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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper 1: Researching and Planning

Research Overview

The research process begins with a strong question. Rather than starting to research with your mind already made up about your topic, approach your topic with inquiry and curiosity, wanting to discover something new.
Observe: What interests you? What do you want to know more about?
Question: Why are things the way they are? Have they always been this way? If not, why did they change?
Think Creatively: What keeps them from being different? What could be done to effect change?

Choose a Topic

Observe the details and different aspects of your topic. Your choice of topic should pique your curiosity. It should also be a subject that you don’t already have definite ideas about or that you are willing to change your mind about.
If you’ve been provided with a specific prompt or assignment, are you adhering to the guidelines of the assignment?
Spend some time brainstorming to choose a topic. 

Find and Evaluate Sources

Begin doing some preliminary research in the online databases, on the shelves of the EWU library, or on Google Scholar. It's important to find sources that are credible and that will be a good fit for your topic. These pages will get you started in finding and evaluating sources:

Recommended Resources for Finding Sources

Searching Article Databases

Distinguishing Scholarly Articles

Evaluating Articles

Evaluating Websites

Reading and Annotating a Source

Organizing Sources

Develop a Research Question

After doing some preliminary research on your chosen or assigned topic, develop a research question.

This research question:

  • can (and should!) be revised as you do more research.
  • will eventually lead to your “working thesis."
  • should be debatable rather than have an obvious or simplistic answer.
  • explores what published research already says about the topic and leaves room for you to add new ideas to the research.
  • should be open-ended, without assumptions about what the answer is.
  • should be arguable. Is there enough credible information on the issue or topic? Is it too narrow or too broad?

Most often, students struggle with making their question narrow enough to develop into a solid thesis. Here are some questions that are too broad:

Is war good or bad? (This question is overly simplistic and doesn't take into account how complex the issue of war is.)

Is exercise good for you? (It’s not exactly clear what “good” means.)

How has volunteerism affected the United States? (This question would be stronger if it were narrowed to a certain population—e.g. volunteerism of college students—or a particular aspect of the United States—e.g. education or values.)

Occasionally (though not very often), a research question may be too narrow. Here is one example:

What’s the reason for red parking passes? (This can be answered in one or two sentences and probably could not be developed into an entire paper.)

Here is a stronger research question (neither too broad nor too narrow):

Why do today’s college students choose to volunteer? (This refers to a specific population and opens the door for many possible answers.) 

Develop a Working Thesis Statement

Turn your research question into a working thesis statement by answering it based on what you’ve found in your research so far. This statement will likely change and become more precise as you continue to research.

The question Why do today's college students choose to volunteer? becomes the working thesis Today's college students choose to volunteer for work experience, to connect with others, and to help out.

Solidify Your Thesis Statement

The thesis statement:

  • is the central idea and focus of your paper. It is the most important sentence (or sentences) in your paper.
  • is an assertion that academic writers typically make at the beginning of a paper and then restate and support with evidence throughout their essay. It often appears for the first time in the introduction paragraph.
  • is usually only one or two sentences.
  • should have a specific point of view that may be reasonably disagreed with.
  • is specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper.

Every point in your paper must relate back to your thesis statement. Be careful not to take your readers down unnecessary paths by presenting information that does not support your thesis.

Tips for a Strong Thesis Statement

  • Avoid announcing your thesis: “In this essay, I am going to tell you about Eastern Washington University and why you should go there.”

Side note: Some instructors may encourage this type of statement when it is appropriate for the purpose of the paper.

  • Leave the research open-ended: Not: “It is definitive that Chik-Fil-A will improve the destiny of all Washingtonians.”
  • Be specific: Words like “good,” “bad,” “right,” and “wrong” don’t convey specific meaning.

Working Thesis to Thesis

 Today’s college students choose to volunteer for work experience, to connect with others, and to help out becomes more complex: Contrary to popular claims about the ‘generation of entitlement,’ many of today’s college students choose to volunteer not only because it gives them work experience, but because it also connects them with their local community and offers an opportunity to help those in need.

[Some samples borrowed from the Brief McGraw-Hill Handbook 2nd edition]

Types of Thesis Statements

There are many different kinds of thesis statements depending on what kind of assignment you are working on. Here are a few examples of common types of thesis statements:

An analytical paper evaluates the issue or idea and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.

Sample analytical thesis: Though there are many reasons for volunteering that have remained consistent over the years, for today’s college students, one new motivator stands out above the rest: volunteering in order to fulfill a requirement for a course.

An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.

 Sample expository thesis: Volunteerism is on the rise among students at American universities, and the three primary reasons cited in studies are the desire to be more competitive for jobs, boredom, and requirements for courses or majors.

An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence.

 Sample argumentative thesis: In order to encourage young people to volunteer out of intrinsic motivations rather than out of obligation, universities should remove requirements for volunteering from all courses.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories a thesis statement is still essential. 

Side Note: Your thesis should not only appear in your introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Every paragraph or section of your paper should refer to it in order to make your point clear. Signposting is a helpful way to think about transitions and restating your thesis.