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Organizational Leadership

Why Make Use of Scholarly Information?

Why do we incorporate scholarly information into papers, presentations, and assignments?

  • To present known findings—those that are supported by scholarly methods—and to distinguish those findings from claims that are not supported by scholarly methods
  • To present innovative, useful, or interesting ideas, both to educate the reader and to provide a foundation for our own ideas and conclusions
  • To support our own assertions and arguments
  • To acknowledge the strengths (and weaknesses) of assertions and arguments contrary to our own
  • To provide a context for our own research, e.g., an explanation of why we chose a particular perspective, method, approach, or set of assumptions
  • To describe the present state of research on a subject, and to identify the topics or methods most in need of further investigation.

In most cases, the goal is not simply to present the results of research, but to use those results in support of our own ideas.  Of course the real goal in this setting is to demonstrate that you can write a good paper, and the best papers combine your own ideas with the ideas and findings of other scholars.  It’s a mistake to either

  • Rely too much on your own opinions and experiences
  • or to Report on previous research without presenting your own arguments and ideas.

What Your Professor is Looking For

Your ability to select appropriate information resources will be one of the factors considered in the evaluation of your work.  This includes both

  • The quality of the sources themselves (their currency, relevance, authority, scholarly quality, etc.) and
  • Whether they are appropriate to your specific needs (whether they help you explain things, strengthen your argument or approach, and provide the kinds of evidence that readers will expect to see.)

Your professors will evaluate, among other things,

  • The degree to which you have incorporated information resources when it is necessary or appropriate to do so.

A top-quality paper will cite information sources whenever they are necessary or appropriate.  For instance, there will be almost no instances in which you fail to cite evidence in support of an assertion.  This criterion isn’t just “Have you cited all your sources?”  It also accounts for whether you have recognized when “outside” information would be helpful as a way of supporting your statements or otherwise strengthening your paper.

  • The degree to which the works you’ve cited actually do strengthen your paper.

Citations included for no reason will hurt you rather than help you.  In a good paper, readers will find it easy to understand why you included (and cited) each work.  You will introduce and explain the cited information well, and use it in ways that serve your own purposes.

Guidelines for Using Scholarly Information Effectively

These suggestions may be helpful when you're writing your paper.

  • Develop a method of taking notes that works for you.  Ideally, your method will allow you to extract all the important points from each article, then combine those points in ways that support your assertions.
  • Don’t focus solely on the authors’ main conclusions.  Findings that were peripheral to their research may be central to yours.
  • Synthesize and integrate.  If three studies investigated the costs and benefits of outsourcing legal counsel in the small-college environment, don’t just say “Study 1 found this.  Study 2 found this.  Study 3 found this.”
  • Identify the commonalities and differences among the three sets of results.  Yes, you need to write about each study (especially if the methods of a particular study are problematic), but your writing should focus on the topic of the paper rather than the studies themselves.  Tell me about outsourcing—not about the third paper you read.
  • Make the structure of your paper very clear.  Ensure that each paragraph deals with a single topic, and that the topics are discussed in a logical order.  Use headings, sub-headings, and sub-sub headings (as necessary) to let readers know what they’re about to read.
  • Don’t be afraid to include tables, diagrams, and other non-textual content if it helps make your point.  If you found 10 studies about the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing legal counsel, a table may help show which of the 10 studies mentioned Advantage X or Disadvantage Y.
  • Don’t “read out” your tables in the text, however.  Present the table, then write about what it means rather than what it says.
  • Be precise in your statements.  Don’t say “a few,” “several,” or “many” if it’s possible to give a number or percentage.  In some areas of research, we already know that X has an impact on Y, but the real-life implications hinge on how much X influences Y, or the conditions under which X has a greater or lesser impact.  Don’t tell me that smoking leads to early death; tell me the number of New Yorkers who will die early (or the number of person-years lost) if the rate of smoking among teens increases by X%.
  • Don’t cite extraneous papers just because you need to cite X articles.  It will annoy your professor.  (You need to cite all the sources you refer to in your paper.  However, there’s no need to cite sources that you read or considered using but ultimately didn’t mention.)