Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
Whether an analytical work is extremely specific or sweepingly broad, it will tend to constitute an interpretation of evidence leading to a conclusion: an argument. You are already familiar with this concept, as you have been working with it throughout the course. It is important to remember, as you work with sources, that their authors are writing arguments, not reporting inarguable fact. It is equally important to remember that these arguments belong to their authors. You may draw on them, but you must avoid adopting them in place of an argument of your own.
Research will help you explore various aspects of your thesis. What it will not do is provide you with an argument. When you draw on a source, you are doing so because it allows you some insight into your own unique argument; you are not adopting someone else’s argument and “proving” it via your own data. Imagine Author G has come up with an argument about why social media is not an effective tool in protest movements. If we read this argument and decide that now our argument is also, “Social media is not an effective tool in protest movements,” and we demonstrate it by presenting data that backs it up, all we are doing is adding to Author G’s body of evidence and thus arguing his point for him.
Engaging with research requires us to analyze research material just as we do our primary document. Author G has put together an interesting argument, but he’s used specific evidence and interpreted it in a specific way. Why has he chosen this approach? What assumptions lie behind his argument? Is that argument as simple as it seems on the surface? The close-reading skills you learned in the first half of this course are relevant here, as close reading your secondary sources will help you discover how they will be useful to you.
Once we do understand Author G’s approach, we incorporate his work into our paper by treating it as what it is: an argument. If we quote or paraphrase Author G, we don’t simply leave the cited material sitting in the middle of our paragraph and move on without comment. We use it. We comment on how one of Author G’s ideas applies to our evidence. We remark on the discrepancies between his approach and ours. We can take one of his ideas further or in a different direction. We could disagree with one of his points, then explain how this disagreement strengthens our argument.
Secondary evidence is still evidence; its meaning and its significance to your argument remains unclear until you interpret it.