In this assignment, you will have the opportunity to explore and test a possible topic for your final research paper and inform your readers about this topic. You will also practice your skills in locating and evaluating sources, as well as summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting and synthesizing material. (If after doing this assignment, you find that you need to shift your topic or throw out the sources you used, that is fine.)
Shaping your topic: For an essay of this length, you need to choose a topic that is narrow and specific enough to discuss using a few sources (later, you could expand on the topic for the longer, final research essay).
Focus on an aspect of the topic about which your readers may not know. To inform is to give new, unexpected, or nuanced information that goes beyond the general information that people could find in an encyclopedia. Let readers know about a new and interesting idea related to the topic by exploring questions such as the following:
Have experts discovered new findings on the topic?
Is there a debate raging on this topic that you want to explain to readers?
Do new studies on the topic challenge or overthrow previously held beliefs or common assumptions?
Has your research revealed an important problem that is worth exploring and discussing?
Has your research revealed causes or solution to a problem that people may not have considered before?
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Example of working thesis for short research essay:
The Parthenon, the temple on the hill of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, represents the culminating achievement of an important style of Greek architecture. — Problem: Although this is an interesting topic, the writer is not informing readers of new, current. or nuanced information. This information could easily be found in an encyclopedia entry.
Better informative thesis: Researchers have recently uncovered architectural techniques and tools used by the original Greek builders of the Parthenon; using these techniques and tools, modern restorers of the Parthenon will be able to rebuild the Parthenon more quickly and accurately than was previously possible.
Planning to write:
Researching – Using library databases and catalogues, you will browse for sources and select at least five reliable and useful sources on the topic you have chosen. At least one of your sources should be an article from a scholarly journal.
Note taking – Read the articles and/or book excerpts carefully, using your active reading skills. For each source, take careful and thorough notes in which you paraphrase and summarize the authors’ ideas and information. Then, reorganize your notes by idea, instead of by source. For each idea that is worthy of a paragraph, compile all notes from all sources about that idea.
Synthesizing: When you have taken thorough notes and understand each author’s perspective on the topic, note similarities and differences in each article, and note where the information overlaps and diverges.
The final short research essay:
Using the notes you have compiled from the sources, write an informative research essay. You can think of this essay as a stepping stone to your larger research paper; in fact, it may become one small piece of your final paper.
Your purpose is to inform your readers about some aspect of this topic or about the various views presented in your sources. This means you will have to synthesize the information you have collected. Your thesis should present the main idea that you want your readers to understand about this topic (see notes above about shaping your topic). The thesis should lay out in one sentence what you will discuss in the essay. The body and conclusion should develop this main idea by presenting general points and information from your sources. Remember, although you are reporting information from sources, you should do so in your own words, and you should give credit to the authors of the sources for their ideas and information.
Citing your sources: At the end of your paper, include a Works Cited list in MLA style. Also, you should use in-text citation to identify each instance in which you quote, paraphrase, or summarize an author’s words or ideas. (We will discuss MLA style in class.)
Note: Your final research paper for the class will require you to build an analysis or argument from your topic; the final paper will be 8-10 pages in length, and will draw upon at least nine reliable and varied sources. Keep these factors in mind as you explore and learn more about your topic.