What is a Research Essay?
A research essay is one that includes a significant reference component. Research essays can take a variety of forms. They can be expository (informative) documents that attempt to inform the reader about a certain topic. They can be analysis articles that draw on external data as well as the writer's own ideas to analyze a text or idea. They can be argumentative articles that attempt to use investigation-based claims to persuade the reader. They can also be personal articles that integrate an element of data collection to supplement the writer's narrative. Essentially, any type of project can be a research essay, so long as it includes a significant amount of data collection.
Research essays are different from analysis articles in that an analysis article is intended to be a strictly academic text in which the writer reports on the data and studies of others and uses that information to either inform or persuade. An article is a text that is rooted in the ideas, opinions, and interpretations of the individual writer. Therefore, a research essay will be based in the writer's own ideas, and will use data collection as a supplement to bolster or enhance those ideas. This means that the majority of the article should still be the writer's own thoughts, opinions, and logic. The data collection is supplementary. A research report should always present considerably more of the writer's own words and thoughts than those of external references.
Research essays will essentially follow the conventions of the more prominent document form in which the writer is writing. Therefore, the writer should be familiar with this larger form before proceeding. The primary thing the writer needs to know about transforming that larger form into a research essay is how to incorporate and cite sources of investigation.
There are two ways of including data in an assignment. One is to quote the words of the data source exactly. This is done by presenting the words of the source and enclosing them in quotation marks, "like this." The second way of including reference information is to paraphrase. Paraphrasing is describing the ideas presented in the source without using the words the source writer used. Paraphrasing is essentially capturing the idea of the source without borrowing from the writer's words. A research report should include a balance between quotations and paraphrases. As a general rule, the writer should paraphrase when the ideas presented can be summarized and presented in the writer's own words without changing the meaning of the ideas. A writer should quote when (1) the writer cannot change the words of the source without changing the ideas or (2) the source writer explained the idea in an extremely intelligent or interesting way.
All quotes or paraphrases must give due credit to the source through a citation. The citation style used for a research essay will depend on the teacher's preference, but all citations must include the name of the author and, if the data included is a quote, the page number on which the quote can be found in the source.
Finally, when incorporating paraphrases and quotes into a research essay, a student must make great effort to introduce and analyze the quote. One should never simply present information from a secondary source without commenting on it. The project writer should always explain, analyze, or argue with the data in such a way that the data becomes integrated into the overall project idea of the writer.
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