Say you want to write a paper on the causes of Communisms demise in eastern Europe. Or say you want to write about how conceptions of national identity have changed in Britain since the 1980s.
You would begin by reading some general secondary sources on the collapse of Communism, from which you might surmise that two factors were predominant: economic problems of Communist central planning and Mikhail Gorbachevs reforms in the Soviet Union. In this case, you might examine the speeches of British political leaders, editorials in major British newspapers, and voting support for the Scottish National Party or other regional parties.
How do different electoral systems affect the behavior of political parties?
The point is that you should attempt to identify either: Professional social scientistshistorians, political scientists, sociologists, international affairs expertswork on both these kinds of questions.
Primary sources in this case might include economic statistics, memoirs of politicians from the period or reportage in east European newspapers (available in English or other languages). You might also arrange an interview with an expert in the field: a noted scholar, a British government representative, a prominent journalist.
The point about primary sources is that they take you as close as possible to where the action isthe real, on-the-ground, rubber-meets-the-road facts from which you will construct your interpretive argument.Follow up the suggested reading on the course syllabus or the footnotes or bibliographies of the texts you are reading for the course.After that, speak with the professor about some of your general ideas and the possible research directions you are thinking about pursuing. From the outset, keep in mind one important point: Writing a research paper is in part about learning how to teach yourself.The process forces you to ask good questions, find the sources to answer them, present your answers to an audience, and defend your answers against detractors.Most university courses involve some sort of extended writing assignment, usually in the form of a research paper. Long after you leave college, you will continue learning about the world and its vast complexities.Papers normally require that a student identify a broad area of research related to the course, focus the topic through some general background reading, identify a clear research question, marshal primary and secondary resources to answer the question, and present the argument in a clear and creative manner, with proper citations. There is no better way to hone the skills of life-long learning than by writing individual research papers.In the best published social science writing you will be able to identify a clear how or why question at the heart of the research.How and why questions are essential because they require the author to make an argument.If nothing else, begin with the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a wonderful but sadly neglected resource.Read a few books or articles on topics you find of interest.