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URJ Reviewer Guide: What is research?

Guide to best practices for URJ Peer Reviewers.

UCCS Undergraduate Research Journal

What is research?

​The URJ defines research as work that generally teaches readers something new. Some research is original research that depends on studies and experiments the author conducts themselves. Other research builds on reliable sources to create an argument, note trends or themes, explore an idea, or track the scholarly conversation surrounding a topic or an issue. 

Research can take the form of inquiry, providing answers to a question, or as discussion, with the author engaging with multiple texts, sources, and perspectives.


What isn't research?

What isn't research?

  • Opinion pieces. Pieces that are mostly the author's opinion and have little or no relevant evidence supporting the author's claims. 
  • Creative non-fiction. Memoir, personal essay, and informal, non-researched approaches to topics. 
  • Fiction and poetry. Purely creative pieces that don't use research.

Types of Research

Study or Experiment

​These papers will have clearly defined sections, such as introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. One paper may not have all of these sections, but if an experiment or study is being performed it must have a methodology and for living (people or animal) subjects, it must have IRB approval. Learn more about IRB. Authors also should include some acknowledgement of the limitations of their results. Even the best studies have some limitations, and it's important that the author notes why the results they found might not apply to everyone. 

What to check for:
  • Defined sections
  • ​Methodology
  • Does the methodology make sense/seem valid? (E.g., "We conducted a survey of 20 new students" not "I asked 4 of my best friends what they thought")
  • Do they draw reasonable conclusions from their results?
  • Does the author acknowledge limitations to their results? 
  • IRB approval (if applicable)
  • References

Literature Review

​A literature review (also called a systemic review, comprehensive review, or review of best practices) is an overview of the scholarly conversation surrounding an idea or topic. Think of it like the Previously on... segment of a TV show. The goal is to catch readers up on what's been going on. What has been said, who's been saying it, and how do those different voices agree, disagree, and build on each other? This type of paper doesn't have the same clearly defined sections as a study or experiment, but it usually will include a methodology section explaining where they searched and what terms they used and any limiters they applied.

This is ​not ​the same thing as literary criticism or analysis. See the ​Analysis or Criticism​ tab for more information. 

What to check for:
  • ​Thesis statement/conclusions
  • References

​​Analysis or Criticism

​Analysis or criticism is most common in humanities papers, but can appear in any field. Unlike studies or experiments, these papers will primarily look at one text, event, phenomenon, or trend and create an argument for how that text/event/phenomenon/trend can be understood, by closely examining the subject in question and calling attention to key details while citing experts in the field to help support the conclusions they're drawing. These papers will have a clear argument that they are making, but they might not have the traditional sections that a study or experiment would have. 

​What to check for:
  • ​A clear argument or point-of-view
  • An arguable thesis statement (not just a statement of clear fact)
  • A supported argument (brings in expert opinions to back up conclusions, add weight to their argument)
  • References

Where can I publish non-research writing?

Where does non-research writing go?

Although the URJ doesn't publish writing that isn't research, there are other opportunities on campus for publication.

  • The Scribe Guest Columns. Publish as a guest columnist for the student paper here at UCCS.
  • riverrun.  UCCS journal that publishes student art, poetry, fiction, and creative non-ficiton. 

Paper Examples

Continual change is an inevitable process of the Earth and in many respects can be good or bad toward what it influences. In the last several hundred years, technological advances have allowed us to adequately and accurately monitor these changes upon the earth. The field of remote sensing has a tremendous capability to provide the needed insight of these alterations for scientists and non-experts to visually see and comprehend this significance, and subsequently discuss how humans must adapt on our way forward. Anthropogenic influences are one of the leading argued causes for the more recent climatic changes, such as increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, retreating glaciers, polar ice cap melting, and rising ocean levels. Abundant low lying coastal regions of continents and thousands of islands rising barely above sea level are the most susceptible land areas to these dynamic effects. Researchers are studying many of these areas where change can already be seen such as significant alteration to flora and fauna diversity, water quality and abundance, sea and land surface temperatures, susceptibility to disease and extinction, and land erosion (Bellard et al., 2014; Hoggart et al., 2014; James et al., 2013; Saunders et al., 2013; Silva, et al., 2014). The convergence of where biodiversity has developed and those areas most vulnerable to a changing climate are critical ecosystems. The Caribbean Sea, its islands, and surrounding continental coastline make up one of the most notable hotspots for biodiversity in the world (Meyers et al., 2000). Biodiversity, as well as water and soil quality, carbon and nutrient stocks, and net primary productivity can be significant indicators to ongoing and pending changes that affect these ecosystems (Dale & Kline, 2013). The importance of watching this area for dramatic and irreversible changes is increasing daily. The application of remote sensing is key to monitoring environments in the Caribbean and providing a clearer picture by identifying land cover change within the region.

The intent of this paper is to review the use of remote sensing in the Caribbean for studying land change along coastal ecosystems and discuss the variability in remote sensing application as applied to mangrove forests, coastal sand bodies, and coastal water environments.

This text sample would be an accept.

GOOD: It's ready to publish! The writing, research, tone, and intent are all right for this journal. 

BAD: Nothing to fix, not even little things. 

To read the rest of Marena Ann Gilbert's paper, visit the URJ archives.

In the late 1890’s, media titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were locked in a battle for readers’ attention, trying to capture the hearts, minds, and money of the American public with their sensational coverage of the Spanish American War. As historian David Nasaw reports in Children of the City, to support the costs of this advertising war, Hearst and Pulitzer chose to raise the cost of papers bought by the newsboys from five cents for every ten papers to six cents for every ten papers. The newsboys would in turn would sell them on the street at a small profit, which Nasaw notes was not immediately problematic as war stories sold well. However, in the summer of 1899, reader's interest flagged and newsboys “began to feel the pinch of the penny increase” (Nasaw 42). This prompted the newsboys decided to go on strike which lasted for roughly two weeks, gained widespread public attention and support, and spread to include newsboys across the country.

Disney’s 1992 live-action film Newsies is a fictionalized account the 1899 strike. Although some changes are understandable in order to fit the story to a musical film format, many of screenwriters Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s choices reflect disinterest in depicting the realities of child labor, class conflict, and strike tactics and repercussions at the turn of the century. Disney’s simplified version of events lends itself to reductive archetypes of victims and villains, diminishes the struggle and actions of the real strikers, and offers young viewers contradictory messages about wealth, authority, and adulthood. These factual inaccuracies weaken Newsies’s message of social justice and youth empowerment, and contribute to Disney’s troubling habit of reducing historical events to simplistic fairy-tales.

Disney does not wholly abandon the real story, but seems to prefer cameos and references, such as naming characters after real strike leaders, participants, and supporters like “Racetrack Higgins,” “Crutchy Morris,” and “Spot Conlon” (Nasaw 43). However, Newsies’s treatment of the events of the strike has more in common with “stories featuring newsboy heroes proliferated in books and magazines” in late nineteenth century by evangelicals, sentimental writers, and reformers (DiGirolamo 13). DiGirolamo’s study of written accounts of newsboy funeral practices argues that many narratives created around the newsboy character ignore the social, financial and political power newsboys had in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and instead used newsboys’ lives and deaths to embody easy virtues of innocence, hard work, and righteous poverty.

This text sample would be an accept with revisions:

  • GOOD: The writing is academic and pretty clear. The writer has stated their argument near the beginning of the paper and made it obvious why a general reader ought to care about this topic. Athough the argument will depend on the writer’s analysis, the final paragraph shows the writer beginning to back up their interpretation with relevant research.
  • BAD: There’s a few places where the writing could be clearer, and the organization of ideas might be improved, but these will be easy problems to fix. Big problems would be a lack of research, a poor thesis statement, or so many writing and organizational problems that it will take a lot of work. 

Fanfiction is the practice of creating "stories about preexisting characters created by fans rather than by a work's original author" (Garcia 2016). It typically occurs in online communities, such as FanFiction, Quotev, or Asianfanfics. A lot of times, these stories are writers inserting some version of themselves into the plot or setting and having this alter ego interact with the characters and do things in the story. This aspect of fanfiction can be particularly appealing to groups of people who are not represented in the original piece, such as women and minorities. Writers post their stories, and read and write comments on other writers’ stories, which helps build a community between the different writers. They can offer critique and encouragement. Between the commenting and the ability to put oneself into a story, fanfiction seems like a perfect place for underrepresented groups to form a community, but currently there are still many barriers preventing underrepresented groups from participating. Online fanfiction outlets need to be more proactive in regulating and improving their sites to be more inclusive and open to everyone.

One problem in online fanfiction communities is web accessibility. Web accessibility refers to whether the website can be read and used by people with disabilities. Without traditional representation, a lot of fans with disabilities may turn to fanfiction as a way to write and read stories about characters like themselves. But a lot of fanfiction website aren’t that accessible, as Lammers and Palumbo find in their study “Barriers to Fanfiction Access: Results from a Usability Inspection of Fanfiction.net” (2017).  They find that Fanfiction.net, “one of the largest online repositories for fanfiction” (2017), has a design that causes navigation, social connection, and reading barriers for some users. These users are now twice excluded. First from the original works that didn’t have characters like them in it, and then again by a fanfiction site that doesn’t have the necessary tools and features that would allow them to write their own story and engage in the fan community.

This text sample would be a revise and resubmit:

  • GOOD: This could be a topic of interest to a general scholarly audience, and the author has done some good research and has a clear argument. The writing is clear, if not academic, and this is more than just the author's opinion. 
  • BAD: The author makes some assumptions without enough research. Additionally, the author needs to provide evidence for why fanfiction is important to underrepresented communities and explain their reasoning for why we as readers should care if online fanfiction communities are welcoming to them.

Two teens in Verona’s families are in a blood feud, they’re best friends with a friar, they get married after about 48 hours of knowing each other, eventually kill themselves after an attempt to fake a death goes horribly wrong. Super relatable, right? I don’t know a single teenager who isn’t dealing a blood feud right now, so it makes perfect sense that high school instructors never assign new and enjoyable young adult reading that deals with issues like racism, body image, sexual harassment, and identity and sexuality but keep making students suffer through Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet."

Recent books aren't the only kind of stuff being ignored, but digital media too, like podcasts, blogs, videos, and online news and journals, and social media. Insisting students read just the "appropriate" books that adults like forces students reading the books to wonder why they aren't fun and maybe thikg that reading isn't fun either until finally they decide just not to read anymore. My paper argues that it’s better to let students pick their own reading materials.

We firstly have to ask ourselves and our teachers, “Who decided some books needed to be read and others didn’t?” This might provide the key to why we had to read boring books to begin with, but sadly the answers aren't great. Tests get blamed by some people, as “AP Literature and Composition tests and the SAT are still based on classic literature titles” (Okyle 2015), but while students might be learning how to pass a test, they’re missing a lesson in why people read in the first place. It’s not to pass tests, but to experience emotions, learn something about yourself, and practice using your imagination. What kind of world are we making for future generations of students and student readers when what we teach our students now is that using your imagination is a not what you're supposed to do? A pretty boring world. 

This text sample would be a reject:

  • GOOD: This could be a topic of interest to a general scholarly audience, and the author does cite outside sources.
  • BAD: The writing style is very informal and often slips into a first person point-of-view. It also lacks clarity and can be difficult to read and understand. The paper is also poorly organized. The author jumps between ideas and points in their argument without transitions. Even though the author brings in an outside source, they aren’t doing much research in this paper. Their claims are not supported by anything other than their own opinion. Rather than exploring a perspective and presenting and analyzing different sources, this author is simply stating their opinion, with a few sources thrown in.

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