Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
The Research Essay
When we hear the words “research essay” or “research assignment,” our first impulse may be to think of a work that that takes other people’s ideas and sews them together into a single document: a sort of patchwork quilt. However, a good research essay operates rather differently. “Research” is not an excuse to coast on the knowledge of others but an opportunity to use that knowledge to support and add complexity to our own original ideas.
The word “support” is often used in conjunction with research, and it is a good place to start. Let’s unpack the word a little. What does it mean to “support” an argument?
We’ve already seen some examples of support happening earlier in this text. An argument is not complete without evidence to back it up. However, as you will notice as you move through these chapters, using evidence in support of an argument is not as simple as just presenting it, then standing back and letting the reader figure out what it means. Supporting evidence must be developed. Support is more than the evidence itself. It consists of the evidence and the interpretation of that evidence. If you make an assertion on its own, you have an argument without evidence: an opinion. If you make an assertion and follow it with a list of evidence, you have an argument without development: an observation. If you make an assertion and follow it with a detailed discussion of how and why the evidence demonstrates its validity, you have an argument with support: a thesis.
In a research essay, you must expand your consideration of evidence beyond your own close reading. Therefore, you must also expand your understanding of “support” to include not just an interpretation of your primary work but an interpretation of secondary works that you will apply to your primary work. These secondary sources are not the primary focus of your investigation, but they can be used to give you insight into this investigation: insight you would not gain with a simple close reading.
Let’s take a look at a few common types of evidence and how they might be used in a research essay.