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 to Write a Research Essay in Education: Starting out with Your Work
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.
1. Choosing a Topic
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.
- First, think of a topic that meets the criteria set by your instructor that would be interesting to you personally. Writing about something you are passionate about is always easier than covering a subject you do not care about one way or another. The results are better this way as well;
- Study recent developments in education. E.g., you stumble upon a proposal to introduce a new practice aimed at earlier development of coding proficiency in children. What do you think about it? What are the opinions of teachers and other students? How will it alter learning experiences?
- Study foreign practices. Education works dramatically differently in different parts of the world, and one can learn important lessons from the way things are done elsewhere. E.g., study the approaches to teaching foreign languages in several countries and compare them to how it is done in the USA. Do these practices suggest any improvements?
- Look at your previous work. Can you think of ideas for any further research arising from your previous papers? It can add a valuable sense of continuity to your work and establish you as a person who consistently works in a certain direction. E.g., if you wrote about different methods of teaching algebra in an earlier essay and mentioned an interesting approach but never developed this idea, you may dedicate an entire new essay to it.
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:
Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
- Strategic Application of Ability Grouping in High School – Potential Future of Education;
- Blended Learning as a Way to Optimize Educational Processes at All Academic Levels;
- Impact of Class Sizes on Education Efficiency: Finding an Optimal Class Size;
- Early Childhood Education and Its Role in Establishment of Solid Academic Foundation;
- Homeschooling vs. Traditional Education: Positive and Negative Features.
2. Finding Sources
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:
- Online academic databases and search engines. Google may provide innumerable links to all kinds of articles and documents, but only a fraction of them can be called academic sources. In other words, they are rarely trustworthy. The bulk of your information should come from more reliable sources, primarily from peer-reviewed academic papers. You can find them via keyword search in online databases like EBSCO, Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, ERIC, Lesson Planet and others;
- Your instructor. It is his/her job to help you, so do not hesitate to ask for recommendations as to where you can start in your search;
- Your college’s library assistant, especially if your college has dedicated assistants covering different sections – they can suggest a broader selection of sources and how to better navigate them;
- Bibliographies – look through the bibliography sections of the sources you already found and scan them for potentially relevant works;
- Authorities – by this time, a set of names that crop up regularly will start to emerge. These are the primary authorities on the subject. Look for other works by them that may be relevant for your research.
3. Evaluating 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:
- Currency. When was it published? Did any notable research on this subject appear since then? Was it updated since then?
- Relevance. Is the information in the source relevant for the research question? Is it either too advanced or too primitive for the level of your research? Does it meet your needs?
- Authority. Is the author qualified to write about the topic? What are his/her credentials?
- Accuracy. Is there sufficient evidence backing up the information?
- Purpose. Why does the source exist? Does its author (or other related entities) have an agenda that may skew their objectivity? Who benefits from spreading this information?
4. Formulating Your Research Question and Writing a Thesis Statement
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”).
How to Write a Research Essay in Education: Working on the Text Itself
1. Write the Outline
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:
- “Hook” – the first sentence, intended to grab the reader’s attention and lead up to the thesis statement;
- Thesis statement – the main idea boiled down to one or two sentences;
- Body paragraphs. Each paragraph consists of:
- A topic sentence – a sentence that establishes the main idea or argument covered in the paragraph. Each paragraph should cover only a single point. If you find yourself drifting to another one, break the paragraph into parts;
- Supporting evidence – a few sentences backing up your point with proof. Quotations, references to sources and statistics go here;
- Summing up – if a paragraph is sufficiently long and covers an important point, you may want to sum up what you said in a final sentence;
- Transition – it may be either a final sentence or a first sentence of a paragraph, depending on your preferences. Lead up to the next point, ensuring logical connection to the following paragraph.
- Conclusion – here you sum up your research.
2. Write the Body Paragraphs
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.
- Use your outline as a guide to avoid forgetting to mention crucial information and logical connections between parts. However, allow yourself to be flexible – if you stumble upon a good point you did not think of before, feel free to use it. Just make sure it fits the rest of your paper naturally;
- Integrate your information sources into the discussion relatively evenly. However, remember that sources should support your points but not determine the structure of your essay. Use them wherever relevant but do not feel obliged to introduce a quotation from every source you used or spread them an equal number of sentences from each other;
- Any work in education by definition exists within the context of existing body of research. However, your job is not to report the information from your sources, but to analyze, summarize, explain, evaluate and otherwise process it.
3. Write the conclusion
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.
- Add the points you made up and show the significance of your results;
- Move from a more detailed observation to a general overview of context you provided in the introduction;
- Point out potential further research.
4. Write the Introduction
Besides making sure the reader is interested enough to keep reading on, in introduction you should:
- Provide background. Review the context in which your research is going to happen. Describe the existing body of literature and point out any gaps in it;
- Define terms and concepts you are going to use if they are not immediately obvious;
- Explain what is the main focus of your essay and your purpose (thesis statement);
- Reveal how you are going to proceed with your research.
How to Write a Research Essay in Education: Editing, Proofreading, Revising
1. Analyze the General Organization
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?
2. Analyze the Essay on Paragraph Level
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?
3. Analyze the Essay on Sentence Level
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:
- Word choice. Are you consistent in your terminology? Do you use overly long and complex words where shorter and simpler ones will do?
- Superfluity. Do you use more words than necessary? Can you express the same ideas shorter? Can you throw away any words (clauses, sentences, paragraphs, quotations, references) without detrimental effects to the essay?
- Passive voice. Do you use passive voice where you can replace it with active voice?
4. Analyze Formatting and Documentation
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?
5. Get a Second Opinion
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!