Organizing Your Research Paper

keep-calm-and-get-organized-16(Originally published November 2012)

You’ve created a strong thesis statement, you’ve compiled your research, you may have even written your intro, but where do you go from here? Are you stumped about how exactly to put all of this information together?

Organizing a long research paper can be a daunting task, but fear not! Read on for a quick and easy way to lay out your argument essay. This organization method is only one option, and your instructor may have a preferred method, but if you are lost, this is a great roadmap to get you unstuck.

To begin, you’ll need to write down your thesis statement.

Thesis: The US should implement a cross-country high-speed rail system.

Great thesis (thank you). Now you have to answer the big question: why should the US implement a cross-country high-speed rail system? Answering this question in a series of what we’ll refer to as “because clauses,” will fill out the body of your paper. These will be the reasons why your audience should support your position. Let’s pick three strong reasons, and list them here:

Thesis: The US should implement a cross-country high-speed rail system because. . .

Because Clause #1: because a rail system will greatly reduce highway congestion, resulting in lower automobile fatalities.

Because Clause #2: because a rail system will serve the poor population who cannot afford the cost of owning and maintaining a car.

Because Clause #3: because a national rail system will greatly reduce automobile emissions and be more environmentally friendly.

These three (or four) reasons or because clauses and the information and research you include to support these reasons will constitute the majority of your paper. Once you decide on what your reasons will be and what research you’ll use to support each reason, you’ll simply begin to lay them out after your introduction. Organize your paper by following your reasons, keeping each “because” reason in its own paragraph/s. In other words, don’t talk about information related to because clause #1 in the paragraph for because clause #3.

Think of the body of your essay as a train; each rail car is lined up one after the other, holding its own separate contents. Just as the engineer wouldn’t want to mix the rail car full of coal with a car full of apples, you don’t want to mix the information in your clauses.

After you have given all of your reasons, now you’ll need to include a section (one or more paragraphs) of opposition and rebuttal. Below, we have included two different oppositions.

Opposition #1 (with rebuttal): Many opponents against a high-speed rail system believe the monetary costs outweigh the benefits.

Opposition #2 (with rebuttal): The cost of high-speed rail tickets will be out of the means of a low-income population it hopes to attract.

The length of your paper will usually dictate how many different oppositional points (with accompanying rebuttal) you will need. For our purposes, we are placing the opposition after the reasons have all been argued, but it is also acceptable to place a direct opposition immediately after each reason, if the opposition directly argues against the specific reason. Above, Opposition #2 directly relates to because clause #2, and could be placed directly after.

All that’s left now is to end with an awesome conclusion.

Take note this is just one way to organize a research paper. Another popular model is referred to as the Toulmin model, which looks something like this:

Claim: The overall thesis the writer will argue for.

Data: Evidence gathered to support the claim.

Warrant (also referred to as a bridge): Explanation of why or how the data supports the claim, the underlying assumption that connects your data to your claim.

Backing (also referred to as the foundation): Additional logic or reasoning that may be necessary to support the warrant.

Counterclaim: A claim that negates or disagrees with the thesis/claim.

Rebuttal: Evidence that negates or disagrees with the counterclaim.

(Courtesy of Purdue Owl)

Regardless of the method you use, the most important thing to remember when organizing an essay is to keep each point you are making in its own paragraph/s.  Make a point and move on, avoiding repetition. Keep the coal with the coal, and the apples with the apples.



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