One staple of college life is writing research papers. And while the process may be grueling for some, knowing how to write well is an important skill that many employers highly value. But writing well structured, thought provoking papers does not have to be an impossible task—especially if you follow the 3-point thesis approach.
Before you write, you have to research.
The bulk of your paper writing schedule will be spent researching your topic. Of course, you will need to decide on your topic before you can start your research. The following tips will help you narrow down your topic choices.
Find a topic that interests you.
No matter what course you are writing a paper for, you should find a topic that you find interesting and challenging. Also consider that the amount of interest in your topic is equal to the amount of effort you will be willing to put into researching that topic.
You want to choose a topic that is narrow enough to not be overwhelming but broad enough to find research materials. For example, if you had to write a paper about the Roman Empire, you could narrow your topic down to only the conquests of Gaius Julius Octavius.
Stand on the shoulders of giants.
Base your topic on research or conjecture that has already been developed. Instead of starting from scratch, expand on someone else’s idea or adopt an alternative viewpoint. Not only will this allow you to make new comparisons or arguments for or against a preexisting topic, but will assist you with finding research materials—you can use the same or similar research materials as the person you are basing your argument upon.
Use wikis to keep your research and sources organized.
Wikis are a great way to organize your research notes because of two very important features: linking and information hierarchies. Study Hacks has a great article on how to build a paper research wiki. http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/05/11/how-to-build-a-paper-research-wiki/
Make an outline.
The purpose of an outline is two fold. First, it helps you organize your topic in a logical manner. Second, it can help you gain insights into your topic that you didn’t realize during the research stage. Your outline will consist of three main sections: the introduction, body and conclusion composed in a hierarchical structure.
The first section is the Introduction which includes the thesis statement and points leading up to the thesis statement. Knowing the main points of your thesis statement is very important during this stage because these points will dictate the rest of the paper. When making your outline—and composing your thesis statement—you will want to order the points so that each argument flows into the next.
The next section begins the Body of the paper and consists of the points posed by the thesis statement; supporting evidence in the form of quotations, research data and examples; and your interpretation of how this evidence applies to your argument. Each point will have three to five pieces of supporting evidence depending on the length of your paper.
Be sure to include any citations for your evidence on the outline. This will save you time later when you are plugging the information into your paper.
The last section is the Conclusion and is the inverse of the Introduction. The conclusions begins with a modified version of the thesis statement followed by a few points that address your overall conclusions on the topic.
The 3-Point Thesis Approach
Very similar to the way you wrote papers in middle school, the 3-point thesis paper consists of three parts: an introduction with a thesis statement, a body which is the bulk of the paper, and a conclusion that wraps everything up. With this method, your thesis statement is king and everything else in your paper serves the king.
Your introduction does more than start your paper. It forms the building blocks of the argument upon which your thesis statement is built. Also, this is where you will capture your reader’s attention and pose the questions you paper will attempt to answer.
Every good introduction has a hook. It can be a quote, question or statement that catches the reader’s attention. Your hook should be use as a segue into the thesis statement.
The Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement guides all the other elements of your paper. The introductory paragraph should flow into the argument of the thesis statement—the final sentence of your introduction. The thesis statement consists of a single sentence containing between 2 and 5 points depending on the length of the paper. If your thesis takes more than one sentence to state, revise your thesis.
For a smooth transition from one argument to the next, consider ordering your thesis points in one of the following ways:
- Strongest argument to weakest argument
- General topic to more specific topic
- Simple analysis to complex analysis
- Causes and Effects
The bulk of your paper will be the body. In the body, you set upon the task of proving the points made by the thesis. Use quotations, research data, and relevant examples to support each point you are trying to make.
Organize your evidence so that it transitions into the next piece of evidence smoothly. If you have evidence that applies to more than one thesis point, restate that evidence in the appropriate section of the body. Do not discuss more than one thesis point at a time as this can lead to a paper that is muddled and unfocused.
Take your time to formulate logical correlations between argument and evidence. Your instructors are most interested in how you synthesize and apply supporting evidence to your arguments.
Always cite any supporting evidence that you use, especially quotations.
The conclusion is more than a summary of the paper. Think of the conclusion more like a closing argument based on the points provided in the body. Here you will answer the questions posed in the introduction as well as provide insight into the argument as a whole.
Plan to start early so that you have at least two or three days for revisions. When revising your paper, reading aloud can help you find grammatical errors and confusing wording and language.
A common pitfall for many students is not having a properly formatted bibliography. You might also consider using a website like EasyBibhttp://www.easybib.com/, Bibme http://www.bibme.org/ or OttoBib http://www.ottobib.com/ to automatically format your bibliography. Be sure to cross reference your bibliography with the citation style required by your instructor.
Working on your bibliography as you gather your research materials will be a time saver when you are writing your paper.
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Analytical vs. Argumentative Research Papers
When writing a research paper, you have the choice of two main approaches: analytical and argumentative. Sometimes your research assignment may specify which approach you should use, but sometimes the decision on how to approach your topic rests on your shoulders. The scope and purpose of your paper determines which approach is more suited to your topic.
While there are distinct differences between writing an analytical research paper and writing an argumentative research paper, there are some common principles as well:
- Logical thinking is necessary.
- Smart evaluation of information fuels what is included.
- Comprehensive research of source material is conducted.
The major difference between the two research paper types is made in the process of writing, or presenting the topic. Analytical papers create a balanced, neutral approach to presenting a snapshot of an overall topic from which you draw conclusions, and argumentative papers create a debate between differing sides with a logical argument that favors one side of an argument over another.
The analytical research paper
Forming a research question is the basis of an analytical research paper. The question is neutral and provides direction for you to evaluate and explore the topic as it relates to answering the question. Your thesis statement presents the research question, and the remainder of your paper supports your thesis.
This type of research paper is not a simple regurgitation of information. Instead, it is your thoughts, conclusions and evaluations of a topic that is backed up with logical information. Several things are vital in formulating an analytical research paper:
- You answer the research questions objectively.
- You have no preconceived notions or opinions about the topic.
- You evaluate the topic and draw conclusions from factual information from reliable sources.
- You piece findings together to present the purpose of the paper.
- You use serious contemplation and a critical evaluation to answer the research question.
The argumentative research paper
Taking one side of an issue or topic is the central point of an argumentative research paper. Your stance is built into the thesis statement, which makes the argument you feel is more logical for the given topic. The biggest goal of this type of paper is to convince your readers to agree with your point of view by backing up your position with a logical argument supported by facts and information from credible sources.
An argumentative research paper does not simply demand readers agree with you based solely on your opinion. Instead, careful and structured research is used to demonstrate the viability of your argument by providing information that allows readers to draw the same logical conclusion. There are several things that are crucial in writing this type of paper:
- You use logical persuasion to build your argument in order to convince readers.
- You clearly state your argument or stance in the thesis statement.
- You introduce the topic sufficiently before taking a stance.
- You use credible sources to back up your position and include information about the opposing view.
- You use critical evaluation to create a logical argument.
Regardless of which research paper type you are undertaking, the backbone of writing a great paper starts with conducting thorough and structured research, using effective note-taking strategies and forming a strong thesis statement. While the thesis statement you start with may evolve as you write your paper, an analytical research paper has a more fluid thesis than an argumentative one; the thesis statement may undergo more changes as you begin outlining, writing a rough draft or finalizing your paper.
As you work through the organization process of writing a research paper, stay aware of which approach your topic requires to stay focused on the right aspects of the topic. If you are writing with an analytical approach, use an objective and logical presentation of facts to answer your research question. If you are writing with an argumentative approach, use logical thinking and an accurate representation of both sides of an issue while persuading your audience to reach the same conclusions you do.