Now that you have found a topic to research, it is time to begin the research process. Though you may have an idea of what you think your argument will be at this point, it’s important to start your research with an open mind. It’s often helpful to formulate your topic as a research question. Research questions are open-ended questions that you explore as you figure out the direction your topic will go and inform or shape your thesis statement. For example, if your topic is on first-generation students and financial aid, you might have a research question such as “What is the long-term impact of student loans on first-generation college students?” Using such a question as you begin your research leaves you a lot of flexibility to adjust your position, and therefore your thesis, as you uncover new information.
Using that research question as the foundation for your research, you can begin your proposal. This is oftentimes the first step in the process of writing a researched position paper. Basically, a researched position paper is one where you take a stance on a chosen topic and defend your position with qualitative and quantitative research found in scholarly or academic sources. While you might also include popular sources, you’ll want to make certain you incorporate evidence from a body of scholars whose work can be used to support the position you are taking. The difference between a descriptive or narrative research paper and a position paper is the argument – you are doing more than simply reporting facts. In a researched position paper, you are placing yourself in dialogue with a scholarly community and taking a stance on a topic about which you feel strongly. The first formal step is the proposal.
A proposal is quite simply a method for thinking out loud on paper. While all instructors have their own specifications, typically a proposal is less formal than the rough draft and can range in length from ½-1 full page in length. In the proposal, you state the topic about which you are researching and why you are interested in it. Since this is the preliminary stage, it’s okay to say that you do not know if you can defend your chosen position. The proposal is the place to begin exploration. It’s a good place to talk about your research question and, based on the information that you’ve found so far, where your thesis begins to grow. Some instructors may ask that you also state what you know about the topic, what potential sources you might use, and what you think you need to learn before fully developing your selected topic. In some courses, the proposal serves as a written dialogue between students and instructors and provides some foundational plans for the research process.
The next step is the annotated bibliography. Later in this section, we detail for you how to write an annotated bibliography which is basically the step where you locate sources to defend your position and then summarize those sources for their strengths and weaknesses as applied to your topic.
After the annotated bibliography, the formal writing process begins with a first rough draft. Typically, you will be given a page length or word count specification within the assignment parameters so that you’ll have an idea of how much is expected of you at this stage. In the first rough draft, your focus should be on developing your thesis and supporting it throughout the body of your paper. While many students get stuck on the introduction, this isn’t really the place to start your research. For this stage of the paper, you want to make sure the content surrounding your topic is strong with topic sentences connecting back to the thesis in every paragraph.
Sometimes, your instructor may ask for a second rough draft before final submission. If so, this is the place for you to take feedback from a peer reviewer or writing center tutor and fine tune your essay. Use the feedback you receive to check that your position is consistently supported throughout the essay and that you are using evidence correctly to support your position. Reading the draft out loud can also help you find missing elements or spaces for enrichment before the final draft submission, or the backwards/reverse outlining method discussed in section 2.4 might be helpful.
The final draft will be your best polished effort at defending your chosen topic and position after going through the rhetorical strategies defined by your instructor. Depending upon style format, you may or may not need an abstract in the final draft. An abstract is a brief summary of the topic you are discussing in the paper, but it does not give your conclusion. At the end of your final draft you’ll need to include your Works Cited/References page. This will be easily compiled from your annotated bibliography but remember – the annotations do NOT go into the final Works Cited/References page. Only the citations are included in the final draft. Keep in mind that nothing is ever perfect, but you want to strive to present a solid essay that utilizes scholarly, peer reviewed sources to defend and support the position you are taking on your chosen topic. For the rest of this section, we will provide information on how to find the best sources for your paper as well as how to develop the annotated bibliography.Pantuso, Terri, Sarah LeMire, and Kathy Anders, eds. Informed Arguments: A Guide to Writing and Research. 3rd ed. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2022. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.