Research Papers: Argument or Analysis?

Understanding Assignments Part II


Last week on our blog we talked about different types of assignments, including literary analysis, summary, and response or reflection essays. This week we’ll talk about two different types of research papers: analytical research papers and argumentative research papers.

A research paper is a type of essay that requires the writer to investigate and integrate sources related to his or her subject. It is not a summary, nor an exposition, nor an opinion piece, but might take on elements of all of those genres. Research papers offer an informed study of a topic that engage outside source material, including primary and secondary sources, to offer other perspectives on an issue.

Argumentative Research Paper

The goal of an argument paper is to persuade the audience of the merits of a debatable topic. If the topic is not debatable, meaning there are two sides to the topic, it is not considered argumentative.  The writer of an argument paper must make a claim (the thesis statement) and back it up with source material. Outside research is included to support and prove your point, or claim (thesis). The writer of a successful argument paper will spend a good amount of time pouring over research that best supports his or her argument. The argument paper will also include opposition. If there is no opposition, there is no argument.

The topic for an argument paper must be debatable and is often controversial. Read the following examples of arguments, and decide if they are debatable:

  1. Body piercing is popular among the youth of today.
  2. There are a lot of benefits to using computers in grade school.
  3. There are some negative and positive aspects to lowering the drinking age.

If you guessed they are not debatable, you are right. How can you reword each one to make it an argumentative thesis statement?

Analytical Research Paper

An analytical research paper differs from the argument paper in that it often begins with a research question which the writer will explore and evaluate. An analysis leads us to determine what something “means”; what is the “how” or “why” behind a topic? A thesis statement in an analytical paper will most often answer a “how” or “why” question.

Some examples of analytical thesis statement might be

  1. Childhood obesity may result from environmental factors, socio-economic factors, and genetics.
  2. An analysis of the sandhill crane reveals conflicting research on their once-believed monogamous mating habits.

As you can see, the thesis statements above do not present the topic in the form of an argument, but in the form of a statement that clearly communicates or forecasts the essays’ contents. The analysis will often analyze different points of view on an issue or topic, but may not necessarily support either side of the issue. The topic may very well be debatable, but the writer’s purpose is not necessarily to persuade the reader of a position, as in the argument paper.

Other Types of Analysis Papers

Literature instructors will often require students to write a literary analysis paper on an assigned reading (see last week’s blog post). A literary analysis paper attempts to present an idea about a text through careful examination of the text’s components, incorporating the writer’s insights. A literary analysis research paper will incorporate outside research or sources other than the primary text. The literary analysis will significantly expand a reader’s understanding of a text, often by making an assertion about the text.  The writer might introduce a theory or interpretation (the thesis statement) about the text, then fully “analyze” this interpretation through close reading, textual support, and secondary source material.

Academic jargon can often be difficult for the new students to understand. Always refer to your assignment objectives and ask your instructor to clarify any ambiguous or confusing lingo.

For more information on research papers, visit the following links:

Purdue Owl
Research Thesis Statement Examples

Literary Analysis Thesis Statement Examples












4 thoughts on “Research Papers: Argument or Analysis?

  1. Hi, I am currently working on an argument essay, in my english comp1 class. I have no experience doing research papers and I feel overwhelmed with my dead line approaching. My question to you is, how do I know that the information I am using is reliable? I prefer to use our library database but this past weekend it was not working properly and now I feel behind, what should I do to get back on track?


    1. Usually, if you are using information from library databases, the sources are reliable. That does not necessarily mean they are “peer reviewed,” which meets very stringent standards. One way to meausre if sources are reliable is to see if they have used other sources in their article or essay. Does the writer cite research? Of course, this all depends on your topic; you’ll find lots of quality research and sources for some arguments, but you may not find any “peer reviewed” research on the pros or cons of a college football playoff system.
      In the event you your libary databases are down for an extended period of time, Google search engine has a “Google Scholar” link that houses academic work and peer reviewed research. It’s more focused on research and more selective than a regular Google search.
      Hope this helps!


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