A research essay is a typical assignment both for college and high school – whatever discipline you study, you can expect to deal with this sort of work at least occasionally, with film and theatre studies being no exception. This guide walks you through the entire process of writing such an essay without having to learn from your own mistakes.
A research essay is, in many respects, similar to a usual research paper. The most notable difference is the size – while a research paper is, at least in theory, can be as long as its author wants it be, a research essay is much more limited in its scope. The definition of what constitutes an essay differs from college to college, but usually it will not be longer than 2,000-2,500 words. This puts certain restrictions on what you can write and how you should approach your task.
The purpose of a research essay is to ask a question that either nobody asked before or pick a question that may have been thoroughly covered by other scholars but use different methods or evidence when studying it and thus coming to different conclusions.
Film and theatre studies pose additional challenges in this respect, because this discipline is relatively subjective and is open to multiple interpretations – you have to consider it when building up your argument.
This step may sound self-evident, but you will be amazed how many students skip over it or read the instructions perfunctorily, not wanting to waste the time they may spend writing.
Read the assignment carefully and slowly, making sure you understand every word and do not miss any vital details. If the instructions are long, you may want to rewrite them in short using your own words. Ask your instructor for clarifications if you are not sure about anything. Pay special attention to the grading criteria.
You can look for an interesting topic in a variety of ways, so do whatever works for you. To a huge extent it depends on the amount of freedom you have in this respect – sometimes your instructor assigns you a topic, sometimes only gives you a general direction in which to proceed. Some things you may try are:
In your choice of a topic, you should pay attention to the following criteria:
Eventually, you should end up with a topic like this:
In case of research essays, writing comes as a final step, after you already did a lot of reading and organized your findings. Do not be in a hurry to start writing lest you have to rewrite parts of your essay again and again after finding new information.
So what are the specifics of looking for data when writing a research essay in film and theatre studies? Firstly, you should accept that you will not be able to read every source on the subject matter. One of the characteristic features of research essay writing is that you have to process a huge number of sources to prepare a fairly short assignment within a limited period of time. There may be a few dozen viable sources on the topic and just a few days to get acquainted with them and write the essay. So get comfortable with the idea of skimming through: do not try to read every word. Look through the table of contents and focus on parts that may contain useful info. Read first sentences of paragraphs to get the general idea what they are about. You will miss something, of course, but will be able to cover more sources.
Your main concern should not be with finding as many sources as possible, but with finding sources you can trust. Contrary to what you may have heard, there is nothing wrong about using Wikipedia when researching – however, you should not refer to it or take anything written in it for granted. Instead, read the corresponding articles to get the general idea of the topic and take note of the sources it refers to. These sources have good chances of containing reliable information. Other ways of finding data include:
A thesis statement is a central part of your essay – it contains it general message, the idea you are trying to prove, understand or explain. The rest of the essay either leads up to it or elaborates on what it says. However, it would be wrong to say that it simply answers the question, “What is the essay about?”. It may be a starting point, but a thesis statement is more than that. In addition, it should:
An outline is a written plan of your essay. How you write it may depend on the task and on how familiar you are with the topic. Sometimes your instructor may ask you the submit the outline before you are allowed to proceed with writing the essay proper, but even if you do not have to prepare one, it is a useful step.
The main purpose of the outline is to determine the structure of your paper and to make sure you stick to it. You may think that you know what you are going to say now, but you may forget to mention an important point, only to remember it an hour later and understand that to reintroduce it you have to rewrite half an essay.
Irrespectively of the discipline, research essays are usually structured in the same way:
After you have an outline, simply expand on it and write the first draft. Do not strive for perfectionism at this point. Better write the essay to completion than spend time trying to find a perfect word or expression. You will have enough time to polish your essay later; right now, your purpose is to tell everything you have to say and make sure the essay works as a whole.
Accusation of plagiarism is the worst thing that can happen to a college student, and you have to be particularly careful about the sources you use. You cannot do without them, and every time you quote or paraphrase one of them, always mention the source. However, if something you state is your own idea or a well-known fact (i.e., it is stated, without credit, in three or more sources) you do not have to mention where it comes from as well.
When you edit and proofreading your work, start at higher levels and proceed to minute details. Namely, start with checking if you are satisfied with how your essay works as a whole. Is it logically consistent? Do you jump to conclusions without providing sufficient evidence? Are there gaps in your reasoning? Did you forget mentioning an important point? Is the order in which individual parts follow each other truly optimal? Does the essay need rearranging?
You can almost always improve your essay by removing something. Excessive words, sentences or even paragraphs – everything is fair game as long as it does not move your argument forward. Reread the essay with this idea in mind and ask yourself if each element serves a purpose. If it is present only to bloat the word count or because you like a particular turn of phrase, remove it without mercy.
Your instructors expect your grammar and spelling to be if not perfect, then at least almost completely devoid of obvious mistakes. Make a list of your most common mistakes and reread the essay, each time focusing on a particular type. Some tools (like online grammar checkers and even spellchecker in your word processor of choice) can be of some help, but do not trust them too much – they are, at best, capable of noticing common mistakes that elude your attention. When it comes to more complex grammatical structures, they are almost completely helpless.
Film and theatre studies is a complex structure tightly intertwined with multiple other disciplines, including psychology, literature, English and so on. Writing a high-quality research essay on this subject can be an intimidating task, especially if you have not done it before. We hope that this guide can help you better cope with this problem the next time you encounter such an assignment.