Writing a Research Essay: Where to start?

19 May

My students have a very difficult time grasping the idea of “doing” research.  When they get their essay outline, the focus is always on the thesis and supporting paragraphs, so that’s what they jump into.

My first question is always, where is your research? Then, what are you arguing? They are missing some vital skills and basic understandings about research and essay writing that gets them stuck every time.

In anticipation of summative assignments I ran a workshops on the process of writing a research essay.  Here is what I covered and the materials I used;

Step #1

Where to begin? We first reviewed the initial brainstorming.


Research Essay Graphic Organizer

  • What is your topic?
  • What question do you want to answer concerning your topic?
  • Complete your initial research:
  • What information did you come across that would answer your topic question?
  • What are you going to argue or present to your audience? (It’s important to choose an argument that will help inform and then focus your research.

Step #2

Find credible information that will support the focus of your essay.

Hand Out:

Research Notes Organizer

  • Find a variety of sources, including books! Go to the library!

When you find a source…

  • If it’s online you must check that the source is credible. (Who has complied the information? Is there a date of publication? Does the author cite the information they are providing?)
  • Tip #2 – Skip to the back, check the index first to see if the book even has what you are looking forward!
  • Tip #3 – Skim read everything first to make sure the book, journal article or website has the type of information you are looking for.
  • If the source has information you can use or that helps you to better understand your topic, get out a research note organizer.
  • You need to record the author(s), editor(s), title (including the edition and volumes), date and location of publication and the name of the publisher.
  • As you find information, write down the page number and be sure to note if what you record is a direct quote, summary or paraphrase!

Step #3

Get organized and then start writing!

  • Using the Research Essay Graphic Organizer begin to develop your thesis and supporting paragraphs.
  • Find quotes, statistics and facts that best support your argument!
  • As you are writing the paper you must record the source where the information came from.  Although it may be time consuming, it’s important to cite the information right in the rough copy of the essay!  It will take much longer to have to go back through your notes and try and find the right information at the end.

Step #4

Citing your sources

  • Plagiarism is a big deal! Do not forget to cite your sources in the text and at the end with a bibliography or works cited.
  • Find out what type of formatting your teacher prefers.
  • Follow the instructions, step by step.  When you get to university you can lose marks for having punctuation out of place in your citations!

These are great sources of information on citation;

MLA Citation

APA Citation

Chicago Manual Style

As teachers, sometimes I think we forget to teach some of the most basic skills such as skim reading or find sources of information, but they really don’t know! We have to teach it to them!  If you have any suggestions or ideas to help support high school students with research essays, please comment below!


One Response to “Writing a Research Essay: Where to start?”

  1. Gretchen August 22, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Awesome article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: