Outlining Your Research Paper in a Less "Graphic" Way prewriting/brainstorming



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Outlining Your Research Paper in a Less “Graphic” Way
PREWRITING/BRAINSTORMING—Think like your professor in this section. Focus on what he or she is asking for. Think about the assignment in GENERAL, not about your specific topic (yet).
What is the point of this paper? What are you trying to accomplish? (Write your goals for this paper. Focus here on what you think the point of the ASSIGNMENT IN GENERAL is.)
Ex: The point of this research paper is to inform my audience about space exploration from 1800 to the present. By the end of my paper, I want my audience to understand the history of space exploration, who was involved, and the current

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What does the assignment call for? What does your professor want? (Consult your rubric and assignment sheet for this information. Write specifics. How will you write an A+ paper? What is everything that you need to include?) If you don’t know the answer to one of these questions, you should be sure to ask your professor for clarification.
Page number requirement: ____ Minimum number of sources? ___ Maximum? ___
Style type: APA MLA Chicago Other: _______ Cover page required? Yes No
Who is your audience? ____________________
What other information does your rubric or assignment sheet provide about the goals and requirements of this assignment? Write down EVERYTHING that should be included in this assignment here! Notice the differences between what is being asked and what you are told to avoid! ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Think of possible topics in this section (if you don’t already have one). What do you want to write about? What is interesting to you? Make sure your topic meets the requirements of the assignment!

1.

2.



3.

4.

5.


Select your favorite topic. Now, choose an angle to write from. What EXACTLY are you writing about? If your topic is too broad, this is where you want to narrow it down. Focus on exactly what you want your reader to learn through your paper.

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With your position and main idea in mind, brainstorm a few major subtopics that you want to discuss further. These should be concepts that you can talk about in great detail and that are related to the point of your essay, as well as the position you want to write about. These will eventually become your body paragraphs!
Main idea 1:
How does it relate to your essay? What will including this concept do for your overall paper? How will it strengthen your essay?
Brainstorm 1 or 2 sources that you can use to support this idea:

Main idea 2:
How does it relate to your essay? What will including this concept do for your overall paper? How will it strengthen your essay?
Brainstorm 1 or 2 sources that you can use to support this idea:

Main idea 3:
How does it relate to your essay? What will including this concept do for your overall paper? How will it strengthen your essay?
Brainstorm 1 or 2 sources that you can use to support this idea:

Main idea 4:
How does it relate to your essay? What will including this concept do for your overall paper? How will it strengthen your essay?
Brainstorm 1 or 2 sources that you can use to support this idea:

Main idea 5:
How does it relate to your essay? What will including this concept do for your overall paper? How will it strengthen your essay?
Brainstorm 1 or 2 sources that you can use to support this idea:


OUTLINING—Use the brainstorming page to help you outline your paper.
A research paper includes the following parts and will look like this upon completion:

  • Introduction (first paragraph)

    • Attention-getter

    • Preview of paper

    • Thesis Statement

    • Transition

  • Body (multiple middle paragraphs; majority of your paper)

    • Topic sentences in each paragraph that express what the paragraph is about

    • Research from credible sources to support your ideas. Research papers are research based. Your ideas MUST be SUPPORTED by research that is CREDIBLE.

  • Conclusion (final paragraph)

    • Restated thesis statement

    • A strong closing that will leave the reader with a clear understanding


Introduction (first paragraph; NOT a part of the body!) Get specific. Write out your attention-getter. Feel free to come back to this stage after you have begun writing your paper. (Sometimes it is easiest to write the bulk of your introduction last!) Think of this paragraph like a movie preview; when you see it, you know a very small amount of information about the movie—just enough to make you want to see it without giving anything major away. You’re introduced briefly to characters and the conflict, but you need to see the whole movie to understand how it all fits together. Your introductory paragraph should do the same thing!
Your first sentence should be your attention-getter. Captivate your audience and make them WANT to read more:
Possible attention getters include (but are NOT limited to) a rhetorical question, a quotation (citing the name of the person if it’s a famous quote), writing an unusual statement that makes your reader think, using humor (if it’s appropriate with your topic!), or using a shocking statistic.
Write your possible attention-getter here:
Follow this with your preview. Give a summary of your topic without giving away the specific sources and avoid explaining your position in this section. Introductions rarely go into great detail; it is ok to explain your point, but the majority of your explanation should be saved for your body paragraphs. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a first paragraph that is WAY too long and WAY off topic!

Next, write your thesis. A thesis will probably be one of the last lines in your introduction, and this is where you get SUPER specific. This sentence (or 2) serves as your anchor. Everything that you write will relate to this line! State exactly what you are going to write about. What is the point of your paper? What are you trying to prove through your writing? Answer the questions: What/Who and How.


Example thesis for a paper about the typical life of college students (taken from Purdue Owl):

The life of the typical college student is characterized by time spent studying, attending class, and socializing with peers.

(What: Subject) (Link) (How—topic points that will be discussed in your paper)


Notice the three different sections. The first part of the thesis, “The life of a typical college student,” discusses the main subject of your paper. What are you writing about? Try making the focus of your paper the first part (or subject) of your thesis.
Want more examples?

The history of North American women… Puppy mills… Life in 19th century England… Space exploration…
What is the subject of your paper: ________________________________________________________________________________
The next part of the example thesis, “is characterized by,” links the subject and the “topic points” of your thesis together. How will you combine your subject (the “who or what”) and the “how” together?
Is characterized by, is explained through, has changed by, are all possible examples of links.
Link: _________________________
Now, HOW are you going to explain the point of your paper? Your thesis should make an assertion and the how section describes what you’re going to talk about in your paper to prove or explain your thesis.
HOW: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Go back through each part and put the whole thing together. Feel free to reorder the information if it sounds choppy, but make sure you’re including the WHAT and the HOW in your final thesis!
Thesis statement: _____________________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________


With your thesis completed, compare and contrast these examples and notice the differences between 1 and 2. Both of these examples could be from the same paper. Notice how both examples make an assertion, but that number 2 is much more specific and helps to narrow down what the paper will be about. You don’t want to leave your reader guessing! Also notice that both examples answer the WHAT and the HOW.


  1. The process for a college student working on a research paper in the 1960s was very different from the process used by most of today’s college students.

  2. Because of the advent of the Internet and other electronic sources, the research process utilized by today’s college students for papers differs greatly from that of students in the 1960s.

Write a transition sentence into the first body paragraph. Without this sentence, paragraphs will sound disjointed, or like there is something missing. (Make sure that you are not using “I” in this line. “Now, I will talk about…” is not a strong transition, and “I” should not be included in academic writing UNLESS your professor has given you special permission):


Possible transition words and phrases (taken from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/transitions/) are:
Similarity: also, in the same way, just as … so too, likewise, similarly

Exception/ Contrast: but, however, in spite of, on the one hand … on the other hand, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on the contrary, still, yet

Time: after, afterward, at last, before, currently, during, earlier, immediately, later, meanwhile, now, recently, simultaneously, subsequently, then

Example: for example, for instance, namely, specifically, to illustrate

Emphasis: even, indeed, in fact, of course, truly

Cause and effect: accordingly, consequently, hence, so, therefore, thus

Additional support or evidence: additionally, again, also, and, as well, besides, equally important, further, furthermore, in addition, moreover, then
Transition sentence: ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Body Paragraphs—these are the bulk of your essay. This is where you use your research to explain your topic and support your ideas.
What do you want to include in your FIRST paragraph? Look back at your thesis and make sure you’re sticking to the point of your paper.
In paragraph 1, I will focus on: _____________________________________________________________________________ , by using ______________________________________________ sources and by explaining ___________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ .


Write out a topic sentence; this sentence explains what your paragraph is going to discuss:

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