What are the differences between my "regular" writing and writing a research paper? Why do I have to learn to write like this?
Before selecting your undergraduate or graduate major, your education was a broad one, encompassing many disciplines and a variety of subject matters. Now that you have narrowed your choice to a Speech Communication major (either undergraduate or graduate), you will begin to engage in both oral and written conversations ongoing among scholars in this field; those conversations focus on particular topics in this discipline, and they are conducted in specialized forms and with specialized language. For example, you may be familiar with the terms, "uncertainty" and "reduction," but when these terms are used together--uncertainty reduction-- in regard to interpersonal communication theory, they refer to very specific ideas outlined by certain scholars. Likewise, you may use the word, "argument," in your daily conversation, but scholars have particular definitions of the word, very specific definitions created by various theorists. You will begin to learn this specialized language, and you also will learn the specialized writing forms as well.
A single language does not encompass the whole discipline. Speech Communication is itself divided into particular areas. In this department, you will experience two areas: interpersonal and intercultural comprises one area and rhetoric and social movements comprises the other. Even within these areas, smaller groups of scholars hold conversations among themselves; for example, such academic conversations occur among organizational scholars, rhetorical critics, intercultural researchers, and rhetorical historians to name only a few.
As you progress in your major, you will become more and more familiar with the language used in the various areas. As you do, you also will become more familiar with the forms used by scholars to share their ideas with others. Usually scholars share their ideas by publishing them in professional journals and academic books. Each discipline has its own journals; a list of communication journals is available in this document. Communication scholars also write for journals in other fields.
In these journals you can read scholars' ideas and responses to ideas of others. This exchange of ideas constitutes the specialized conversations among scholars in the field and requires specialized forms of writing. When you write a paper for one of your classes, you are becoming a part of those ongoing conversations. In order for you to understand others and others to understand you, you will need to learn that specialized form of writing. That form is used for research papers, but it also can be used in oral presentations; spontaneous essay writing; conference presentations; and even casual, academic discussions.
That writing form is governed by specific standards. Those standards are set at three levels:
- general research writing protocols (when you are writing in this particular discipline);
- specific departmental requirements (when you are writing for presentation or submission to the Department of Speech Communication at Oregon State University);
- individual professor requirements (when you are writing for a specific professor in this department at this campus).
You need to know all three levels. When you write a thesis for an advanced degree or articles for journals, you will use the standards at the first level. When you write papers for class, however, you will need to adhere to rules at all three levels.
The first level of standards--protocols for research writing in general--covers general rules for writing any academic document. This level covers not only the discipline of Speech Communication but other disciplines as well. Several manuals have been compiled to guide writers through the rules of research writing. These manuals have been published specifically for researchers and scholars; they do not contain much information about how to research your topic, only about how to present the information you discover.
Since scholars and researchers find different kinds of information, different kinds of manuals serve different kinds of writing. The most common style manuals used in the Speech Communication discipline are the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (referred to as APA style and used more often for behavioral, scientific, or social scientific research) and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (referred to as MLA style and used more often for artistic and humanistic treatment of the subject matter). More information about each of these styles are provided here. You can also find these links for each of these style books by selecting "Other Writing Sources" in the right hand column of this web page under "Writing Guide." (Remember: if you use one of the links to the APA or MLA pages, you will leave this document. To return to this document, you will need to select the "back" option or re-enter the url for this page.) Each professional journal uses a particular style; when a scholar chooses to write an article for that journal, s/he must learn that style and present his/her work to the journal adhering to those particular rules.
The second and third levels are written at a local level. Standards at the second level--for research writing in the Oregon State University Department of Speech Communication--can be found in this document. Since individual professors may modify or even omit these department standards, you will need to refer to the course syllabus or inquire of the professor in class about his/her specific requirements (standards at the third level). Just like the scholar who must learn the writing style required by the journal to which s/he is submitting work, you must learn the style required by your department and your professor.