A research essay is a relatively straightforward type of academic work – it is an essay-sized piece of writing dedicated to an in-depth research of a particular topic. You may enter the job either completely blind and explore the subject together with your readers, or have a certain background knowledge you would use to get deeper into specific areas of discussion, but the purpose remains the same. You choose a research area, specify a narrower topic to cover, set a research question and use all the resources at your disposal to answer it.
Education makes for a rather unique field of research, as you not just observe it, but at the same time operate from within its bounds, as a student. It creates an unusual perspective that should also be reflected in your writing.
How you prepare to the writing process per se is just as important for your overall success as using the right methodology and properly structuring your paper.
Unless your instructor already gave you a topic, you will have to pick what you intend to write about. Sometimes instructors give students complete freedom, sometimes they set boundaries – for example, limiting your choice to the general set of topics covered in your current course. Either way, it is one of the most important stages.
These are just a few ways you can find a suitable topic to write about – try brainstorming and you will find something that will suit both you and your instructor. Eventually, you should end up with a sufficiently narrow topic to be covered in a relatively short essay. Something like this:
Writing a research paper in education is primarily a library assignment – i.e., most of the information you use when working on it will come from written sources of various kinds. Some data may come from surveys, interviews with teachers and other people involved in education and so on, but an essay is usually a small assignment with a relatively short deadline, and you can rarely expect to have enough time to do much beyond gathering textual sources and analyzing them. Here are some ways to find relevant sources:
Although your writing should be built on the existing body of research, this is where quality trumps quantity every time. This is especially true for research essays, where you have only limited space and have to be very selective about which sources to use. The most common approach to evaluating sources is usually called CRAAP test. You should check each source for:
You should differentiate between your topic, research question and thesis statement. Your topic is the general area under the scrutiny of your research (e.g., “Merit Pay and Methods of Determining Teachers’ Effectiveness”). Your research question is the question you want your research to investigate and answer (e.g., “Is paying teachers according to their performance a more efficient arrangement than standard salary?”). Your thesis statement is a declarative sentence (two sentences maximum) stating the primary idea behind your essay (e.g., “Merit pay can theoretically improve teachers’ effectiveness and efficiency, motivating them for better performance, but the criteria to determine the effectiveness of individual teachers are subject to discussion and are currently too difficult to single out”).
An outline is a detailed plan of your paper. In smaller assignments, like a research paper, it can be enough to expand on an outline just a little bit to create a complete essay. A typical structure of a research essay is this:
Although your paper begins with the introduction, it is usually a better decision to write it last of all, after you already know the contents of the entire essay and the results of your research. Therefore, an optimal decision is to start with body paragraphs.
How long and complex the conclusion is depends on the size and complexity of your essay. You may summarize your findings in a couple of sentences or have to write a full-length paragraph or two.
Besides making sure the reader is interested enough to keep reading on, in introduction you should:
Do individual parts of your essay fit together? Do they connect logically to each other? Is the flow of logic disrupted anywhere? Is your writing coherent throughout the essay? Do your conclusions follow from the points you made in the body? Does your conclusion effectively sum up your research?
Are your topic sentences effective? Do the ideas within paragraph follow each other logically? Do you appropriately integrate evidence in the flow of text? Do you back up your generalizations with details and examples? Do you summarize longer paragraphs when necessary? Do you use transitions to connect paragraphs to each other?
Are your sentences syntactically and grammatically correct? Are your punctuation and spelling sound?
Here are a few more specific things to pay attention to at this stage:
Do you consistently use the same citation and formatting system throughout your essay? Do you quote all the sources you use? Is your bibliography accurate? Does it include all the works you referred to?
As a person who wrote the essay, chances are, you missed something. Hire a proofreader or ask a trusted friend to read the essay for you and point out any mistakes, flaws and logical fallacies he/she notices.
Writing a research essay in education may be a less straightforward task than some people believe, but with the help of this guide, you certainly can handle it!