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How to Write a Research Essay in Family and Consumer Science: Everything You Need to Know

A research essay is basically the same type of assignment as a research paper, only more limited in terms of size. While a research paper is not limited by anything but direct instructions of your teacher or professor, an essay is a form of writing that is defined, among other things, by its word count – in school or college environment, it is rarely larger than 1,500 to 2,000 words. This means that you have to present your point, offer arguments and evidence in favor of it and draw conclusions in as concise and efficient a manner as possible, which places significant restrictions on how and what about you can write.

When writing a research essay in family and consumer science, in addition to concerns common for all essays of this type, you have to be particularly attentive because of the holistic nature of this discipline. As it incorporates such often disconnected things as life management, career planning, employment, nutrition, health maintenance and ethics, it demands an all-encompassing approach that would consider all aspects of human life and treat them as equally important for the creation of successful and happy existence. If, in addition, you consider how different the role of these individual factors can be in different family, community, cultural and work environments, the scope of the task becomes truly staggering.

This guide will lead you through the writing of a research essay on this discipline and give some useful tips that will help you find your own voice.

PRE-WRITING STAGE

  1. Pick a Topic
  2. Write a Thesis Statement
  3. Prepare an Outline

WRITING TIPS

  1. Use Transition Words
  2. Be Consistent when Structuring Sentences
  3. Stick to a Uniform Paragraph Structure
  4. Use Parallel Structures
  5. Repeat Key Concepts and Ideas

PROOFREADING & EDITING

  1. Learn What Your Mistakes Are
  2. Read Your Essay Out Loud
  3. Read the Essay Backwards
  4. Use Appropriate Dictionaries

Pre-Writing Stage

1. Pick a Topic

If you are allowed to choose your own topic, use this opportunity to its fullest, as it can make your job either easier or significantly harder. Unless you already have a clear idea of what you want to write about, the process usually goes as something like this:

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
  • Brainstorm the topic. Considering the general direction of the course you currently take, generate as many ideas as possible. Do not bother with making them original, interesting or specific at this point – your purpose is to build a foundation to build upon, not to plan the entire essay. Do not worry if the ideas your generate are typical, simplistic or silly – you are after quantity, not quality;
  • Pick a direction you are interested in. You should have at least some inkling of what it would be interesting to write about for you personally. Better pick something you will be able to research with enthusiasm, as you will spend a lot of time with this task;
  • Narrow the topic down. An essay is too short an assignment to tackle huge universal issues that require you to cover dozens of sources. Before you proceed, narrow down the scope of your research. E.g., if you want to write about nutritional problems modern American families have to face, choose to be more specific – e.g., deal with the influence of transfats on the health of teenagers.

Eventually, you should end up with something like this:

  • The Role of Parents in a Modern Nuclear Family;
  • Cultural and Historic Aspects Surrounding Teen Marriage in Western Society;
  • The Role of Family History in Forming One’s Identity;
  • The Problems of Nutrition in a Modern American Family;
  • The Effects of Children on the Buying Habits of Their Parents;
  • The Role of Family Gatherings in the Psychological Development of a Child.

2. Write a Thesis Statement

Most people start reading any piece of writing, essays included, with quickly scanning it and trying to get the basic idea of what it is about. The role of a thesis statement is just this – to tell the reader what the essay is about, what is the primary point you try to make and what you try to prove. A thesis statement is both an important part of an essay and an important stage of your research work. When writing it, you:

  • Test your idea by boiling it down to a single sentence. If you have trouble doing it, it usually means that your thoughts need further distilling;
  • Organize your argument. Before you start writing, you should have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve;
  • Offer the reader a guide that will help him/her navigate your essay.

As for the contents of a thesis statement, it should:

  • Express an idea one can reasonably disagree with. For example, ‘Correct nutrition is important for a family’s well-being’ is not a thesis statement but a platitude – nobody in his/her right mind would disagree with it. A thesis statement, on the other hand, is something that one can argue about;
  • Deal with an idea that can you can adequately deal with within the confines of an essay. Do not make sweeping statements you will not be able to fully prove in 2,000 words;
  • Express a single primary idea. You may cover additional points in the essay itself, but they should be centered around a single core idea. If you cannot do without two or more points in the thesis statement, you need more focus;
  • Assert your opinion on the subject. Again, you do not just state facts but express your take on them. E.g., ‘Preschool children consume significant amounts of sugar’ is not a thesis statement. ‘Judging by the existing statistics, preschool children consume far more sugar than is healthy, and it has drastic influence on their overall health and well-being’ is.

3. Prepare an Outline

An outline is a graphic scheme or plan or your essay. Most experienced writers suggest that you should have one to help yourself think and organize your thoughts both before and during writing. Depending on the size and complexity of your essay, an outline may also be different – from a few informal notes on the most important points (so that you do not forget to mention them), to a detailed plan describing each paragraph, logical connections between parts and specific evidence to mention in this or that place.

Writing Tips

1. Use Transition Words

Transition words are words and phrases used to emphasize the connection between ideas. Their purpose is to ensure that the text flows smoothly and the audience can easily follow your reasoning. Without them, even a completely logical text looks stilted and disconnected. Transition words can express all kinds of relations between parts of your essay: contrast (although, nevertheless), addition (again, moreover), logical connection (therefore, consequently), etc. Use them whenever you move from one idea to another, be it between sentences, paragraphs or larger sections of your essay.

2. Be Consistent when Structuring Sentences

Things like verb tense, number and point of view should remain consistent throughout individual units of text: certainly within a single sentence, and preferably within a single paragraph. Constantly shifting between ‘you’ and ‘one’, from past to present tense, from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and so on makes your writing confusing, incoherent and hard to follow.

3. Stick to a Uniform Paragraph Structure

The body of the essay, i.e., the part where you express all the original findings and describe your research per se, has to be structured in a way that would ensure the coherence, completeness and relevance of the information you present. You cannot just expose your readers to your stream of consciousness – instead, you have to follow a strict structure. It may seem limiting at first, but eventually you will see the merits of this approach.

Every paragraph should consist of:

  • Topic sentence. The first sentence of a paragraph that expresses the single controlling idea behind this paragraph. A topic sentence has multiple functions: it ensures the coherence of data, shows the paragraph’s connection to the overall topic and structure of the essay and points out the main topic of the paragraph, making it easier for the reader to navigate your essay;
  • Introduction. Any additional background information you need to make your point and make a transition from a previous paragraph;
  • Body. Here you discuss and investigate the point in question, trying to make an argument and offer evidence (facts, quotations from authoritative sources, statistics, examples, your own analysis);
  • Conclusion. Here you summarize the information presented in the paragraph, point out connections between the paragraph’s controlling idea, the data you presented and the overall topic of your essay.

4. Use Parallel Structures

You should do everything you can to enhance the overall coherence and cohesion of your essay, and one way to do so is to organize some of your paragraphs using parallel structures. It means that you build two or more closely located sentences using the same grammatical structure and the same parts of speech. E.g., ‘One can improve one’s energy levels and health in a variety of ways. One can religiously adhere to a regular sleep routine. One can take pains to limit one’s diet to healthy foods. One can follow a strenuous physical training regimen. But the only way to reach an optimal condition is to do all of it’. Structuring your paragraphs in such a way makes them easier to read and follow, helps the reader see connections between ideas.

5. Repeat Key Concepts and Ideas

An essay is a small assignment (usually no more than 1,500 to 2,000 words). Therefore, you should be careful with repetitions lest you overload the text with them, which often looks artificial and annoying. However, referring to some concept or idea that is crucial for understanding your argument a few times across the essay can significantly improve its cohesion. For example, if you discuss various aspects of successful career development, you can finish each paragraph referring to the practical implications this or that practice has on one’s professional growth.

Proofreading & Editing

1. Learn What Your Mistakes Are

Everybody has at least a few ‘pet’ mistakes he/she makes again and again. You can figure out your own tendencies in this respect by looking through your previous marked works and noticing what rules and words tend to give you the most trouble. Make a list of these mistakes and keep it nearby when proofreading – when you know what are you looking for, you are much more likely to find it.

2. Read Your Essay Out Loud

By changing the means of perception, you can detect many mistakes that elude you when you simply read the text. By pronouncing each word, you activate the listening centers in your brain and can analyze the text from a different perspective.

3. Read the Essay Backwards

Read the essay from the end to the beginning, one sentence at a time. This approach breaks the logical flow and allows you to focus on the internal structure of each sentence and the spelling of individual words instead of perceiving the text as a whole.

4. Use Appropriate Dictionaries

If you are not 100 percent sure what a word means or how it is spelled, look it up in the dictionary. English language is full of misleading words like homophones (those that are pronounced similarly but have completely different meanings). Even native speakers make such mistakes (arguably, even more often than many ESL students because they are primarily used to spoken English and can spend years writing certain words incorrectly).

You may think that spelling checkers of word processors and online services like Grammarly make manual checks unnecessary, but the reality is quite different. While these tools can help you notice obvious misspellings and incorrect grammatical structures, they are helpless when things get a little bit more sophisticated. And they will not help you, for example, to differentiate between ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’. All three spellings are correct but are used in different circumstances, and grammar checking algorithms are quite poor at distinguishing between them.

While writing a research essay in family and consumer science can sometimes be even more difficult than with some more ‘serious’ subjects, this guide will help you set your priorities straight and find the right approach to your work!