Research Paper Writing Strategies: Using the Betsy DeVos Lawsuit as an Example

Writing a research paper is a process of gathering and reading high quality resources about your topic, synthesizing their content, and drawing conclusions from what you find there. In order to demonstrate how to do that not just generally, but about a topic that is still evolving we will discuss the Betsy DeVos lawsuit.

Part 1: Collecting High Quality Information
(when the sources have not yet been vetted by time or history.)

Not all sources of information are equal in value. While the Internet has put an infinitesimal amount of information at our fingertips, there are also almost no protections regarding the veracity of information. This makes the choice of sources even more important. In order to ensure that information is of academic quality, using established sources with built in quality controls is most useful.

You may know or have heard that “peer reviewed” research studies from academic journals are the preferred standard for academic research. When examining current events, however, peer reviewed studies are rarely available nor are books on the subject. In such cases, using reputable periodicals or official sources of information are your best starting point. The New York Times and The Washington Post are reputable U.S. sources, for example. Official sources in the Betsy DeVos case would include court filings, press releases, public statements, etc.

When researching an academic subject, starting with general information and then looking for specific information is the best strategy. For the Betsy DeVos lawsuit topic, this begins with routine use search engine (we will use Google, but Bing and others are available) using key words related to the subject. A search of the term “Betsy DeVos Lawsuit” on Google returns top four hits from reputable periodicals: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and CNN. Each of these sources has built in quality controls as they are long standing publications of merit.

From these four cursory sources, the following information about the subject can be derived: 19 states’ attorneys general sued Betsy DeVos for things like including student loan protections and delay of rule to protect students. In addition to being high quality, these sources are also all from July of 2017 making them current and relevant. It is important when doing high quality general information collection to avoid non-academic “editorial” position based research. This portion of collection is based on generating facts or the “Who”, “What”, “Where”, “When”, “Why” and “How” of the topic. This means that while a Washington Post article, researched by a reporter, may be a good source, and editorial or opinion piece in the same paper does not have the same value.

Part 2: Specific Analysis Collection

With any current event, there will be opinions and analysis of the subject. In order to provide additional critical thinking to a topic, a researcher is helped by learning the prominent positions on the subject. These positions should be examined based on a person’s credibility in the field. Political analysts, subject leaders, and official publication stances are good places for such information gathering. At this point, you will want to move away from Google or other search engines, and use databases found on your school’s library website – you can also ask a librarian to help you learn to use the databases.

From a search of academic database, we learn that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey concluded “Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans” (Camera, 2017). Since this is the standpoint of many key stakeholders, finding opposition positions would be next. In this case, finding the DeVos position on the subject follows for a balanced analysis. This does not mean that opposing opinions have equal weight. Part of what you learn to do as a student, is to comprehend not just what different opinions are but how to determine what value differing opinions have. (Hint: Their value is not determined by how they align with your current opinions. You may find that in common political discussions, too much focus is given to opposition, and not enough to fundamental description.)

The official White House position on the lawsuit is that it is “ideologically driven” and the current practices have “substantive and procedural flaws” that necessitate them to be rewritten (Camera, 2017). Press Secretary for the Education Department, Liz Hill, contends that “The state attorneys general are saying to regulate first, and ask the legal questions later - which also seems to be the approach of the prior administration...” (Camera, 2017).

When collecting both general and specific evidence, it is best to stay organized by constructing annotations for each source that is in consideration. Do NOT save sourcing or citing for later. This common mistake feels like a time saver but quickly turns writing and finishing papers into a misery. Enter your sources into the bibliography as you go, and cite everything.

Part 3: Formulating a Position

After the material has been organized and collected, the researcher can begin to develop their own perspectives on the subject and critically consider implications. Depending on the type of project, this can include an informational presentation of material from a variety of positions or it can be persuasive or positional in nature. In the case of the former, it should provide a balanced overview of what is known and unknown about the subject. In the case of a positional analysis, supporting a position with the facts collected will occur. This will require inclusion of oppositional perspectives with attention to why those arguments fall short. In other words, you can take a position even if what is known does not support it. However, it is poor scholarship, and likely deeply unethical, to pretend that data asserts things it does not. If you believe in a position, it is better to concede that you do so for reasons other than provable facts than it is to make yourself a liar.

Part 4: Reporting Findings (Writing)

The final part of the research process is writing the actual paper. If the material collected is well sourced, well organized and well understood by the researcher, this part will usually go smoothly, even if you find yourself making changes.

A strong research paper includes an introduction, body, and conclusion, often with the introduction being written last, though for the highly organized it may happen first and undergo only minor revisions later. A good introduction is a light sketch, or simple map, of what is to come. Information presented should back the thesis (position) and should be cited according to the style guide required by one’s institution or instructor. Using a basic outline is also extremely helpful, here is an example:

I. Introduction

The thesis will be introduced. A possible thesis for this subject would be as follows: The nature of the Betsy DeVos lawsuits demonstrate the contentious political climate of the United States and attempts to address partisan tactics related to education funding.

II. Body

(Paragraph A). This introduces the positions of those suing DeVos and cites related sources.

(Paragraph B). This introduces the position the White House and DeVos surrounding the issue and cites related sources.

(Paragraph C). This explores ambiguities, strengths, and limitations of both positions.

III. Conclusions

This section reiterates the thesis and the findings of the research. The implications of those findings are expressed and additional thoughts related to the subject are presented for future research or consideration.

IV. References (Works Cited)

This page consists of a style guide adhering list of all sources cited. Some of the more popular style guides include MLA, APA, and Harvard Referencing.

Sources:

Camera, L. (2017). 18 states sue Betsy DeVos for killing student loan protections. US News and World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2017-07-06/18-states-sue-education-secretary-betsy-devos-for-nixing-student-loan-protections

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