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Writing 2 (Terhaar): Research Projects

Writing the Research Essay

Has your instructor assigned a complete (or partial) research essay or paper? Then read this tab for some helpful tips.

Writing a complete (or even a partial) paper can be challenging if you’ve never written one, but I (Terry) think it’s a good feeling to work your way through both the research and the paper. When you’re done, you can step back and look at everything you’ve accomplished: You’ve learned to conduct research, manage a lot of data and information, think deeply about a topic, enhance your organizational and writing skills, and consume gallons of caffeine. Awesome!

Here’s the bad news: There are many different types of research papers, including papers where the instructor wants you to:

Pose and answer a question. Sometimes called an analytical research paper. See description here

Take a stand or position on a topic. Sometimes called an argumentative research paper. See description here and example here

Prepare an annotated bibliography and/or interpret several sources. See description and example here and another example here and here

Report on something (such as lab work). See description here or here

Review research, compare and contrast theories and/or their applications. See example here

These essays have little in common, except they require research and they’re fairly large (and often time-consuming) assignments. Since we cannot address all types of research essays, we’ll show you how some students go wrong in general when communicating their research results:

1) Many students assume a college-level research essay is the same as a high school research essay, so they never read the assignment carefully and they fail to understand exactly what they’re expected to do. They often fail the assignment.

2) Many students do great research, but they never understand that the research was conducted in order to accomplish some goal, often an answer to a research question, so the paper wanders around somewhat aimlessly from one idea to the next and never seems to make a case for anything. The paper contains no real argument or takes no stand or reports no results. The paper gets a low grade.

3) Many students write an argument, sort of, but there’s so little supporting evidence that no one will agree with the argument (except the student’s best friends). The paper gets a low grade.

4) Many students write a well-supported argument, but provide so little background and context for the argument that the reader feels totally adrift trying to understand what’s going on. The paper gets a mediocre grade.

5) Many students write an argument, providing sufficient background and context, but the argument never seems to add up to much of anything. The reader is left scratching their head, unsure what to make of the paper. The paper might rise to a B-grade, but it has no chance of going higher.

How do you avoid these problems?

Tip #1: Don’t forget: you are writing for a purpose. What is it? Review the assignment if you don’t remember.) Are you writing to persuade, convince, argue, examine, interpret, or?

Tip #2: Before you start writing, make sure you know your essay’s main point, or what’s most important or significant. Ask yourself: What’s the take-home message? What do I want my reader to understand and remember forever?

Tip #3: No matter what type of research essay you need to write, you are almost always expected to write some type of argument, so you need to write down a draft thesis or central insight statement. If you are answering a research question, the answer will be your essay’s thesis.

Tip #4: After you write down your draft thesis, gather together any information and ideas you can offer that will help your reader see the merits of your main point.

Tip #5: Once you’ve reviewed your notes and brainstormed your supporting ideas, jot down thoughts on how you can offer information about each and every subpoint that will make your argument convincing and compelling.

Tip #6: Once you’ve got this stuff together in one place, prepare a rough outline of your argument, deciding how you will frame (pose) each supporting idea and its evidence in order to make your argument as convincing as possible.

Tip #7: Be prepared to revise your draft thesis, supporting ideas, and evidence as needed. You may end up taking a detour somewhere along the way (as you get a new idea, see some point from a new and interesting perspective, read a new source, etc.), so remain flexible! You never know where research may lead until you get to the end of your journey!