Writing a Research Paper

Similar to response papers, research papers are prevalent in the environmental studies discipline. Often, these will be assigned in upper level courses as term papers in which the student determines the topic to research, then adequately researches and writes a concise, creative and compelling paper. This page contains tips about how to research in the environmental field and how to construct an annotated bibliography, as well as about the Lives and Livelihoods assignment. There are also some sample papers to help illustrate each of these research aspects.

How to Research in the Environmental Field

Professors expect ample research to be done in order to write a thorough research paper. Usually scholarly sources are required, especially peer reviewed journals. There are several specific databases that are particularly useful to use when researching in the environmental field (Environment Complete among them), though the kinds of databases you use will ultimately depend on what you are researching (again, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ENVS). It can be helpful to use databases for fields like anthropology, sociology or political science, for example, for courses and papers and that are based more in the social sciences than they are in ecology. The UVM library databases should help you begin your searches. General Guide to Environment Research (new tab) is a very helpful research guide for environmental studies prepared by Howe librarian Laurie Kutner.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Before writing a term paper, most professors will require students to write an annotated bibliography to ensure that there are scholarly sources available and that it is evident how these sources will be used in the paper. This is where all the research begins. Be sure to:

  • Choose well-written, peer-reviewed scholarly sources
  • Briefly describe each source and why each is relevant/useful for your paper (usually around 2-4 sentences—check your professor’s expectations)
  • Cite the sources correctly (APA or whichever style your professor specifies)

This is a pretty good guide for annotated bibliographies put together by Purdue University’s Writing Center (new tab).

Tips for the Lives and Livelihoods Paper

This is one of the biggest research papers an environmental studies student will write at UVM. It requires choosing a potential career and doing enough research on it to write a 10-12 page paper, research usually involving interviewing 4 people and using 3 career reference books, 10 websites, and 15 or more scholarly journal articles (though specific requirements vary from semester to semester depending on who teaches the course). The following are some general tips meant to help you through this assignment.

  • If this paper seems daunting (or even if it doesn’t), starting as early as possible is definitely a good idea. It will allow you plenty of time to work though any challenges or questions you have or any revisions you want to make.
  • Always check your professor’s specific requirements and expectations for this assignment and use them to guide you.
  • Choose a career that you are actually interested in; odds are you will learn a lot more about the topic, which can be quite helpful in the future.
  • Try to choose your career and begin making contacts for interviews early.
  • Carefully record your interviews. If you can type quickly, bringing a laptop is helpful, or borrow an audio recorder from the library.
  • Keep diligent notes, and be sure to separate information from different sources.
  • Follow the directions clearly. There is a reason why the instructors created clear and detailed directions.
  • The paper should be clearly divided into the required sections. There are several, so it is okay to put more energy into those that you are more interested in, as long as all sections are discussed
  • The paper should also be objective, until the personal reflection section, which is the only section where personal opinions and “I” statements should appear.
  • Be careful to correctly incorporate material from the interview section; it is okay if this accounts for the majority of the citations because it is the most recent and probably best source of information.
  • Spend a good amount of time on the reflection section, as it is the only place to express what you learned, what you liked and disliked about the career, and what your next steps are in meeting your career goals.
  • Remember, even in a long paper, every sentence counts. Carefully proofread and aim for a clear and concise paper.
  • Be sure to carefully cite everything correctly (generally APA). It should be noted that there is a proper way to cite interviewees.
  • Instructors frequently require the citation page to be separated into the following categories: Interviews, Literature Cited, and Additional Resources (resources not directly cited in the text). However, be sure to check your specific requirements.
  • This assignment has the potential to be useful and fun if you start early and make a good effort. You could potentially make connections for the future as well.
  • Take advantage of the various materials and resources available!

Sample Papers

Sample Lives and Livelihoods Paper 1 (PDF): This paper reports on the careers of a Sustainability/ Environmental Educator, and overall follows the guidelines and requirements well.

Sample Lives and Livelihoods Paper 2 (PDF): This paper reports on careers in the field of green building and design. Again, this follows the guidelines well, but is a bit lengthier.