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I wrote a lot of term/research papers in high school. I’m sure that my teachers really believed that they were preparing us for all for the research paper writing we would encounter in college (bless their hearts!). And, if we were not going to college, their justification was that everyone needed to become a ‘life-long” learner and thus needed to know how to conduct good research to locate information on any topic (Hello! What kid in school does not know how to use the Internet to locate information? It’s not like a high school grad is going to be conducting research in a lab environment!). But I digress. The point is that, other than knowing how to conduct research and format a paper in an assigned style, the paper writing I did in high school did not really teach me how to do a research paper in college.
What I did pick up in high school, however, were the steps to writing a research paper, but one important ingredient was left out – this concept of a research paper thesis. We were taught to have good thesis statements for the essays we wrote in English class, but somehow that never transferred over to the research paper writing genre. We were given topics (sometimes options for topics) and then required to go forth, find information, and compose a paper that organized that information in a good way. It was sort of like a long informative essay with footnotes and a bibliography!
The “Shock” of College Research Paper Writing
A thesis for a research paper? What’s that? All of a sudden, I was not allowed to begin a research paper without a thesis! Seriously? Yes, seriously! At the college level, research papers take on a whole new meaning – not only did I have to conduct a lot of research, I also had to come up with a thesis based upon that research – an opinion, a point-of-view, or an overall analytical statement in response to what I had researched. This certainly changed things, and it took me a while to really grasp the nature of the research paper thesis. In an attempt to help others who are experiencing the same “shock,” this veteran will not impart to others 5 hints for developing a research paper thesis!
- A thesis is best described as the answer to a research question that you must ask yourself every time you set about to produce a paper in any subject field. Let me give you a few examples. Suppose you are going to write a paper on biogenetic engineering. You have a topic, but you do not have a thesis. So, what questions do you have about this topic? Is it a real thing of the future? Is it ethical to pre-determine the characteristics a baby before it is born? Are there important medical reasons for such engineering? When you do a little initial research, you may develop answers to these questions for yourself. When you have those answers, you have thesis options, and you will take a stand in support of or opposition to the practice. Suppose you are writing a paper for economics comparing capitalism and socialism? You will definitely be researching the benefits and drawbacks of each. Through that research, however, you may be asking yourself which is the better system for the majority of this planet’s residents? You may ultimately decide that a combination of the two seems to work best. Your thesis is more of an analytical one, demonstrating that those countries in which the economy seems to be consistently stable, a combination of the two systems is in place.
- Only write your thesis statement AFTER the research has been finished. How can you possibly have an opinion or a scholarly analysis point if you have not done the legwork of finding out all you can about the topic? Once the research is done, and you have become a bit of an expert on the topic can you have a credible thesis!
- Experiment with your thesis statement writing. Write it in several ways, put it down, and come back to it later. In the meantime you can work on the body of the paper. You have your thesis in your mind – you just haven’t committed it to the best possible form yet!
- Sometimes the thesis statement “gels” even more after the entire body of the paper is written. I know that, when I finish the paper, and have had a chance to remind myself of the content once again, I can usually write a better thesis statement.
- Be clear and concise. There is nothing worse than a thesis statement that is enclosed in such a lengthy sentence, it gets lost for the reader. The thesis statement is always a part of the introduction, but it should be stated in a single sentence, as succinctly as possible. Do not elaborate – that is what the “meat” of the paper is for! Thesis Statement Example: “If we, as a nation, adhere to the philosophy of equality for all, then state and federal governments must set legal parameters for the practice of biogenetic engineering.” Clear and concise!
If you are in any way in a “fog” about how to start a research paper at the college level, you clear that “fog” by accepting the fact that you will have to have a thesis statement that is either argumentative or analytical. Further, that statement must be clear to any reader. Go forth and tackle those papers!