Research Paper

Major Paper #4–Explaining a Concept Research Paper

In the Explaining a Concept Paper, you will simply want to explain a concept of your choice, using research to support your explanations/definitions.  This paper should be at least 4-6 pages long, it should include at least two sources, and it should accomplish the following:

*Inform your particular audience about a specific subject.

*Present information confidently and efficiently.

*Use established information for support, as well as personal “evidence” (if applicable) such as short anecdotes and examples from your own experience, or the experience of others.

*Maintain an informative tone (not an argumentative tone, as this is not an argumentative or persuasive paper).


IMPORTANT NOTE: Papers on the following topics will not be accepted: 

* abortion
* capital punishment
* euthanasia

These topics are far too controversial for the Explaining a Concept Research Paper, which should be informative (not persuasive) in its purpose.  Also, I’ve already read more papers on these topics than anyone should in an entire lifetime, so I won’t read anymore. I encourage you to be more creative in selecting your topic. 

There are several different ways that one can explain a concept.  While you do not have to use all five of these strategies (some may be more helpful to your paper than others, depending on your topic), the following options may be useful for you to consider:

1.)  Defining Directly:  This is the most obvious strategy—using a direct, dictionary-type definition to explain what something is or does.  For instance, in the “Love” essay, Toufexis defines terms such as “attraction junkies” and “endorphins” directly (see paragraphs 12 and 13).  In the “Cannibalism” essay, Ngo defines cannibalism directly (see paragraph 5).  For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 16.

2.)  Classification:  Another way to explain something is to break information into groups, and discuss each of the groups one by one.  This is called classification.  In the “Love” essay, Toufexis divides hormonal chemicals into two groups:  those associated with falling in love and those associated with lasting relationships (see paragraphs 9 through 14).  In the “Cannibalism” essay, Ngo divides cannibalism into three different types—survival cannibalism, dietary cannibalism, and religious or ritual cannibalism.  He then devotes several paragraphs to each of these types (see paragraphs 6-14).  For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 17.

3.)  Process Narration:  Particularly if your topic is of the how-to variety, this strategy will come in very handy.  Even if your topic is not how-to, a clear explanation of how something is done may be helpful.  In the “Love” essay, Toufexis uses process narration to explain how romantic love may have been part of the evolutionary process (see paragraphs 3 through 6).  In the “Cannibalism” essay, Ngo uses process narration in several ways:  by offering us stories about specific cases of cannibalism (see paragraphs 1 through 4), and by narrating the process of particular cannibalistic rituals (see paragraphs 11-13).  For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 14.

4.)  Comparison and Contrast:  Another way to explain something is to discuss the ways in which it is similar to and different from a concept that your audience is already familiar with.  Throughout the “Love” essay, Toufexis compares and contrasts our traditional assumptions about love with the scientific view of love.  In the “Cannibalism” essay, Ngo compares and contrasts traditional western notions about cannibalism with the facts about cannibalism (for instance, the fact that it still exists).  Ngo also uses comparison/contrast as a method of transition for one type of cannibalism to the next.  For example, “Unlike survival cannibalism, in which human flesh is eaten as a last resort after a person has died, in dietary cannibalism, humans are purchased or trapped for food and then eaten as a part of the culture’s traditions.”  (See the first sentences of paragraphs 8 and 11.)  For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 18.

5.)  Cause and Effect.  A final strategy to consider is cause and effect.  What are the causes of your concept?  What are the effects of your concept?  Again, this tool may be more useful for some topics than others, but it is an option you should consider.  In the “Love” essay, Toufexis explains what may have caused romantic love to develop in human evolution, as well as the benefits—or effects—of this development.  In the “Cannibalism” essay, Ngo discusses the causes of the different types of cannibalism (for instance, the cause of survival cannibalism is starvation with no other option but to eat human flesh).

How do you organize your information for this paper?  What kind of structure works best?


In general, this paper should follow the basic research paper format:  Introduction, Body, Conclusion.  However, here’s a more specific outline:

1.)  List your audience at the top of your paper, before your title.  Who are your intended readers?  You can name a specific group of people (for instance, “New parents”) or you can name a publication that you think your paper would be appropriate for (for instance, Time Magazine or Outdoor Life).

2.)  Introduction.  This is the place where you need to engage the reader.  In journalism, this is referred to as the “hook.”  How can you hook your readers?  How can you grab their interests so that they want to keep reading?

There are several ways to hook the reader.  You can start with a question, you can alter your tone (see the first paragraph of “Love”), you can use a quote (also see the beginning of “Love”), or you can tell a story (see the beginning of “Cannibalism.”)  Your introduction and hook may take only one paragraph, or it may take several, as the example essays demonstrated.

3.)  State your thesis.  This is the place where you come right out and tell the reader what you are going to be offering them.  (See paragraph 2 in “Love” and paragraph 5 in “Cannibalism.”)

4.)  Orient your readers to your concept.  In other words, describe or define your concepts, so that your readers can understand what you’re talking about specifically.

5.)  Provide information about your concept.  Use strategies such as comparison/contrast, process narration, etc., and use examples as appropriate.  (See the body portions of the example essays “Love” and “Cannibalism.”)

6.)  Conclusion.  This is where you want to wrap things up for the reader.  You may even make some reference back to the beginning of the paper, or restate your points.  (See the last paragraphs of “Love” and Cannibalism.”

MLA Documentation

MLA Documentation is simply a standardized method of citing your sources.  In general, when you use source material, you’ll want to do several things.

Within the text of your paper . . .

1.)  When you are using a source for the first time, introduce your source so that we can understand his or her credibility.  According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (Smith 2).

See the “Love” essay for excellent examples of this, at the bottom of paragraph 2, at the bottom of paragraph 5, and in paragraphs 10, 12, 14.)

2.)  When you quote the same source later in the paper (after he/she has been introduced), use a standard attribute tag.  Smith went on to say that “DOS is especially difficult for many beginning users” (Smith 3).

3.)  In addition to these informal methods of citation, you will need to use parenthetical citations whenever you are quoting a source directly and whenever you are using a source’s ideas, even if you are putting them in your own words.  Smith explained that there are three keys to good programming:  be patient, be practical, be persistent (Smith 2).

Additional Notes/Questions about In-Text Citations

*But what if the author of the article is not the person that I am quoting?  What if I’m quoting someone who the author quoted in her article?

If the person you are quoting is not the author, just do the same as in number 1 above, but when you get to the parenthetical citation use the author’s name instead of the name of the person you are quoting.  For instance, if Lou Brown had written the article above, and merely quoted Joe Smith, you would do this: According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (Brown 2).

*But what if the article has no author?

If the article has no author, just do the same as above, but use a keyword from the article title in the parenthetical citation.  For instance, if the article we quoted above had no author, but we knew the title was “Programming for Beginners,” we would cite it like this: According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (“Beginners” 2).

At the end of your paper . . .

At the end of your paper, you’ll need to include a Works Cited page, which will offer an extended reference for each of the sources you used in your paper.  Use the MLA guide in Chapter 24 (Chapter 22 for the 8th or 7th editions) to determine how to cite each of your individual sources.  Then refer to pages 787-794 in the 9th edition to see an example of an MLA formatted research paper and how the Works Cited page should be formatted. (This example is on pages 772-779 in the 8th edition or pages 782-790 in the 7th edition.) 

For more information on MLA documentation on the web, go to:
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