Before beginning an assignment, carefully read through the instructions your professor has provided. Organization is a key component of the research process.
Take note of:
- the type of sources you will need for the assignment
- how many total sources you are required to use and list in your bibliography
- if there are any special requests from your professor (not using websites, or using items borrowed through Interlibrary Loan, for example)
- which citation style to use when creating your bibliography
Make sure you have satisfied all the requirements of your assignment before you hand in your paper.
Gathering background information helps you plan your assignment. It is the foundation for good research. It is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the subject areaor not sure from what angle to approach your topic.
Background research serves many purposes:
- If you are unfamiliar with a topic, it provides a good overview of the subject matter.
- It gives you an introduction to key issues.
- It provides the names of people who are authorities in the field, major dates and events.
- It can alert you to keywords and subject-specific vocabulary terms to use when searching databases.
- It give you references and bibliographies that may lead you to additional sources.
Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion - and this type of persuasion, the academic argument, usually follows a predictable pattern. After a brief introduction, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is considered the thesis statement, and serves as a summary of the argument you'll make in the rest of your paper.
In brief, a thesis statement:
- tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
- is a road map for the paper - it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
- directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, NOT the subject itself. If your assignment is about the Korean War or the novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the thesis statement must offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
- makes a claim that others might dispute.
- is usually a single sentence somewhere in the first paragraph of your response, that presents your argument to the reader. The remainder of the paper gathers and organizes the evidence you have collected to persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.
To determine if your thesis statement is strong, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it answer the original question? Make sure you have not missed the focus of the question you are trying to answer.
- Have you taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would/could disagree with, then it is possible you have simply provided a summary rather than made an argument.
- Is your thesis statement specific enough? If your statement is too vague, you do not have a strong argument. Re-read your statement, looking for general words like "good" or "successful" and see if you can be more specific. WHY is it "good"; WHAT SPECIFICALLY made something "successful"?
- Does it pass the "so what" test? If your reader's initial response is "so what?", then you need to clarify your statement or connect it to a larger issue.
- Does your essay support the thesis statement specifically and without wandering? If your thesis statement and the body of your essay do not go together, one of them needs to change. It's perfectly okay to change your working thesis to reflect what you have learned in writing the paper. Always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
- Does it pass the "how and why" test? If your reader's first response is "how?" or "why?" your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. Look at your thesis again and see what you can tweak to give the reader a better understanding of your position right from the beginning.
- Developing your Thesis (a great resource for more in-depth thesis writing from Dartmouth)
- How to Write a Thesis Statement (a step-by-step guide from Indiana University)
Remember, run your thesis statement by your professor! They will be able to tell you if it is strong or weak, and help you refine it, if needed.