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Exploratory Research Essay

You’ll begin to draft your exploratory research essay, in this first of two rough drafts, but this first draft will be very rough. No citations or works cited needed for this draft. This is about getting your ideas on paper (so to speak) so you can see what you have and what you need for the next draft. For the second draft you’ll need to get this into more formal shape, with your Works Cited or References and in-text citations. For now, just work on forming your ideas around the research you’ve done and begin to write about your topic in a research-informed way. See Assignment Prompts below to help guide your writing.
• Structuring the Research EssayLinks to an external site. (Interactive Reading)
• Plain Text VersionDownload Plain Text Version
When a writer begins to plan a research essay, it can feel overwhelming – there is so much research gathered and information to choose from, but where to start? For an exploratory research essay, which considers the significance of researched information might have on an audience, it makes sense to structure the essay around that significance.
The writer can start to structure the essay around what the research exploration revealed about the topic, by asking: what should I tell readers I want to discuss (Introduction); what is the main idea I want to get across to readers (Thesis); what are the key ideas around that main idea that I want to convey (Paragraphs); and what is the most significant point I want readers to take away from reading this essay – what is the one or few thing(s) I want them to understand (Conclusion)? And, it often helps to start from the conclusion and work backward, with the end in mind but open to revision the entire way, as the path of presenting the important points in the research process is mapped out. Thinking forward and backward can help identify what’s most important to convey. With a basic structure identified, the writer can build from there by developing paragraphs based on evidence in the sources found, and by expanding on ideas or refining them so they are clear and concise. The structure can also expand or shift somewhat as the writer works through the information gathered, and perhaps looks for additional information.
Just like building a house with a solid foundation, ideas are like the framing and foundation to which you add evidence, and then expand on that evidence with detail to convey its significance. Using the house metaphor, you might frame the structure, pour the foundation, add drywall, cabinets, flooring and fixtures, and ensure electricity and plumbing run through he house connecting it all, no matter where you’re located in the structure. And the entire vision of the end result is always in mind and is what the work moved toward.
A research essay has similar structures: connections made throughout, details that orient a reader to what each point is about, and culminates in what should be the most important point in its conclusion (or the heart of a home, where everything makes sense – often the kitchen from which we feed ourselves, or in this case, the research essay from which we feed our knowledge).
The writer writes and revises through several drafts of the essay, expanding on ideas in greater detail, providing evidence in support of those ideas, gathering more evidence if needed, and providing analysis about the evidence and how it supports, contradicts, or otherwise frames an idea. This expansion, layering, and integrating of information in a cohesive way continues until the essay is a much more robust and fully-formed version of its initial structure of ideas.
A writer who is more of a visual thinker might prefer to start by creating a diagram or cluster map of ideas – something visual to represent ideas and how they relate to one another. Another writer might prefer a linear or hierarchical outline of words on a page, to signify sequential order and focus. Whether a writer uses a simple visual diagram on a post-it note, an elaborate concept mapping scheme, a written hierarchical outline, or prefers a “word vomit” approach of dumping half-formed ideas onto a page and then organizing, writers generally have some sort of structure to guide them as they begin a research essay and to provide more structure as they continue to build on that foundation.
The CARS modelLinks to an external site. may also be helpful in thinking about structuring research essays.
Writing About Research
Writers often find a simple self-reflection to be the best place to start thinking about how to organize information from research conducted into cohesive thoughts. In a five-minute free write, describe as much as you can to answer the following questions about your topic – this will help you begin to develop a structure for your essay:
• What is interesting to know about this topic?
• What has already been said about it – what did you find in the research?
• What is important/interesting about what has been said – what matters most?
• What do I know now about this topic that I didn’t understand before researching?
• What do I think is important to say about what I now understand?
• What one thing is most important to say – what one thing do I want readers to take away from reading my essay about this topic?
This should give you some basic ideas about what to write about from your research. But it’s not enough to just report on what your research sources provide. You have to organize all the information into your own ideas about the topic. This resource on organizingLinks to an external site. might be helpful. Use the following to further develop a potential structure for your research essay:
For this assignment, you’ll further develop a structure for your essay using the prompts below as a guide. You will submit a rough draft of your essay (should be at the very least 500 words) to USF Writes. This draft can be rough — try for paragraphs that organize information around one point, but don’t worry about connecting them or concluding much yet. The more you can write in this first draft, the easier it will be to get to a second draft, so do as much as you can, since you’ll end up editing heavily anyway.
1. Introduce the research problem or question and the rationale for exploring it.

o Explain the issue or the problem
o Describe the surrounding context if relevant
o What would make someone curious about it? What would make someone want to read more about the topic?
2. Establish the significance of the problem or question and why readers should care about it.

o How many people are affected?
o What aspects of our society are affected?
o What difference will it make in people’s lives?
o Why is this particular question significant?
3. Describe and analyze what has already been written or said by others about the topic.

o Who has made a significant contribution to the conversation (existing research) about this?
o Who are the strongest, most credible voices in the conversation?
o What have they said and how does that relate to your research question?
o What important questions do these other voices raise for you?
4. Explain what you find to be the most significant or key answer to the research question?

o In the end, which voices were most convincing? Why?
o What aspects of the conversation turned out to be most important? Why?
o What might you add to the conversation?
o What do you want to say?
5. Describe what you’ve come to understand about the topic that you didn’t fully appreciate when you began the project. What is left to explore? What would others still want to know?

o What difference will the discoveries you made about your topic make in your life? In your readers’ lives? In the lives of any specific audience to which your essay might be targeted?
o What do you remain curious about?
o What questions remain unanswered or what issue is unresolved?
o What directions might you take if you were to continue to explore the topic?

o What do you want to say?
After you have developed your draft, add in a separate paragraph reflecting on the following, and put it at the end of your draft (same document as your draft) under the heading “Reflection” (should be at least 250 words):
• Consider and identify anything you can’t answer, any areas you might need more sources to support, or any questions that come up. Even if you can’t answer all the prompts above, do you have enough to start to develop a structure for your essay that will guide your writing? What other information/material/sources might help?
• Can you imagine using this structure to build on and can you imagine adding evidence from the sources you have to each of your points? Can you envision how you might provide analysis of all that evidence? Can you determine a clear thesis that represents your essay and to which all your other points will connect? Can you see ahead to a possible conclusion that gives readers a sense of what’s most important to know about your topic? How do you envision your research essay starting to take shape — which parts are strong and which need some strengthening.
Answering these reflection questions will help you conceptualize and expand your P2 drafts in the coming weeks.

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