Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper

“Factual” Material

We are putting the word “factual” in quotation marks here because we need to be careful about what we treat as a fact in an analytical paper. Let’s say you are reading Author F’s expository paper on the origins of Occupy Wall Street. She is going to present a lot of factual material, including dates, names, and descriptions of events to which there were many witnesses. Yet Author F’s paper will inevitably involve interpretation. Perhaps she goes into extreme detail about the movement but spares only a few sentences for the opposition to the movement. A casual reader might assume there was not much opposition instead of recognizing that Author F has simply left it out (which she may have done for any number of reasons).

Students sometimes ask why they must cite secondary sources containing factual material so well-known that it appears in hundreds of sources. One good reason is that while there are hundreds of sources that contain the information, all of them present it in subtly different ways. Our readers need to know which sources we are drawing on so they can evaluate our work in light of the quality of our sources. As well, we need to be able to decide, while reading a source, what is fact and what is interpretation. It is thus a good idea to consult more than one source when we are looking for factual information.

It is also worth noting that citation demonstrates to the reader that we have not simply made up a piece of information.