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Strategies for investigating essay writing

The collecting strategies (brainstorming, looping, mapping, sketching, taking double-entry notes) may be useful as you collect ideas. Other strategies particularly useful for investigating are suggested below. Try each of these collecting strategies for your subject.

Asking Questions Asking the right questions is crucial to investigative writing. Sets of questions (often called heuristics) will help you narrow and focus your subject and tailor your approach to the expectations or needs of your audience. You don’t know what information you need to collect until you know what questions your investigation needs to answer.

1. The “reporter’s” or the familiar “Why” questions are one basic heuristic:

Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Asking these questions of a topic ensures that you’re not leaving out any crucial information. If, for example, you are investigating recreational opportunities in your city or on campus, you might ask the following questions to focus your investigation (remember to ask the negative version of each question, too):

* Whom is the recreation for?

* Who runs the programs?

* Who is excluded from the programs?

* Who pays for the programs?

* What is the program?

* What sports are included in the program?

* What sports are not included?

* What is the budget for these programs?

* When axe these opportunities available or not available?

* Where do the activities take place?

* Where are they restricted?

* Why are these programs offered?

* Why are certain activities not offered?

* Why have activities been changed?

These questions might lead you to focus your investigation on the scheduling, on why soccer has been excluded, or on why participants are charged a fee for one class or program but not for another.

2. The classical “topics” provide a second set of questions for an investigation.

Definition: What is it?

Comparison: What is it like or unlike?

Relationship: What caused it? What are its consequences?

Testimony: What has been said or written about it?

These questions can be used in conjunction with the reporter’s questions to focus an investigation. Applied to the topic on recreational opportunities, the questions might be as follows:

Definition: What activities exist?

How can the activities be described, classified, or analyzed?

Comparison: What are similarities or differences with other programs?

Relationship: What caused these programs to be offered?

What causes people to use or avoid these activities?

What are the consequences of these programs? Testimony: What do students think about these activities? What do administrators think? What have other schools done? What does research show?

What proverbs or common sayings apply here?

These two sets of questions will expand your information, helping you collect facts, data, examples, and ideas—probably more than you can use in a short essay. Once you have all of this information, you can then narrow your topic.

Using the Library Knowing how to use a library is crucial for most investigations. For this essay you will not need to do exhaustive research on your topic, but you may need some background information, statistics, or information about current research, public opinion trends, or recent discoveries. Chapter 10, “Writing a Research Paper,” will answer your research questions in more depth, but you can get information quickly in a library by using a few key sources.

¦ Ask librarians for assistance. Every library has librarians stationed at information desks, checkout counters, or reference desks whose job is to answer your questions. Be sure to ask for their advice when you need it. Since frustration is the number-one enemy of research projects, ask for assistance early in your investigation. The best procedure is simply to explain your project—what you intend to do and have done so far— and ask for advice or help. There are no stupid questions in a library.

¦ Acquaint yourself with the basic sources of information in the library. Most libraries offer group tours that familiarize their users with the location of the following:

The card catalogue or online catalogue

Basic references such as encyclopedias, almanacs, and diction­aries

Biographical reference sources: Current Biography Dictionary of American Biography

Notable American Women Who’s Who in America

Frequently used magazine or periodical indexes: The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature Applied Science and Technology Index Social Sciences and Humanities Index The New York Times Index

Computer access systems:

Many of these, such as searches of the ERIC system, DIALOG, and others, are relatively expensive and are intended for major research projects. Sometimes, however, libraries provide free computer searches of newspapers and magazines. One popular system, INFOTRAK, will search articles under key headings and print out a list of relevant articles.

Using Written Sources

•  Make photocopies of relevant articles. The small amount of money you spend on copies will enable you to reread articles if necessary, quote or paraphrase from them accurately, and cite them accurately as references. (The money you spend is also excellent antifrustration insurance, in case you return to the library stacks and discover that someone else has checked out your magazine or book.) On your photocopies, be sure to write source information: magazine or book title, author, publisher, date and place of publication, volume, and page numbers. For this investigative report, remember that you must turn in photocopies of any pages of articles or books you refer to or cite.

•  Make notes and summaries from your photocopied sources. As you collect information from photocopied sources, jot down key facts, ideas, and direct quotations from the source. For every note you take, record the author, title, publishing information, and page numbers of your source. You may paraphrase another writer’s ideas, examples, sentences, or short passages by writing them in your own words. Use direct quotation when words or phrases in a source are more striking than your paraphrase might be. You may edit a direct quotation by (1) deleting any irrelevant or unnecessary words or phrases by using ellipsis points (three spaced periods . . .) to indicate the deleted words and by (2) inserting your own words in square brackets [ ] if you need to clarify a quoted passage. Otherwise, the words within the quotation marks must accurately reproduce the original: No altered spellings, changed words, or rephrasings are allowed.

•  Avoid plagiarism. Use quotation marks whenever you quote more than a word or two from your source. Paraphrase in your own words rather than stringing together phrases and sentences writ ten by someone else. Give credit for ideas, facts, and language by citing your sources. In informal investigative writing, you may simply mention the author and title of written sources, citing page numbers of direct quotations in parentheses. (All formal research papers and some investigative essays cite sources in full in a “Works Cited” section at the end.

Summarizing A summary is a concise explanation of the main and supporting ideas in a passage, report, essay, book, or speech. It is usually written in the present tense. It identifies the author and title of the source; it may refer to the context or the actual place where the study took place; it contains the passage’s main ideas; and it may quote directly a few forceful or concise sentences or phrases. It will not usually cite the author’s examples. A paraphrase usually expresses all the information in the passage—including examples—in your own words. Summary, paraphrase, and direct quotation often occur together as you use sources.

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