Major Paper #4–Explaining a Concept Research Paper
In the Explaining a Concept Paper, you will simply want to explain a concept of your choice, using research to support your explanations/definitions. This paper should be at least 4-6 pages long, it should include at least two sources, and it should accomplish the following:
*Inform your particular audience about a specific subject.
*Present information confidently and efficiently.
*Use established information for support, as well as personal “evidence” (if applicable) such as short anecdotes and examples from your own experience, or the experience of others.
*Maintain an informative tone (not an argumentative tone, as this is not an argumentative or persuasive paper).
IMPORTANT NOTE: Papers on the following topics will not be accepted:
* capital punishment
These topics are far too controversial for the Explaining a Concept Research Paper, which should be informative (not persuasive) in its purpose. Also, I’ve already read more papers on these topics than anyone should in an entire lifetime, so I won’t read anymore. I encourage you to be more creative in selecting your topic.
Lecture Notes and Instructions
NOTE: Please read at least pages 116-122 in the 10th edition textbook (or pages 126-131 in the 9th edition textbook) before continuing with this lecture.**
Your book offers a variety of topic suggestions for the Explaining a Concept paper. You’ve probably noticed at all of the topics in the book seem relatively abstract or intangible.
All of these topics work well for these paper, so feel free to consider any of the suggestions in the book. However, I would also like to offer you an alternative.
Your topics for this paper, in my class, can also be concrete. Explain the concept of an “MP3 player,” or “digital technology,” or “ballistic defense.” How-to topics also often work well, such as how to skin a deer, how to weld, how to adopt the hobby of paint-by-number, how to burn DVDs, how to install Windows 10. Hobbies, or things that you do/are interested in doing, can work very well for this paper.
Other more concrete topics can also work, such as “mothering” or “fathering,” “manic depression,” and “Parkinson’s disease.” And jobs can work too. In the past, I have had some students who explained concepts such as being a Security Communications officer or being a real-estate agent.
In short, your options are broader than the suggestions in the book might seem. Topics for this paper may be very broad or very concrete—the choice is entirely yours.
Pages 150-151 in your 10th edition textbook (160-163 in the 9th edition) are designed to help you choose your concept, brainstorm initial strategies, and find the sources that you need. “Sources” for this paper can include dictionaries, encyclopedias, internet articles, magazine or newspaper articles, books, etc.
Please consider the materials on these pages, especially if you’re stuck and can’t think of anything to write about or are unsure about what source material you’ll need.
NOTE: Please re-read “Love: The Right Chemistry,” a sample essay located on pages 128-131 of your 10th edition textbook (pages 136-140 of the 9th edition**) before continuing with this section. It would be helpful to keep your book with you for reference as you read this lecture.
There are several different ways that one can explain a concept. While you do not have to use all five of these strategies (some may be more helpful to your paper than others, depending on your topic), the following options may be useful for you to consider:
1.) Defining Directly: This is the most obvious strategy—using a direct, dictionary-type definition to explain what something is or does. For instance, in the “Love” essay, Toufexis defines terms such as “attraction junkies” and “endorphins” directly (see paragraphs 12 and 13). For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 16.
2.) Classification: Another way to explain something is to break information into groups, and discuss each of the groups one by one. This is called classification. In the “Love” essay, Toufexis divides hormonal chemicals into two groups: those associated with falling in love and those associated with lasting relationships (see paragraphs 9 through 14). For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 17.
3.) Process Narration: Particularly if your topic is of the how-to variety, this strategy will come in very handy. Even if your topic is not how-to, a clear explanation of how something is done may be helpful. In the “Love” essay, Toufexis uses process narration to explain how romantic love may have been part of the evolutionary process (see paragraphs 3 through 6). For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 14.
4.) Comparison and Contrast: Another way to explain something is to discuss the ways in which it is similar to and different from a concept that your audience is already familiar with. Throughout the “Love” essay, Toufexis compares and contrasts our traditional assumptions about love with the scientific view of love. For more on this concept, refer to Chapter 18.
5.) Cause and Effect. A final strategy to consider is cause and effect. What are the causes of your concept? What are the effects of your concept? Again, this tool may be more useful for some topics than others, but it is an option you should consider. In the “Love” essay, Toufexis explains what may have caused romantic love to develop in human evolution, as well as the benefits—or effects—of this development.
As you continue working on your draft and reviewing the pages in the “Guide to Writing” section of Chapter 4, please keep these options and examples in mind, as they may help you determine which strategies will work best in explaining your concept.
** Note for those with older textbooks: You can find “Love: The Right Chemistry” on pages 141-144 in your 8th edition textbook or pages 205-208 in your 7th edition textbook.
NOTE: Please keep your book handy, so that you can refer back to the sample essay “Love: The Right Chemistry” and the sample essay “Educating Kids at Home.”
Now it’s time to do the heavy lifting: drafting. But how do you organize your information for this paper? What kind of structure works best?
In general, this paper should follow the basic research paper format: Introduction, Body, Conclusion. However, here’s a more specific outline:
1.) List your audience at the top of your paper, before your title. Who are your intended readers? You can name a specific group of people (for instance, “New parents”) or you can name a publication that you think your paper would be appropriate for (for instance, Time Magazine or Outdoor Life).
2.) Introduction. This is the place where you need to engage the reader. In journalism, this is referred to as the “hook.” How can you hook your readers? How can you grab their interests so that they want to keep reading?
There are several ways to hook the reader. You can start with a question, you can alter your tone (see the first paragraph of “Love”), you can use a quote (also see the beginning of “Love”), or you can tell a story. Your introduction and hook may take only one paragraph, or it may take several, as the example essays demonstrated.
3.) State your thesis. This is the place where you come right out and tell the reader what you are going to be offering them. (See paragraph 2 in “Love.”)
4.) Orient your readers to your concept. In other words, describe or define your concepts, so that your readers can understand what you’re talking about specifically.
5.) Provide information about your concept. Use strategies such as comparison/contrast, process narration, etc., and use examples as appropriate. (See the body portions of the example essay “Love.”)
6.) Conclusion. This is where you want to wrap things up for the reader. You may even make some reference back to the beginning of the paper, or restate your points. (See the last paragraphs of “Love.”)
MLA Documentation: A Simplified Approach
MLA Documentation is simply a standardized method of citing your sources. In general, when you use source material, you’ll want to do several things.
Within the text of your paper . . .
1.) When you are using a source for the first time, introduce your source so that we can understand his or her credibility. According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (Smith 2).
2.) When you quote the same source later in the paper (after he/she has been introduced), use a standard attribute tag. Smith went on to say that “DOS is especially difficult for many beginning users” (Smith 3).
3.) In addition to these informal methods of citation, you will need to use parenthetical citations whenever you are quoting a source directly and whenever you are using a source’s ideas, even if you are putting them in your own words. Smith explained that there are three keys to good programming: be patient, be practical, be persistent (Smith 2).
Additional Notes/Questions about In-Text Citations
*But what if the author of the article is not the person that I am quoting? What if I’m quoting someone who the author quoted in her article?
If the person you are quoting is not the author, just do the same as in number 1 above, but when you get to the parenthetical citation use the author’s name instead of the name of the person you are quoting. For instance, if Lou Brown had written the article above, and merely quoted Joe Smith, you would do this: According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (Brown 2).
*But what if the article has no author?
If the article has no author, just do the same as above, but use a keyword from the article title in the parenthetical citation. For instance, if the article we quoted above had no author, but we knew the title was “Programming for Beginners,” we would cite it like this: According to Joe Smith, a computer programmer at VacuTech, “Programming is difficult” (“Beginners” 2).
At the end of your paper . . .
At the end of your paper, you’ll need to include a Works Cited page, which will offer an extended reference for each of the sources you used in your paper. Use the MLA guide in the assigned reading for this week to determine how to cite each of your individual sources.
PLEASE NOTE: Though the sample essay “Love: The Right Chemistry” offers a great deal in terms of teaching us about strategy and structure, it does not include formal intext MLA citations or a final Works Cited page. These are requirements for most academic research papers, including the Explaining a Concept Research Paper for this class. For a good example of a paper that uses the MLA System of Documentation correctly, please be sure to carefully review the sample student essay in your textbook entitled “Educating Kids at Home,” which is part of our assigned reading for this week. This sample essay also includes very helpful annotated notes, identifying and explaining the ways the author has incorporated her citations.
For more information on MLA documentation on the web, go to: