A research essay, often called a “research paper,” is simply that—an essay that takes its support from researched sources to back up your own observations, insights, analyses, and evaluations. The phrase “to back up” is important. It emphasizes that, as a writer, your own observations, insights, analyses, and evaluations are still essential to the research essay. The research simply becomes additional evidence from recognized sources that you use to strengthen your own thoughts.
Beginning research writers often think – erroneously – that the more research they can put into an essay the better. However, an essay that’s merely a series of quotations or pieces of information from sources strung together lacks the essential element of essay writing, your own thoughts and insights. Always keep in mind that, while research is important in providing supporting evidence for your thesis, you still need your own thesis and your own ideas throughout any research essay.
Key to writing a research essay is the ability to find and use information from sources to support your thesis idea and your own observations.
- Choose sources that directly address the issue. Use sources that deal not just with the topic of your thesis, but with the angle (e.g., a general book on the history of computer use in college may not yield useful information to support a thesis on the benefits of online learning for adult students).
- Choose valid, reliable sources, with the following characteristics: sources are written by acknowledged experts in the field, sources include citations of their own sources of information, sources are published in journals whose contents undergo a review process, etc. (e.g., John Doe’s website on his own experiences as an adult student may not yield reliable information to support a thesis on the design of online courses to support different learning styles).
- Remember to incorporate source information with your own ideas and analyses (e.g., a research essay includes your own thoughts and analyses throughout the essay, not just in the introduction and conclusion).
- Appropriately use different methods of offering source information: summary, paraphrase, direct quotation (only when the information is written so well that rewriting it would not make sense).
Again, a research essay is an essay with your own thesis, angle, ideas, and support, but with the added layer of valid researched support which adds to the evidence supporting your thesis. A research essay is not simply a series of direct quotations strung together to create the body of the essay.