We know the buildup to the actual research step is getting to be really intense, but you need to learn to pick and refine a topic before figuring out the focal point of your paper: your thesis statement or research question. You just can’t afford to waste time wandering aimlessly around the library, or even worse, in your paper. You need to know what your ultimate purpose is and what you need to know and do to get there.
During our explanation of the two main types of research essays you’re most likely to encounter in an assignment (analytical or argumentative), we briefly mentioned what is the keystone of each paper without which the paper would literally fall apart. For the argumentative paper, the keystone is the thesis statement; for the analytical paper, it is the unresolved topic or what is called the research question.
Rather than giving you some abstract definitions right off the bat, let’s see them both in action in an example that demonstrates the different angles each would take on the same subject.
Once you’ve seen a thesis and question at work in a real-life (ok, made-up) paper scenario, it will be useful to cover some defining features of thesis statements and research questions and some strategies for coming up with good ones.
When you do come up with a good one on your own, make sure it passes The “So What?” Test or you cannot pass Go and collect your 200 research dollars.
Don’t worry though; remember that at this point in the process, your thesis or question will be tentative. It may change after you do research or as you write and that’s perfectly okay. But even if it turns out to be a popular view or question, your purpose should come from your mind first, not library books. This is one of the main reasons we’re having you think about the point of your paper now before you read what the experts in your field have to say.