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Scholarly Communications: Blog

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The CARS Approach to Successful Research Writing

by Charles W. Uth on 2018-09-13T13:17:14-05:00 | Comments

One thing that successful research papers and successful research proposals have in common is that they contextualize the research—they explain in compelling terms why the research is important and why it needs to be done. This puts me in mind of an old advertising aphorism: you don’t sell things by telling people what you’re selling, you sell by telling them why they need what you’re selling. A research paper or proposal is a sales document and the product you’re selling is your research,whether it’s to a funding agency to make your research possible, to a publisher to make your research available, or to the reader to make your research known. Done correctly, contextualizing your research also demonstrates that you, the researcher, are an expert in your field and are highly qualified, if not uniquely qualified, to carry out the research and to interpret the results. 

So, how do we successfully contextualize our research? John Swales, in his 1990 book Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings*, introduced the concept of “Creating a Research Space”, or CARS, in describing how successful research writers introduced their topics. The CARS approach has since been adopted by many universities worldwide as a model or framework for crafting introductions to research papers and proposals. CARS works because it breaks down the process into easily manageable chunks, referred to as “moves,” then breaks those down further into discrete “steps.” An excellent overview is given by North Carolina State University and quoted in full below:

Move 1: Establishing a Territory (putting your research into a wider context)

Put your work into perspective by demonstrating that your general area of research is important, critical, interesting, problematic, relevant, or otherwise worthy of investigation. You are establishing your territory by telling your listeners that this is an important topic and here are some things that we currently know about this topic in our field.

Move 2: Establishing a Niche (What’s missing in the previous research and body of knowledge?)

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 or by proposing an extension of that research. Turn from what is known to what isn't known. Establish a place for you in the ongoing research dialogue.

Move 3: Occupying the Niche (How will you fill the gap?)

The final “move” is to introduce your present research and announce the means by which your study will contribute new knowledge or new understanding in contrast to prior research on the topic. You could possibly include some preliminary findings and discuss the direction of your future research.

More detailed descriptions of the CARS model are available from multiple sources, including University of Southern California, Charles University (Czech Republic), or SUNY-ESF / Syracuse University.

*J. Swales, Genre analysis : English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press, 1990. [available at Galvin Library, call number PE1128.A2S931990]

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