A Cookbook on How to Write an Essay—The Research Phase

A Cookbook on How to Write an Essay—The Research Phase

Unknown painter outdoors. Woman hands sketching on drawing book in the morning at the city centre.

We all love recipes for success, so how about one for essay writing mastery—for the research phase?

The only ingredients needed for this recipe are a highlighter, pen, paper, printer, a university library, and a library article database.

With those elements at hand, here is page one of a cookbook on study skills expertise.  Page one focuses on how to research an essay, gather materials, and generate a working thesis when assigned an essay topic:

  1. Wait until the paper topic is assigned.
  2. On the same day the paper is assigned, go to the library and sign out every book on the topic.
  3. Also, on the same day the paper is assigned, download onto your hard drive at least thirty articles on the topic.
  4. Look at the book indexes to see which subtopics have the most references.
  5. Try linking some of those subtopics into a relationship, such as A, B, and C led to D. Or you could say, A and not B and not C are the reason for D, unlike what is commonly believed.  But you don’t have to stick with such structures.  You could use instead, for instance, A led to B which prevented C which could have led to D.  Note that the type of paper (argument, opinion, comparison) will dictate much of your structure.  For instance, in a comparison paper, you will have A and B both have qualities C, D, and E in common.
  6. Write a thesis statement for your A, B, C, etcetera in the previous step. Start by mentioning the subject.  For instance, you could start with, “In the book titled…” or “The art piece called …” or “The first amendment….” Or whatever the subject is.  Follow with one of the A, B, C, D, structure you created.  For instance, you could say, “In the art piece called Horse Set Free, the multiple renditions of sunlight reflecting on the horse through use of a pointillism style [A], the artistic detail on the horse’s weary face [B], and the abuse weathered on its scarred body [C] showed a human element to the horse’s newfound freedom [D], reminiscent of the abolition of the slave trade [E]”
  7. Now that you have a sense of a general argument, print out all your articles.
  8. Take out a highlighter and skim through your articles, highlighting anything to do with A, B, C, D, and/or E. Jot down a a keyword or two to indicate to which alphabet letter the highlight refers.  For instance, beside a highlighted point referring to “A”, you could write in the margin, “Pointillism.” Beside a highlighted point referring to B, you could write, “whipping abuse.” Beside highlighted point referring to “C,” you could write, “weary detail.” And so forth.  Just try to keep them as consistent as possible.
  9. As for the books, go to the indexes and put a colored sticky note on the top of each referenced page. Write on the sticky note the page numbers and the words written on it similar to above.  For instance, if the book pages refer to “A” (Pointillism), write on the sticky note, “Pointillism pp.  18-21.” You just need to add one sticky note on p.  18 for this one.  But if pointillism is again referenced on p.  59, put another sticky note on p.  59 with the words, “Pointillism p.  59 on it.”

But, whoa!  What if after reading your articles, you get a slightly or radically new direction?  Well, you shift as you go.  Just download additional articles and pick up additional books as needed.  Remember, you need to fit your essay to the facts, not the other way around.  Just try not to reinvent the entire wheel unless you get an idea for a paper so great that you stand a chance of getting published.

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