On completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
Before you begin your research, you need to have an idea for a topic. A topic can come from an assignment, a suggestion from your instructor, current events, personal interest, experience, or just about anywhere.
The Research Assignment
As you begin to think about your potential topic, you need to consider your assignment. What type of research assignment do you have? The type of research assignment will help you decide what topic to choose. There are 4 common types:
An argumentative/persuasive paper presents your opinion about a topic and evidence, in the form of outside research, to support your argument. The goal is to convince the reader that the evidence supports your point of view.
Explanatory / Expository
An explanatory/expository paper presents the facts about a topic to the reader. The purpose is simply to provide information without analysis or opinion.
An analytical paper includes the facts about a topic but takes your research a step further. You will present the facts, evaluate what you have read and present your analysis to the reader.
A compare/contrast paper is similar to the explanatory or analytical paper, but it takes two examples and shows the differences and similarities between them.
You also need to consider the requirements of your research assignment. What class is it for? How many and what kind sources are required? How long does it have to be? Knowing this information ahead of time will help you choose an appropriate topic and lay the groundwork for successful research.
Explore Your Topic
Your next step is to explore your topic. Exploring background information about your topic idea can help you find out if your topic is something you want to write about and if there is enough information you can use for a research paper. At this point, you are not actually conducting research! You are finding out if your topic is feasible. This will help you decide whether you should stick with your topic, adjust it, or come up with a new one.
Some excellent tools to explore your topic idea include:
As you explore your topic idea, look for important words and concepts. Write these down; they will be useful when you start your research. Complete this tutorial on topic identification for further explanation.
Narrow Your Topic
Once you decide on a topic, you will typically need to narrow the focus of the subject. Researching a very broad topic, like music, would provide enough information to write many books! It can be hard to write a focused paper when you have too much information. A narrowed topic will make it easier to research and write your paper.
Begin by looking at your background information. Use the list you made of important words and concepts and ask yourself the following questions. We will use music as our topic.
What are some specific examples within, or aspects of, your topic?
What time periods involve your topic?
Who are some prominent people (or groups of people) related to this topic?
What geographical areas are affected by this topic?
What current or historical events are related to your topic?
What type of course is this for?
Now you will need to decide which of these concepts interest you and fit your assignment. As you choose a narrow topic, keep in mind your assignment type, your course, and your interests. Be careful not to be too narrow—you need to make sure you can find enough research for your paper.
Here are some examples of how two very broad topics, gun control and World War II, can be narrowed to a more realistic topic for each of the four types of research assignments:
|Argumentative||Concealed weapons on college campuses|
|Explanatory/expository||History of the Second Amendment (right to bear arms)|
|Analytical||Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the Constitution|
|Compare/contrast||Gun laws in Florida versus Texas|
|World War II|
|Argumentative||Use of nuclear bombs to end WWII|
|Explanatory/expository||Events leading to World War II|
|Analytical||Impact of World War II on worldwide economy|
|Compare/contrast||Military tactics of Germany and Japan|
One way to help narrow your topic is to create a mind map. This is a visual representation of your topic and the different aspects of it. For your assignment, you will create a mind map of a broad topic of your choice. You must have at least 10 concepts.
In the middle, write your broad topic. Then use the background information you have gathered to branch out. Here is an example:
On completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
What is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement sets the tone for the whole paper. It tells the reader what the paper will discuss and provides a focus for your research. A well-written thesis will help you research and write your paper. Everything in your paper will relate to your thesis.
A thesis contains two parts: the topic and an opinion. This opinion will be chosen based on the research you do and needs to be scholarly in nature.
How Do I Develop A Thesis Statement?
One of the best ways to develop a thesis statement is to first create a research question. Take your topic and create a question. For instance, a topic of “vending machines in schools” could lead to the following research question: “Does the presence of vending machines in elementary schools cause obesity in children?”
Next, write the answer to that research question: “The presence of vending machines in elementary schools helps contribute to childhood obesity.” This is a thesis. The thesis statement helps to answer a research question.
Make sure that your thesis statement is a complete sentence; remember that your readers will never see the research question you are answering, only your thesis statement. For instance, writing “Yes, it causes obesity” will cause a lot of confusion for someone who never saw your question. Also, avoid using the first- or second-person (I, me, you) in your thesis statement.
Thesis statements can be positive or negative; that is, they can be changed to show the opposite. For the thesis statement above, you could also change it to say: “The presence of vending machines in elementary schools has no impact on the rates of childhood obesity.”
Here are a few more examples:
Topic: relationship between minorities and the death penalty
Research Question: Is the death penalty unfairly given more to minorities?
Thesis Statement: The death penalty is administered unfairly across racial lines and should be discontinued.
Topic: death penalty and the reduction of crime
Research Question: Does the use of the death penalty help reduce crime rates?
Thesis Statement: The death penalty acts as an effective deterrent for crime, and should continue to be used as a viable method of punishment.
Topic: increase of Spanish spoken in the United States
Research Question: Should Spanish be taught to students?
Thesis Statement: With the increase of Spanish-speakers in the United States, elementary schools should offer Spanish instruction to all students.
Revising Your Thesis Statement
As you collect research and write your paper, you may find that you need to revise your original thesis statement.
Timeline for Your Project
A large project, such as a research paper, is better tackled one piece at a time. In order to complete your research project in a timely manner, you will need to prioritize the developing, researching and writing process. This process includes:
Using the Assignment Calculator at the University of Minnesota, create a timeline for your project and turn it in to your instructor by the due date.
1-4: Matching – Match the concept to the example:
1. Broad topic
a. The existence of concealed weapons laws lowers the incidence of public crimes.
|2. Narrow topic||b. Concealed weapons laws|
|3. Research question||c. Gun control|
|4. Thesis statement||d. Do concealed weapons laws lower the incidence of public crimes?|
5-6: Multiple Choice – Select the best answer to the question:
5. Your topic is “video game violence”. What would be a good research question for this topic?
a) Video games are violent
b) Does exposure to violent videos games cause harm to children?
c) Are video games violent?
d) Is there research on violent video games?
6. Your research question is “Do no-fault divorce laws lead to a decrease in domestic violence?” What would be a good thesis statement for this question?
a) Yes, it does lead to a decrease in domestic violence.
b) No fault divorce laws are good.
c) I believe that no-fault divorce laws leads to a decrease in domestic violence.
d) No-fault divorce laws are correlated with a decrease in domestic violence.
7. You need to write a paper about technology. Give a topic you can write about:
8. For the topic you gave above, write a research question:
9. Now, using your research question as a guide, write a thesis statement: