Start a transportation and logistics degree at American Public University.
By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
How do you find a good topic for your final paper at the beginning of a class?
In some cases, you might be given a precise topic from your instructor. Alternatively, he or she might give you two possible ideas for the paper. One might be from a summary of what is covered in the class. The second topic might have something to do with the title of the course or its learning objectives.
Let’s say you’re going to write about the effects on the 14,000 workers about to be laid off at five GM auto plants, an issue that has been in the news recently. The number of workers affected is easy to cite. But what about who they are? They are moms and dads, single people, single parents and people in their 20s up to their 60s or 70s.
Unless you have specific information about each person, you will have to make some assumptions about this population. An assumption is not a guess. An assumption is made by taking data and extrapolating it into a statement. It is a potential fact based on some initial data.
Listing people’s ages and status can give you an idea of the possible effects of the layoffs on their lives. These possible effects can come from your own experiences or by knowing people in similar circumstances.
As part of your growing list of assumptions, you may decide that those 14,000 people will have a loss of income that could affect where and how they live and the local businesses in their area.
Your paper will include these types of assumptions. But how many are necessary? If you let your mind wander too much, you could easily come up with 20 or 30 assumptions. Ideally, you have to decide what are top five or six most important assumptions.
Should You Throw Away Data when Writing Your Final Paper?
Your assumptions are the key about the kind of data to collect. For instance, you could research the effects the firings will have on local businesses by checking the Internet for the number of fast-food restaurants around the five GM plants.
But the impact of the layoffs on the fast-food restaurants lessens as their distance from the factories increases. The distance becomes another assumption.
You must decide, based on your own experience, how many of those restaurants might be affected by the loss of 14,000 employees. At a specific factory, the loss might only be 500 or 5,000 employees.
As a result, you must throw away some data. How do you decide what to discard? The instructor is not going to tell you. You must make an assumption as to what data to disregard.
What Data Do You Use in Your Paper?
The instructor will be looking to see how you handle the data you collected. Do you include data on your final paper that does not meet the specific research focus or direction?
If you include only 80% of the number of fast-food restaurants in your paper, for example, that would probably suffice to make a case for how great an effect the lost jobs will have on local restaurants. If you find that half of the restaurants in another town closed due to a massive layoff at a local plant, you can make an assumption about fast-food restaurant closures near the affected GM plants.
How Do You Determine Whether The Data You Use Is Accurate and from An Authoritative Source?
You’ll also need to ensure the accuracy of the data cited in your final paper. If the data is from a newspaper or magazine, it is possible that it might not be totally accurate.
However, if you find a report from a university researcher in a peer-reviewed journal or a report from a reputable think tank, you will have what is called “clean” data. That will give your paper more credibility with your professor.
Determining the Current Nature of Your Research Data
How far back should you go to find research data? Five years? 10 years? What criteria do you use to determine the relevance of the research data?
The time factor is all-important in terms of knowing where to stop. Why? All research papers have a time stamp.
If you write your paper based on news and facts from the past six weeks, that is a valid time frame and useful for your argument. If you look into a factory closing a few years ago with similar circumstances to the current GM plants, then a time span of five to 10 years might also be useful. But citing the closing of factories in England as a result of the Industrial Age would likely be too far afield in your paper.
Using Classroom Grading Rubrics
Each professor grades differently but it’s likely that your paper will be graded on several factors.
Professors commonly give their students a rubric to measure their work from an F to the highest grade of A. Most of the grading rubric is mechanical: the minimum number of pages required, the required line spacing, spelling and grammatical errors, and the proper formats for quotes and references. The instructor will also consider how well you tell your story and how well your arguments are supported by the data you use.
Writing a well-constructed research or term paper becomes part of your academic identity. It is an accomplishment that will help you stand out among your peers and at your job. And if you select a topic that interests your boss, you might see an opportunity for growth.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.