Back to School, Back to Papers
October 3, 2015
By: Kris London
During my first semester as a graduate English student at Appalachian State, I learned more about researching than I had over the entirety of my four years as an undergraduate. While the path that took me to a more enlightened state of study was rigorous, looking back I am not only thankful for the lesson but am disappointed that I hadn’t learned such a valuable skill as researching in my undergraduate career. And yet, finding a start for research is just as important. Therefore, I will discuss a strategy to more efficiently approach research, specifically finding a research technique. Regardless of the method of research, three things must be identified in some way: the topic, a means, and an argument or analysis of the material.
When an instructor assigns an essay, the topic, at a cursory glance, seems given and self-evident. Yet, to take the assignment without further inquiry into the subject is a mistake. Furthermore, instructors often offer broad topics, for example “feminism” or “technology,” in order to provoke probing. Topics that may seem to be specific enough, such as “technology’s effect on academia in the twenty-first century,” are actually just as broad, considering the amount of condensation involved in a twenty page paper and especially a five page paper.
To find the topic of a five-page essay is to find some aspect of the subject to focus and expand upon. For example, a more focused topic for the essay dealing with “technology’s effect on academia in the twenty-first century,” might be: “the effect of social media on academia in the twenty-first century”; or more specifically, “the effect of social media on college campuses in the twenty-first century”; or even more specifically, “the distraction of social media on college campuses in the twenty-first century.” In refining what, exactly, the essay will be about, the writer will not only be able to write a more interesting and scholarly paper, but also writing the paper will be easier, as it will offer a focal point to work from.
After the topic is identified, a means to confront the topic in an academic way must be worked upon. The difference between “topic” and “means” may at first appear nonexistent in the context of a paper, but there is a difference to be sure. The topic is the subject of the paper, the conversation the writer will engage with, while the means of the paper is how the writer approaches the topic. If an essay did concern “the distraction of social media on college campuses in the twenty-first century,” the topic could be identified as the phrase in quotations and the means will depend on how the author wants to progress. One possible means is to discuss the prevalence of phone usage during class, connecting media such as Tumblr and Facebook as a mental divergent from lectures.
One of the best ways to find an approach to the topic (that is, the means to the means) is to freewrite. Freewriting is writing from a stream of consciousness, without worrying about coherence in thought or grammar. The object is to find out what the writer knows about the topic, and in rambling about the topic, find an approach to the topic at hand through organizing the ideas written in the freewrite. Once thoughts are organized, a thesis may begin to form.
The thesis identifies the argument or analysis, usually in a single sentence, that will be expanded upon throughout the rest of the essay. Perhaps the most important question an author can ask him/herself during the process of formulating a thesis and indeed throughout writing the paper, is “So what?” That is, why should the reader care about the essay?
A thesis should typically appear in the introductory paragraph and present the argument clearly. An example for the aforementioned topic of social media may be: “In providing students with a constant supply of stimulation, social media, with its easy access, often distracts students in the college classroom, not only causing a stunted learning curve, but also creating distance between students and professors that has historically been—and still is—essential for education in academic settings.” What remains consistent is the thesis’ clear delineation of the method of approach. In the preceding thesis, the author has clearly stated what the paper will be about (distraction in classrooms) and why such a topic is important (it creates distance that hinders students’ educational opportunities).
In delineating a few thoughts on research and the suggested prerequisites for it, I hope to have shed light on this topic. As for conducting research, the ASU library is a great place to start. More specifically, on the lower level there exists a place known as the University Writing Center. It is a collective entity ready to help students in all stages of the writing process, so come see us when you feel like you need a little help.