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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The C.A.R.S. Model

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.

Introduction

The Creating a Research Space [C.A.R.S.] Model was developed by John Swales based upon his analysis of journal articles representing a variety of discipline-based writing practices. His model attempts to explain and describe the organizational pattern of writing the introduction to scholarly research studies. Following the CARS Model is useful because it can help you to: 1) begin the writing process [getting started is often the most difficult task]; 2) understand the way in which an introduction sets the stage for the rest of your paper; and, 3) assess how the introduction fits within the larger scope of your study.

The model assumes that writers follow a general organizational pattern in response to two types of challenges [“competitions”] relating to establishing a presence within a particular domain of research: 1) the competition to create a rhetorical space and, 2) the competition to attract readers into that space. The model proposes three actions [Swales calls them “moves”], accompanied by specific steps, that reflect the development of an effective introduction for a research paper. These “moves” and steps can be used as a template for writing the introduction to your own social sciences research papers.


"Introductions." The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Coffin, Caroline and Rupert Wegerif. “How to Write a Standard Research Article.” Inspiring Academic Practice at the University of Exeter; Kayfetz, Janet. "Academic Writing Workshop." University of California, Santa Barbara, Fall 2009; Pennington, Ken. "The Introduction Section: Creating a Research Space CARS Model." Language Centre, Helsinki University of Technology, 2005; Swales, John and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Skills and Tasks. 2nd edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

The Model

Creating a Research Space

Move 1: Establishing a Territory [the situation]
This is generally accomplished in two ways: by demonstrating that a general area of research is important, critical, interesting, problematic, relevant, or otherwise worthy of investigation and by introducing and reviewing key sources of prior research in that area to show where gaps exist or where prior research has been inadequate in addressing the research problem.

The steps taken to achieve this would be:

  • Step 1 -- Claiming importance of, and/or  [writing action = describing the research problem and providing evidence to support why the topic is important to study]
  • Step 2 -- Making topic generalizations, and/or  [writing action = providing statements about the current state of knowledge, consensus, practice or description of phenomena]
  • Step 3 -- Reviewing items of previous research  [writing action = synthesize prior research that further supports the need to study the research problem; this is not a literature review but more a reflection of key studies that have touched upon but perhaps not fully addressed the topic]

Move 2: Establishing a Niche [the problem]
This action refers to making a clear and cogent argument that your particular piece of research is important and possesses value. This can be done by indicating a specific gap in previous research, by challenging a broadly accepted assumption, by raising a question, a hypothesis, or need, or by extending previous knowledge in some way.

The steps taken to achieve this would be:

  • Step 1a -- Counter-claiming, or  [writing action = introduce an opposing viewpoint or perspective or identify a gap in prior research that you believe has weakened or undermined the prevailing argument]
  • Step 1b -- Indicating a gap, or  [writing action = develop the research problem around a gap or understudied area of the literature]
  • Step 1c -- Question-raising, or  [writing action = similar to gap identification, this involves presenting key questions about the consequences of gaps in prior research that will be addressed by your study. For example, one could state, “Despite prior observations of voter behavior in local elections in urban Detroit, it remains unclear why do some single mothers choose to avoid....”]
  • Step 1d -- Continuing a tradition  [writing action = extend prior research to expand upon or clarify a research problem. This is often signaled with logical connecting terminology, such as, “hence,” “therefore,” “consequently,” “thus” or language that indicates a need. For example, one could state, “Consequently, these factors need to examined in more detail....” or “Evidence suggests an interesting correlation, therefore, it is desirable to survey different respondents....”]

Move 3: Occupying the Niche [the solution]
The final "move" is to announce the means by which your study will contribute new knowledge or new understanding in contrast to prior research on the topic. This is also where you describe the remaining organizational structure of the paper.

The steps taken to achieve this would be:

  • Step 1a -- Outlining purposes, or  [writing action = answering the “So What?” question. Explain in clear language the objectives of your study]
  • Step 1b -- Announcing present research [writing action = describe the purpose of your study in terms of what the research is going to do or accomplish. In the social sciences, the “So What?” question still needs to addressed]
  • Step 2 -- Announcing principle findings  [writing action = present a brief, general summary of key findings written, such as, “The findings indicate a need for...,” or “The research suggests four approaches to....”]
  • Step 3 -- Indicating article structure  [writing action = state how the remainder of your paper is organized]

"Introductions." The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Atai, Mahmood Reza. “Exploring Subdisciplinary Variations and Generic Structure of Applied Linguistics Research Article Introductions Using CARS Model.” The Journal of Applied Linguistics 2 (Fall 2009): 26-51; Chanel, Dana. "Research Article Introductions in Cultural Studies: A Genre Analysis Explorationn of Rhetorical Structure." The Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes 2 (2014): 1-20; Coffin, Caroline and Rupert Wegerif. “How to Write a Standard Research Article.” Inspiring Academic Practice at the University of Exeter; Kayfetz, Janet. "Academic Writing Workshop." University of California, Santa Barbara, Fall 2009; Pennington, Ken. "The Introduction Section: Creating a Research Space CARS Model." Language Centre, Helsinki University of Technology, 2005; Swales, John and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Skills and Tasks. 2nd edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004; Swales, John M. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990; Chapter 5: Beginning Work. In Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler. (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 93-96.

Writing Tip

Swales showed that establishing a research niche [move 2] is often signaled by specific terminology that expresses a contrasting viewpoint, a critical evaluation of gaps in the literature, or a perceived weakness in prior research. The purpose of using these words is to draw a clear distinction between perceived deficiencies in previous studies and the research you are presenting that is intended to help resolve these deficiencies. Below is a table of common words used by authors.

Contrast

Quantity

Verbs

Adjectives

albeit

although

but

howbeit

however

nevertheless

notwithstanding

unfortunately

whereas

yet

few

handful

less

little

no

none

not

challenge

deter

disregard

exclude

fail

hinder

ignore

lack

limit

misinterpret

neglect

obviate

omit

overlook

prevent

question

restrict

difficult

dubious

elusive

inadequate

incomplete

inconclusive

inefficacious

ineffective

inefficient

questionable

scarce

uncertain

unclear

unconvincing

unproductive

unreliable

unsatisfactory

 

NOTE: You may prefer not to adopt a negative stance in your writing when placing it within the context of prior research. In such cases, an alternative approach is to utilize a neutral, contrastive statement that expresses a new perspective without giving the appearance of trying to diminish the validity of other people's research.

Examples of how this can be achieved include the following statements, with A representing the findings of prior research, B representing your research problem, and X representing one or more variables that have been investigated.

  • The research has focused on A, rather than on B...
  • Research into A can be useful but to counterbalance X, it is important to consider B...
  • These studies have emphasized A, as opposed to B...
  • While prior studies have examined A, it may be preferable to contemplate the impact of B...
  • After consideration of A, it is important to also recognize B...
  • The study of A has been exhaustive, but changing circumstances related to X support the need for examining [or revisiting] B...
  • Although considerable research has been devoted to A, less attention has been paid to B...
  • This research offers insight into the need for A, though consideration of B is also helpful...

Dretske, Fred I. “Contrastive Statements.” The Philosophical Review 81 (October 1972): 411-437; Kayfetz, Janet. "Academic Writing Workshop." University of California, Santa Barbara, Fall 2009; Pennington, Ken. "The Introduction Section: Creating a Research Space CARS Model." Language Centre, Helsinki University of Technology, 2005; Swales, John M. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990