scholarly publication in the digital age?
Web publishing has complicated the identification of scholarly communications. Traditional cues such as publisher, press, and durability are no longer constant in the world of digital, scholarly communications. Findings from Leah Halliday’s work with scholars, librarians, and researchers has identified three characteristics to look for in a publication:
Halliday, L. (2001). Scholarly communication, scholarly publication and the status of emerging formats.Information Research, 6(4). Retrieved from: Available at: http://InformationR.net/ir/paper111.html
Search for books. Remember, eBooks are books!
Databases are collections of information. Academic databases are arranged by subject area. The database you need to use for your research will depend on your topic. Use the link for the A to Z Database List to browse the available databases. You may also want to take an interdisciplinary approach to your paper; if so, use the EBSCO or Gale search bars on the main page to search all of the databases at once. You can also use any information you find through the databases listed on the Choose a Topic page.
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
This MLA 8th edition template is a Microsoft Word (.docx) file. After downloading, click "Enable Editing" at the top of the screen to begin using the template.
Example of an MLA formatted paper
Body of Paper
Body of Paper with Image
Body of Paper with Graph
Works Cited Page
MLA Eighth Edition
The latest edition of the MLA Handbook focuses on the elements common to most publications through the use of one standard citation format. There are no special instructions for a particular media type (e.g., book, magazine, journal, or tweet) and there may be more than one way to document a publication depending on how you used the source. The ultimate goal is to provide enough information for the reader to locate your source.
MLA’s Universal Citation Format
Author. "Title of Source." Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher,
Publication Date, Location. [Title of Container 2, Other Contributors, Version, Number,
Publisher, Publication Date, Location.]
What is a “container?”
MLA uses the word “container” to refer to the larger body of work from which the documented source originates.
For example, Melissa uses information from a chapter in a psychology textbook for her research paper. The title of the chapter is the source and the title of the book is the container:
A source may have more than one container depending on how it is accessed.
For example, Tom uses an episode of a TV series that is available on Netflix for his research paper. The series title is the first container and Netflix is the second container.
As another example, Kim uses an article he finds in an online database for his research paper. The journal title is the first container and EBSCO is the second container.
What are “other contributors?”
Other contributors are individuals other than the author that are important to include in a citation. In the above example, Tom may be discussing particular performances in the Gossip Girl episode and would include the actors in his citation:
Common descriptions for contributions include: adapted by, directed by, edited by, illustrated by, introduction by, narrated by, performance by, and translated by.
What is a “version?”
A version can be an edition, revision, abridged/unabridged or other special format of the source. Some examples:
What does "location" mean?
The location may be page numbers, a web address or a DOI. It is not the publisher's city.
What about the date of access?
It is important to include the date an item was accessed if there is potential for change to or removal of the item, such as websites or social media posts. This is also important to include if there is no date of publication. Including the date of access will help the reader further understand which version of the item you are using.
For example, Tom may want to include the date of access for his TV show since Netflix frequently adds and removes content:
A few more examples
For a website with no author and no publication date, start the citation with the title of the source:
For an organization as an author, place the name of the organization as the author:
For two authors, list the authors as they appear on the work. The first author is listed last name, first name and the second author is listed first name last name:
For three or more authors, list the first author last name, first name followed by et al.:
It may be helpful to use a template to gather necessary information. A downloadable template is available on the last tab in the MLA section of this website.
Citation Formatting Tips:
Works Cited Page Formatting:
MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.
Sevastopoulos, Julie. “Citing Sources.” Grammar-Quizzes, 2016, www.grammar-quizzes.com/writing_citations.html.
What is Plagiarism?
You Quote It, You Note It! is an 10 minute interactive tutorial created by the Acadia University Library that describes the act of plagiarism, and differentiates between paraphrasing and quoting. Click on the title to play the tutorial.
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.
Visit the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for more writing and MLA help.
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Contact the MCC Library if you need help finding or evaluating sources.
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Contact the Student Success Center if you need help writing, editing or formatting your paper.
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