A research essay is typically assigned in social science classes such as history, sociology, anthropology or psychology. Your job is to research and analyze some information and put it together into a coherent discussion. The challenge is to use and discuss the ideas of others without falling into the traps of plagiarism or unoriginality. You want to talk about what is important about the ideas, how they contributed to understanding in the field, or why they are right or wrong.
For example, use tools of modern economics to argue about the role of medieval guilds in the develop of early European settlements. Or take a study done on children in France and try to show it is/isn't applicable to elderly Florida residents. An original thesis is the best start you can make to get a high grade in a research essay.
Your thesis is the most critical aspect of your research essay. It not only organizes the material you are presenting, it also focuses your research efforts.
Again, it's a marshaling of facts to support your argument. Make sure you have found out if any academics have made similar arguments and acknowledge them in your essay, even if you did not draw directly from them. If they said things which don't support your argument, say why these statements are either wrong or not applicable in the circumstances.
In a research essay the quality of research is important. Don't just repeat articles from an encyclopedia or from some website. If you use the web, make sure you are citing a reputable site that has good information. For example, if writing on a scientific question, a site from a professional body might be much better than one from a lobbying group representing a business interest. Use your school library. Sometimes the important information you need is buried in books or articles about related topics.
In university and college essays it is important to use peer-reviewed journals as sources. You may be able to access these on-line through your school library, but there is usually a charge to do it directly. There is usually one or more journals for every academic speciality. If you are unsure if a journal is peer-reviewed, look to see who publishes it. It should appear to be an academic body. Second, the articles in the journal should be themselves well documented. If the articles are not written in APA style with a complete set of references, then the journal is not peer-reviewed.
In a research essay, you should quote more than paraphrase. Only use direct quotes when the source has said something in a unique or original way. It's not necessary to quote to cite a statistic or if the author uses one of the words specific to the field you are researching.
Here's a hint: when you are struggling with formatting your references, look at how the professionals use APA style in their journal articles.
Typically you summarize your arguments. You can also end with an example or a quote which sums up your arguments. You will need to make reference back to your thesis and show how you have proven your thesis to be true.
What are markers looking for?
As usual, a clearly-written, well organized essay. Top marks would go to an original thesis which showed thorough research and good writing. If you have a tired old thesis, no matter how well you write the essay, your grades will be limited. If you don't show that you have done a lot of work to research your topic, your grade will also suffer.
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