If you’ve ever tried writing a research paper, you know that organizing the masses of information you’ve compiled can be a daunting task. If you’ve waited until the last minute to begin writing the paper (sound like you?) below are some quick tips on how you might put it all together.
Note that there is not one correct way to organize a research paper. The most important thing to consider is first your assignment guidelines. Does your instructor ask you to place your thesis at the conclusion of the introduction, or wait until you’ve set up your points of argument? Do the requirements call for a pro/con paper, a problem/solution, or another type of format? Is your audience hostile or sympathetic to your position? Although these are questions you might want to consider before you move forward, below is a basic formula for organizing the classical argument.
Don’t discount the importance of a title. The title acts as an introduction to the introduction. It should reflect the content of the paper and can be a title-subtitle style, such as
Devastating Beauty: How Print Media Contributes to Negative Self Image of Teens
The title-subtitle format is effective if you want your audience to know exactly what the content of the paper will be about. In the previous example, the writer could also simply use the title Devastating Beauty, which piques the readers’ interest without giving it all away.
The intro to your paper will offer background information about the topic, establishing common ground with the audience. Intros often contain emotional appeals to garner interest from the reader. You’ll want to introduce the problem before you state your thesis, which traditionally, comes at the end of the introduction. Hopefully you have your thesis, and it’s clear, concise, and proposes an argument.
Once you have your main argument or thesis claim, you must then explain the “why?” behind the argument. One easy way I teach my students to build their argument is with “because clauses.” A “because clause” answers “why?” as in the example below:
Thesis: The portrayal of young women in fashion magazines contribute to poor self-image of teens
Reason: because the images are unrealistic and unattainable.
This reason or “because” will be the basis for the first point of argument, so the next few paragraphs will contain research and support to prove this claim.
Most assignments will require at least 3 main points or reasons, but they will all follow the same pattern: expand the thesis with a reason or because clause. So a simple graphic outline of the body will look something like this:
Reason #1: (thesis with because clause)
Research & statistics in support of reason #1
Reason #2: (thesis with because clause)
Research & statistics in support of reason #2
Reason #3: (thesis with because clause)
Research & statistics in support of reason #3
Opposition: The Counter-argument
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for the claim and reasons, you’ll now introduce the antithesis or opposition. For a fair and balanced argument, you must consider what the other side believes. An audience will give more credibility to writers who offer a fair treatment of both sides, not just his or her own side. The opposition may concede a point, showing sympathy and understanding. This doesn’t weaken your argument; it actually makes it stronger if you can offer an effective rebuttal. The rebuttal is your answer to the opposition’s objections.
Some people disagree, believing that the portrayal of young women in fashion magazines actually helps improve teens’ body image (insert explanation and information explaining this point).
However, recent research has shown that exposing young women to images of thin, attractive models increases body dissatisfaction and other negative feelings (Rogers).
The opposition section may counter-argue one reason, all three reasons, or the overall argument. So it might, be outlined like this:
Now all you have to do is bring it all home. Close the argument in a memorable and satisfying way. reinforce your thesis, offer a call to action, a warning, or a solution. This is the last opportunity to get your message to your audience, to convince them of the importance of your argument.
An informal outline of the entire process would look something like this:
Introduction (background, history, problem; conclude with thesis statement)
Reason #1 (because why?)
Reason #2 (because why?)
Reason #3 (because why?)
Opposition #1 (counter-argument)
Rebuttal #1 (refute the counter)
Opposition #2 (counter-argument)
Rebuttal #2 (refute the counter)
Opposition #3 (counter-argument)
Rebuttal #3 (refute the counter)
Conclusion (reinforce thesis; call to action; warning)
This is only one way to organize a classical argument. Read your assignment directives and follow the guidelines carefully. Take care to develop each point fully, integrate your research carefully, and treat the opposition fairly, and you’ll find you’ll be on the way to a successful research paper.