Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
We’ll be discussing the Facebook page in the context of some larger questions about protest movements and social media, and therefore, we’ll probably need to use some specialized vocabulary: vocabulary that doesn’t count as common knowledge. We may find it helpful to define our terms.
In the age of the Internet, definitions may seem easy to come by, but we need to be careful. It’s a little too easy to do a Google search on a key term and scoop up the first definition we find. Dictionary definitions are rarely used in academic papers, simply because they are usually very general and brief. If we are using a term specialized enough that it needs a definition, a dictionary definition will be far too broad for our purposes. Like all types of research, definitions should appear in a paper for a reason, not simply to take up space.
More specific definitions can be found in scholarly works that deal in detail with the broader subject matter we are applying to our primary example. In this case, perhaps our library research has turned up a paper by Author D on the use of social media during the Arab Spring, and the paper’s author has written of something she calls “social resistance.” You realize when you read the paper that though the author is speaking of an entirely different movement using the Internet in a different way, we have been discussing the concept of “social resistance” as applied to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We would thus take our definition (properly cited) from the paper on the Arab Spring. Our definition will be much more detailed and appropriate than it would be if we went to Dictionary.com, for example, and looked up the words “social” and “resistance” in turn. If we did that, the definition cobbled together would be much vaguer. It would also not provide us with something even more interesting: the opportunity to relate our argument to the argument made by Author D.