Cultural Background Subjects For Research Papers

1. How do I pick a topic?
2. But I can't find any material...
3. Help! How do I put this together? Research Guide and Writing Guide

See also Robert Pearce's How to Write a Good History Essay 

1. How do I pick a topic?

Picking a topic is perhaps the most important step in writing a research paper. To do it well requires several steps of refinement. First you have to determine a general area in which you have an interest (if you aren't interested, your readers won't be either). You do not write a paper "about the Civil War," however, for that is such a large and vague concept that the paper will be too shallow or you will be swamped with information. The next step is to narrow your topic. Are you interested in comparison? battles? social change? politics? causes? biography? Once you reach this stage try to formulate your research topic as a question. For example, suppose that you decide to write a paper on the use of the films of the 1930's and what they can tell historians about the Great Depression. You might turn that into the following question: "What are the primary values expressed in films of the 1930's?" Or you might ask a quite different question, "What is the standard of living portrayed in films of the 1930's?" There are other questions, of course, which you could have asked, but these two clearly illustrate how different two papers on the same general subject might be. By asking yourself a question as a means of starting research on a topic you will help yourself find the answers. You also open the door to loading the evidence one way or another. It will help you decide what kinds of evidence might be pertinent to your question, and it can also twist perceptions of a topic. For example, if you ask a question about economics as motivation, you are not likely to learn much about ideals, and vice versa.

2. But I can't find any material...

No one should pick a topic without trying to figure out how one could discover pertinent information, nor should anyone settle on a topic before getting some background information about the general area. These two checks should make sure your paper is in the realm of the possible. The trick of good research is detective work and imaginative thinking on how one can find information. First try to figure out what kinds of things you should know about a topic to answer your research question. Are there statistics? Do you need personal letters? What background information should be included? Then if you do not know how to find that particular kind of information, ASK. A reference librarian or professor is much more likely to be able to steer you to the right sources if you can ask a specific question such as "Where can I find statistics on the number of interracial marriages?" than if you say "What can you find on racial attitudes?"

Use the footnotes and bibliographies of general background books as well as reference aids to lead you to special studies. If Carleton does not have the books or sources you need, try ordering through the library minitex. Many sources are also available on-line.

As your research paper takes shape you will find that you need background on people, places, events, etc. Do not just rely on some general survey for all of your background. Check the several good dictionaries of biography for background on people, or see if there is a standard book-length biography. If you are dealing with a legal matter check into the background of the judges who make the court decision and the circumstances surrounding the original incident or law. Try looking for public opinions in newspapers of the time. In other words, each bit of information you find should open the possibility of other research paths.

Learn to use several research techniques. You cannot count on a good research paper coming from browsing on one shelf at the library. A really pertinent book may be hidden in another section of the library due to classification quirks. The Readers' Guide (Ref. A13 .R4) is not the only source for magazine articles, nor the card catalog for books. There are whole books which are listings of other books on particular topics. There are specialized indexes of magazine articles. Modern History Journals are indexed in the Social Studies and Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .R282) before 1976 After 1976 use the Social Sciences Index (REF A13 .S62) and the Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .H85). See also Historical Abstracts (Ref. D1 .H5). Reference Librarians would love to help you learn to use these research tools. It pays to browse in the reference room at the library and poke into the guides which are on the shelves. It also pays to browse the Internet.

3. Help! How do I put this together?

A. Research Guide
B. Writing Guide


A. Preliminary Research:
If you do not already have a general background on your topic, get the most recent good general source on the topic and read it for general orientation. On the basis of that reading formulate as clearly focused question as you can. You should generally discuss with your professor at that point whether your question is a feasible one.

B. Building a Basic Bibliography:
Use the bibliography/notes in your first general source, MUSE, and especially Historical Abstracts on cd-rom in the Library Reading Room (the computer farthest to the left in the front row as you walk past the Reference Desk - or ask there). If there is a specialized bibliography on your topic, you will certainly want to consult that as well, but these are often a bit dated.

C. Building a Full Bibliography:
Read the recent articles or chapters that seem to focus on your topic best. This will allow you to focus your research question quite a bit. Use the sources cited and/or discussed in this reading to build a full bibliography. Use such tools as Historical Abstracts (or, depending on your topic, the abstracts from a different field) and a large, convenient computer-based national library catalog (e.g. the University of California system from the "Libs" command in your VAX account or the smaller University of Minnesota library through MUSE) to check out your sources fully. For specific article searches "Uncover" (press returns for the "open access") or possibly (less likely for history) "First Search" through "Connect to Other Resources" in MUSE can also be useful.

D. Major Research:
Now do the bulk of your research. But do not overdo it. Do not fall into the trap of reading and reading to avoid getting started on the writing. After you have the bulk of information you might need, start writing. You can fill in the smaller gaps of your research more effectively later.


A. Outline:
Write a preliminary thesis statement, expressing what you believe your major argument(s) will be. Sketch out a broad outline that indicates the structure - main points and subpoints or your argument as it seems at this time. Do not get too detailed at this point.

B. The First Draft:
On the basis of this thesis statement and outline, start writing, even pieces, as soon as you have enough information to start. Do not wait until you have filled all the research gaps. Keep on writing. If you run into smaller research questions just mark the text with a searchable symbol. It is important that you try to get to the end point of this writing as soon as possible, even if you leave pieces still in outline form at first and then fill the gaps after you get to the end.

Critical advice for larger papers:
It is often more effective not to start at the point where the beginning of your paper will be. Especially the introductory paragraph is often best left until later, when you feel ready and inspired.

C. The Second Draft:
The "second draft" is a fully re-thought and rewritten version of your paper. It is at the heart of the writing process.

First, lay your first draft aside for a day or so to gain distance from it. After that break, read it over with a critical eye as you would somebody else's paper (well, almost!). You will probably find that your first draft is still quite descriptive, rather than argumentative. It is likely to wander; your perspective and usually even the thesis seemed to change/develop as you wrote. Don't despair. That is perfectly normal even for experienced writers (even after 40 years and a good deal of published work!). You will be frustrated. But keep questioning your paper along the following lines: What precisely are my key questions? What parts of my evidence here are really pertinent to those questions (that is, does it help me answer them)? How or in what order can I structure my paper most effectively to answer those questions most clearly and efficiently for my reader?

At this point you must outline your paper freshly. Mark up your first draft, ask tough questions whether your argument is clear and whether the order in which you present your points is effective! You must write conceptually a new paper at this point, even if you can use paragraphs and especially quotes, factual data in the new draft.

It is critical that in your new draft your paragraphs start with topic sentences that identify the argument you will be making in the particular paragraph (sometimes this can be strings of two or three paragraphs). The individual steps in your argument must be clearly reflected in the topic sentences of your paragraphs (or a couple of them linked).

D. The Third or Final Draft:
You are now ready to check for basic rules of good writing. This is when you need to check the diction, that is, the accuracy and suitability of words. Eliminate unnecessary passive or awkward noun constructions (active-voice, verbal constructions are usually more effective); improve the flow of your transitions; avoid repetitions or split infinitives; correct apostrophes in possessives and such. Make the style clear and smooth. Check that the start of your paper is interesting for the reader. Last but not least, cut out unnecessary verbiage and wordiness. Spell-check and proof-read.

--Diethelm Prowe, 1998




Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt to various cultural contexts and function in different cultural settings or with those of a different culture in one's own setting. Cultural intelligence was introduced in 2003 by Earley and Ang, two researchers who believed that an individual's ability to successfully manage situations in which others from different cultures are present had been overlooked in intelligence research. Cultural intelligence shares aspects of emotional and social intelligence, in that it describes a person's ability to function well different situations, but neither emotional nor social intelligence take into account the cultural context.

Keywords: Assimilation; Cultural Intelligence; Cultural Pluralism; Emotional Intelligence; g; Psychometric Testing; Social Intelligence; Theory of Multiple Intelligences; Triarchic Model of Intelligence


Attempts at measuring and quantifying human intelligence have a long history. The effort to invent a valid and reliable assessment for intelligence can be traced back hundreds of years, and the work has continued to be prevalent in the twentieth century. Researchers have endeavored to measure intelligence through psychometric testing such as the Standford-Binet intelligence test, increasing testing in schools, and through classification of people into various groups. The most prevalent term associated with intelligence testing is the intelligence quotient, or IQ, which is purported to measure "g," or general intelligence. A host of tests that measure IQ have been implemented and used in schools and places of work throughout the world.

Theories of Intelligence

Despite the wealth of research regarding human intelligence and the variety of attempts to easily quantify it, the assessment of human intelligence remains imperfect and controversial. Many argue that standard intelligence testing today is biased and only measures a very narrow picture of what intelligence is. Thus, there have been a host of critics who offer breaks from the traditional models of intelligence. The most prominent of these theories include Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Sternberg's triarchic model of intelligence, which suggest other "types" of intelligence, such as emotional or social intelligence. All of these models have been widely used and referenced by educators.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed and introduced by Howard Gardner in 1983, outlines a theory of intelligence that purports to move beyond IQ or g (general intelligence). Gardner criticized the general intelligence theory that had been prevalent since the early twentieth century because he saw two key limitations. First, the measures used to determine g were too variable. Second, the theory was too narrow — based on western educational models that heavily emphasized literacy and mathematical abilities (Gardner, 1983).

Gardner's original model, which has evolved over time, cited seven different types of intelligences. They include:

  • Verbal-linguistic,
  • Logical-mathematical,
  • Visual-spatial,
  • Musical,
  • Bodily-kinesthetic,
  • Interpersonal, and
  • Intrapersonal.

The first two intelligences were those that are most typically addressed in the western education system, while the last two are what Gardner (1983) terms "personal" intelligences. Other intelligences have been added to the list since the original seven were introduced. Gardner's theory highly impacted curriculum and instruction. Today, educators continue to research and discuss the implementation of the theory in the classroom.

Sternberg's Triarchic Model

Another model of intelligence widely referenced in education research is the triarchic model, developed by Robert Sternberg, which includes three facets:

  • Analytic,
  • Creative, and
  • Practical reasoning skills.

In the model analytical intelligence refers to the classical model of intelligence — one's ability to solve academic problems. Creative intelligence allows individuals to think creatively and adjust creatively in new situations. Finally, practical intelligence has often been described as "street smarts," or knowing how to fit into an environment to make yourself most successful. Sternberg's model was created as a reaction to intelligence testing, or traditional psychometric measures of intelligence.


Emotional and social intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997) are often discussed in conjunction with one another. Emotional intelligence refers to an individual's ability to interpret and react properly to others. Social intelligence is closely related to emotional intelligence, and defined as the ability to empathize with and effectively manage people.

Emotional and social intelligence share several similarities with cultural intelligence. All three are abilities rather than behaviors, and all three types of intelligence move beyond academic and general intelligence. However, there are also differences between emotional or social intelligence and cultural intelligence. For example, neither emotional nor social intelligence takes into account cultural context when discussing a person's ability to perceive and manage emotions and social situations.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Culture can be defined in various ways. In this context, culture encompasses the shared attitudes, beliefs, goals, and traditions that characterize a group of people. Culture can affect how individuals act and work with others, and culture can also act as a lens through which individuals or groups view and react to the actions of those in other groups. Cultural intelligence is generally a newly minted term, but not necessarily a new concept. We have all seen how different individuals can navigate situations well or poorly, based on their knowledge of the other person's culture.

Seeing a need to take into account the cultural contexts of situations, the differences in how people react within them, and how successful individuals were in the outcomes of these situations, Earley and Ang (2003) developed and introduced the theory of cultural intelligence in their book, Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures. The theory is applicable to the disciplines of social sciences and management (Ang & Van Dyne, 2008), and specifically addresses the issue of recognizing and managing cultural issues that emerge in our interactions with others.

Earley and Ang's research was largely fueled by the unparalleled and increasing globalization occurring throughout the world. Advancements in technology are allowing different groups of people to communicate and travel as never before. As a result, businesses and governments have become increasingly global in scope, and more interconnected and dependent as never before. These factors are necessitating more and more interactions between and across individuals and groups that have different cultural backgrounds. Earley and Ang (2003) sought to highlight what they believed was an essential component in these interactions, and to provide more directions for additional research on the topic of cultural intelligence.

While globalization and increased communication between various groups have a multitude of positive outcomes, another central issue is the differences in ideology and culture present in these new interactions that could potentially lead to conflict on small and large scales. Consequently, the theory of cultural intelligence has also been applied to help individuals and organizations manage these potential conflicts, through increased training in cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence indicates an individual's ability to adapt to various cultural contexts, and function at a high level across different cultural settings or in situations where he or she does not share the same cultural background as others (Earley & Ang, 2003). Cultural intelligence is not a brand new concept; it is related to other types of intelligence that have been introduced by social scientists. What sets it apart, however, is that cultural intelligence specifically takes into account the impact of the culture or cultural setting in which an individual may find himself. Earley & Ang (2003) note that while culture does not necessarily influence everything, there are many...

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