The Research Process: Step 4

Writing the Paper

So at this point, you have your research question. You have your sources. You have them read and marked. And if you followed my earlier advice, you have a very rough essay that outlines your thoughts on your topic. So now it’s time to write the first rough draft.

(Here is a link to a very helpful overview of the entire research process from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.) I’m going to focus on some frequently-asked questions today:


How do I get started?

My most important advice at this stage is to simply let the ideas flow. You can always make changes later. But for many of us, making changes is much easier than that first stage of getting ideas on paper. So clench your teeth, take a seat, and write the draft.

What should be in my introduction?

The one thing that must be in your introduction is your thesis statement, but there are many ways to start a paper. Don’t get tied down to what I say here, but these are some common ones.

·         Start with a general statement and narrow down to your thesis.


Each day, the average teenager is bombarded with thousands of media images telling them how they should be. They should be thin. They should be fit. They should be funny. They should be cool. These images come from all sides: magazines, television, billboards, and the internet. In order to combat this onslaught, high schools should make mandatory a media literacy course so that students can critically evaluate the messages they receive on a daily basis and make better choices about what they choose to believe about themselves.


·         Start with a question.


Where do teenagers get their information about the world? Most adults would like to think from authority figures, such as teachers and parents.  Still, on any given day, it is the mass media that has the most time to influence teenagers, whether through television, magazines, or the ever-present internet. In order to combat this onslaught, high schools should make mandatory a media literacy course so that students can critically evaluate the messages they receive on a daily basis and make better choices about what they choose to believe about themselves.

·         Start with some startling statistics.

Forty percent of students spend at least twenty hours per week in front of the television or online, according to a recent study. While many news stories are concerned about the obesity rate of such students, there is another issue as well. Students are exposed to a massive amount of advertising during those hours that affect their self-concept. Therefore, high schools should include a mandatory media literacy course to provide teenagers with the tools to evaluate critically the information they see on the screen.


What sort of sources should I include?

Carefully choose source material that will back up your argument, such as:

·         Statistics.

·         Results of studies.

·         Opinions of experts in the field.

How do I work my sources in?

For the beginning essay writer, one way is the sandwich technique:

·         Start with your point. “A media literacy course would enable students to analyze ads that tell them that their physical appearance is unacceptable.”

·         Add your source material:  “A girl who has reached the age of seventeen has seen more than a quarter million advertisements.

·         Explain the importance of your source material: Even those advertisements that have nothing to do with physical appearance, such as those advertising beer and cars, send a message to teenagers. Most people in these ads are thin, attractive, outgoing, and stylishly dressed. The ulterior message is you have to look like us to be successful. It is hard for the average teen to avoid this message, but a media literacy course would at least bring these ulterior messages to the surface where they could be discussed openly.

Can I just quote my sources?

Usually put source material in your own words will make your paper sound more authentic. Quotations should be used when the writer’s words are important to the point you are making. Whether quoting or paraphrasing, never just drop the material in the middle of the paragraph. Use some sort of introductory phrase. 

·         Example:  Margaret Jones, a Victorian scholar, has noted that “women writers had to hide their vocational ambitions behind masks of necessity in their works of fiction. Therefore, female fictional characters lost parents or husbands in often violent or heartbreaking ways so that their authors could give them jobs without losing respectability with their readers” (63).

What about my conclusion?

Some experts say to summarize your thesis and your main points in your conclusion.

Another way is to predict the consequences of what might happen if your thesis is followed through or if it is not.


It is hard to imagine that the number of advertisements that teenagers are exposed to will do anything but increase. It only makes sense that media literacy be added to the high school curriculum so that future teenagers will have a fighting chance to maintain their identity against the huge advertising agency whose sole purpose is to make people dissatisfied with who they are.



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