ESL: Research Papers

From the ESL Student Handbook, by Young Min, PhD

The very notions of research and a research paper vary from culture to culture. In some cultures, students may not be encouraged to use sources outside of class for their research paper. However, students here are encouraged (or required) to use sources outside of class. You will quickly find that the research paper in many of your courses that require an active inquiry into cultures, literacies, and languages is a portfolio project, which requires you to represent, collect, and reflect on the process as well as on the product of your work. The concepts of academic source and non-academic source can be also quite different from culture to culture. You will learn that everyday objects such as a lunch menu and everyday conversations you have with your family and friends can be very powerful sources for your research projects.

Types of Sources

As you incorporate a variety of data sources into your research paper, it is important for you to learn the differences between a primary data source and a secondary data source. Basically, a primary data source refers to a source that provides first-hand evidence. Usually, the primary data source was made by the actual person(s) who created or experienced the event. A secondary data source means a source that was written “about” or analyzed “about” the primary source. Basically, the secondary data analyzes and/or synthesizes primary data sources. Thus, it may contain the primary data sources within the source itself. 

For example, if you are using a lunch menu for your paper, the menu is a primary data source. If you use a restaurant review that examines the lunch menu of the particular restaurant for your paper, the restaurant review is a secondary data source. The same idea goes for the First Amendment. If you use the First Amendment as your data source for your paper, the Amendment is a primary data source. If you use an article that discusses certain aspects of the Amendment and its implications on our lives, the article becomes a secondary data source for your paper. Another good example is a newspaper. If you use a particular newspaper article that reports a certain event, the article is a primary data source. If you use the editorial of the newspaper that analyzes or discusses a certain aspect of the event, the editorial becomes a secondary data source for your project.

Writing Across Cultures    

When you visit your home country, bring back some artifacts that capture key aspects of your culture or any artifacts that have some symbolic meanings in your culture. You can create a global moment both in your local classroom and on our campus by introducing your own cultures and customs. Your instructors will appreciate your bringing the significant objects and introducing your cultures to the class. Those cultural mementos can be also invaluable primary data sources for research projects in many courses that require an active inquiry into cultures, literacies, and languages. Also, each quarter, a variety of cultural events are arranged by the Office of Student Life and other student organizations on campus. You can use those artifacts to participate in the cultural events that take place on our campus (e.g. the Intercultural Night).

Quantitative Data Analysis

If your research paper involves quantitative questions and statistical data (e.g. numbers, figures, diagrams, tables, etc.) and you are required to write up the process of your mathematical reasoning and analysis in your paper, you should visit the Quantitative Skills Center (QSC). Quantifying your data can be an effective way to qualify your claim and argument (See the section “Hedging” for further information).  The QSC tutors are trained to work with students on any assignments that involve quantitative reasoning and mathematical concepts. Their tutoring is on a drop-in basis (you don’t need to make an appointment). You can find further information about their services on the QSC website.

Created by Young-Kyung Min, PhD


For More Information on this Handbook

 Contact Young Min, PhD
Lecturer, Education Program