Saturday, September 5, 2009

Evaluating a Research Paper

There are tons of research papers being made, written and published but only a selected few are truly captivating and worthy of praise. So how do we know whether a particular research paper is well- or poorly-written? I did my research and I was given several, and some even varying, results. Clearly, there are different criteria used to evaluate a research paper so I will make my answer so that it will be a summary and synthesis of everything I have read.

The things to look for in a research paper in order to deem it good or bad, according to my readings, are the following:

1. Choice of Topic
2. Statement of goals and objectives
3. Documentation and reliability and integration of literature
4. Methods, strategies, approaches used must be appropriate
5. Content and Organization
6. Style of writing
7. Conventions and Format of Paper
8. Presentation

To further explain, let us take each one separately. Let us begin with the choice of topic. If you are given a theme for your research, then it is important that your topic adheres to this theme. The theme “Green Computing” in our CS Research Methods this semester is a concrete example of this. Since we were given a theme, we are encouraged to develop topics around this theme. As one of the criteria for evaluation, your research topic must, at first glance, be interesting and not too broad or not too narrow. It has to be broad enough to include what must be included and narrow enough to exclude what must be excluded.

Another criterion for evaluation is the statement of goals or objectives. A research paper is considered good is the objectives are clearly stated and adheres to the topic. Also, from what we learned in class, objectives must follow the S.M.A.R.T. (sometimes S.M.A.R.T.E.R.) principle – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bounded. There are several variations of the meaning of S.M.A.R.T. but they do not necessarily differ too much from each other. The objectives must clearly define the milestones of the paper. As a convention, there is a general objective and, usually recommended, a maximum of five specific objectives.

During evaluation, one must also look at the documentation or the resources of the paper. This, I think, in particular pertains, but is not limited, to the Review of Related Literature. The resources of the paper are very important because they will prove the validity of your paper. Thus, your sources need to be reliable, as well. Your points must be supported by several sources, not just one. The paper must also demonstrate a synthesis as you combine your ideas with your documented sources and as you combine the ideas from varied sources. According to one of my readings, the integration of the sources must be “graceful”. All sources and references must be cited using a proper citation format.

One must also look at the methods, strategies and approaches used in the research. In my understanding, this refers to the paper’s methodology. You have to consider if the methodology employed in the paper was appropriate for the type of research. Speaking from my experience way back in high school when we had a final defense, the methodology, in my opinion, was the most difficult part to defend. The panel asked us why we chose the approach we did, why not other approaches, and other questions along those lines. Our defense went smoothly before that part came up but when it did, we started stuttering a little. Going back to the main point, when evaluating the methods, strategies and approaches used in a research, you must have a list of sources or references that will support your choice of approach. This is still tied to the literature of your study.

Next, in a more general evaluation of a research paper, is the content and organization. The paper, overall, must be motivated and the ideas must be sound. The facts, examples, definitions, and terminologies must all be appropriate. The depth of the topic coverage is also an important factor in evaluating a paper. Finally, and probably the most difficult thing for students like us to stay away from, is plagiarism. A good research paper is not plagiarized. When you mention the works from other authors, be sure to give them proper credit and cite them in the references. It is important that we eliminate this plagiarism habit of ours because it might destroy us in the future. Try to minimize using the “copy-paste” technology. Good organization is also a plus factor in research paper evaluation. You know that a paper is well-organized if it showcases the central idea and has a clear focus on the paper’s purpose, content, and order. Even if a research paper is a formal piece of work, just like normal books or novels, the paper’s pacing must be well-controlled.

The style of writing refers to three primary factors: voice, choice of words, and sentence fluency. This is closely related to the organization of the paper. In particular, the voice of the paper refers to how the writer speaks to the reader. In other words, the paper must be engaging to the reader. In fact, choosing a good “voice” in writing the paper will prevent your readers from becoming bored with what you have written. I do not mean to say that the paper should be all “light and fluffy”, rather, the voice must be research appropriate. The choice of words is also an important thing to look at. The words should convey what must be conveyed in a clear, precise, yet interesting way. A good research paper use specific and accurate words. Some evaluators also look at the sentence fluency. Sentences should have an easy flow, rhythm and cadence.

Since research papers are formal papers, an important factor to be evaluated is the convention or standard employed in the paper. In my understanding, this refers to the very fundamentals of writing, such as proper capitalization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage. I know that not all of us are well-versed in the English language so I think it is best to have a dictionary or thesaurus while writing your research paper and have a grammarian check your work for you. Not all errors may be corrected, but they should be minimized, at the very least, to the point where they are almost unnoticeable. A well-written paper is not made overnight in a single go. It will take a lot of rewrites to get it to become satisfactory and ready to be presented to the evaluators. A research paper also follows a standards format of the contents. Usually that is, the first chapter is the Introduction or the Background of the study; the second chapter is the Review of Related Literature and framework; the third chapter is the methodology; the fourth chapter is the Results and Discussion; and the fifth chapter is the Conclusion and Recommendations. However, I have also seen various papers that do not follow the standard format but are still good.

The last, but not least, on my list of things to be evaluated in a research paper is the presentation. A research paper may be written flawlessly but it would still be useless if it is presented in a crappy way. In presenting your research paper, you have to take into consideration the audience you are presenting it to and match their level. You have to think about the style of your presentation is appropriate for what you are presenting. A very important aspect to consider is the approach you use to attract the audience. Do not expect that everyone in your audience is interested in the topic you are presenting. If this is case, which usually is, then you have to make sure that your presentation will get their attention even if your topic is of no particular interest to them. I have also noticed that some people tend to deliver their presentations either too fast or too slow. Just like how the pacing of your paper is important, the pacing of your presentation is also a key factor to making a good paper. You should try to control the speed of your presentation so that the audience will not be left behind by your swiftness or bored to tears by your slowness. The latter is usually the case, based on my experience. Finally, your appearance will also be evaluated during presentation. It is recommended to wear semi-formal or business attire when presenting your research paper. Keep in mind the saying, “Dress to impress”. You have to dress in a way that people will take you and your research seriously. I have observed that dressing properly gives you an aura of experience and professionalism.

Those are the major factors to consider in a research paper evaluation. Let me emphasize that before producing a good research paper, you will have to spend time, money, and effort rewriting the whole paper several times.

Evaluating a research paper is not an easy task, too. You have to be objective when evaluating, or else it will become unjust and biased. However, to make things easier, a rubric may be devised. This way, the points to be evaluated are clearly laid out and organized. So for our research paper this time, let us use the criteria given above to perform an initial evaluation of our work so that we can improve it before presenting it to other people.

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