Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper

Corroborate, Contrast, Contextualize

When you are searching for sources to help you support your argument, resist the impulse to look only for documents that pertain to your exact subject matter. Sometimes, students will be frustrated because they have searched exact terms, such as “Occupy Wall Street” AND “Facebook,” and have come up with nothing. However, remember that you are creating your own unique argument. Trying to find papers that have made exactly the same argument you want to make will nudge you towards the “patchwork” model and away from the opportunity to put together something new and interesting of your own.

Instead, look for papers on similar subjects or on the broader categories into which your specific discussion fits. Other writers interested in social media and its use in protest movements will have produced papers on the subject. Exploration of this material can be very profitable for you.

You may find material that corroborates yours. If Author A’s paper on some other protest movement’s use of social media has come to conclusions that seem to confirm your own (when you consider both papers in light of the broader subject), you might present some of Author A’s research and compare it closely to your own.

You may find material that contrasts with yours. This material is just as valuable as the corroborating material. Perhaps you can use it to explore the differences between the contexts of the two discussions (is Author B examining a different type of social media or a different variety of protest movement? Did the users approach the social media in a different way? Did the protest movement originate from a different social context or cultural background? Is Author B herself working from assumptions that are fundamentally different from yours, or does Author B’s paper genuinely offer a complication you will have to take into consideration as you revise and refine your thesis?).

You may find material that contextualizes yours. Perhaps Author C has written a paper on the history of protest movements, or on the way communities seem to work online, or on social upheaval and the Internet, or on Occupy Wall Street’s origins and modus operandi. All four of these subjects are relevant to your paper, but they are also broader in scope. It is often very helpful to look at secondary research on the categories to which your primary document belongs. You will, for instance, be able to discuss the Occupy Wall Street Facebook page more knowledgeably if you know something about Occupy Wall Street.

Corroboration, contrast, and contextualization will all give you ways of approaching your subject matter that would remain inaccessible to you if you limited yourself to a close reading. The secondary works you consult will provide factual information you would not otherwise have, as well as analytical ideas that come from perspectives that might not otherwise have occurred to you. You do need to be careful that you are engaging with these works instead of merely replicating them, but we’ll discuss this issue in more detail below.

Our three “c” terms are still rather broad. Let’s break them down a little and look at some more specific types of information you will find in your sources.