Rationality & Agreement
Since research papers are largely based on ideas taken from many sources, when putting them together it is easy to generate incoherent, disunified writing. As your paper is beginning to take shape, revise it carefully for both coherence and unity.
When something coheres, it fits together, makes sense and flows smoothly. To create coherence in your writing, have a clear and well-defined topic in mind. As you generate or gather thoughts on your topic, use transitional words and phrases such as "also," "however," "therefore," "consequently," "this example," "those studies," "in addition," etc. You may also repeat key words, sentence structures, or create context links so that each new paragraph is clearly related to the one before it; or use your own ingenuity in consciously creating transitions to make your writing flow.
When something is unified, it means each part is necessary to complete the whole. In a unified paragraph, all sentences relate to the topic sentence by supporting it with details. In your research paper, each piece of information adds to the wholeness of your theory. When revising your paper for unity, eliminate all sentences or parts that stray from your purpose or thesis.
About Primary and Secondary Sources
Once you have selected your topic, you need to decide what kinds of resources you will need to find suitable information. For example, when writing a critical essay on a short story or a scientific theory, you will need the story itself, or the scientific theory (both primary sources), from which you will cite and give examples. You will also need secondary sources that review and criticize the short story or scientific theory.
Primary sources are "original materials, which have not been filtered through interpretation ... or evaluation by a second party" (Katz 18). They are firsthand writings such as people's letters, case studies, journals, poems or novels, speeches, government documents, news reports, patents or dissertations. Notes on your own experiments, observations, fieldnotes, interviews, surveys, and your own observations of art, architecture, literature, performances or programs are also primary sources.
Secondary sources give information about primary sources. They interpret, summarize, modify, select or rearrange the primary content for a purpose or an audience. They are reviews, discussions, annotated bibliographies, critical studies or analyses of works or artistic events (Raimes 52). Typical secondary sources in sciences are review articles, "critical evaluations of material that has already been published" (American Psychological Association 5). Sometimes primary and secondary sources are combined. A journal article may contain original thinking on a discovery or experiment, but it may also include secondary materials that help to support its validity (Katz 18). As a researcher, you need to see the difference between them.
About Documentation Styles
Most college writing draws on previous research and printed materials, although some of your assignments in various courses may be based on personal experiences, impressions, and responses. Advanced writing projects will require you to gather, evaluate and use the work of others. To document or give credit for ideas taken from someone else's research, you must use a style of documentation appropriate for your course.
There are many documentation styles in the English-speaking world. Some are general such as the Macmillan Company of Canada: Editorial Style Manual, by Beverly Beetham, or the Style Manual for Writing and Typing of Scholarly Works and Research Papers, by York Press (Howell 2, 21). Others are subject-specific such as Report Writing for Business, by Raymond Lesikar, or for law, a Uniform System of Citation, also called Harvard Blue Book, by Harvard Law Review Association. For journalism, there is the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and Libel Manual, edited by Norm Goldstein (Howell 72, 90, 105). There are many more documentation styles used in various professions.
There is also a variety of styles used in schools and colleges. Because academic disciplines differ in the kinds of research and the types of sources used, professional associations have developed documentation styles appropriate for their fields. The Modern Language Association developed the MLA Style, the American Psychological Association the APA Style. The Council of Biology Editors developed the CBE Style and recommends it for all scientific disciplines.
Your instructor may require you to use one particular style or may allow you to use any one you like. Whatever style of documentation you use, make sure you fully understand its format; then be consistent in its application.