Research Essay Requirements
1) You must choose a research essay topic that meets the following requirements: controversial, objectively researched, and argumentative. Here’s what those terms mean in the context of this course:
Controversial means that reasonable people can rationally disagree about the topic. "I think children should be healthy" is not controversial – no reasonable person will disagree with that. On the other hand "I think the federal government should control what goes into school lunches to ensure children get healthy meals" is very controversial – reasonable people can and do disagree about whether or not it is appropriate for the federal government to dictate the content of school lunches, or whether it should be left to local schools and parents to decide for themselves.
Objectively Researched means that the topic has been studied by objective, impartial researchers, and that you are using such research for your essay and not basing your work on personal beliefs or opinions. "I believe the death penalty is morally wrong" is not an objective statement, because morality cannot be objectively defined, and your personal beliefs should not form the basis for your research paper. "Evidence shows that the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison, and is often applied disproportionately to poor and minority offenders" is an objective statement, because it is based on research and not personal opinion or belief. If a topic cannot or has not been verified by the scientific and/or academic community at large, it is not likely to be a good topic for your paper. I have a degree in philosophy and love debating theology, but this is not the course for faith- or philosophy-based papers – while you may be inspired by those things to pick a topic, you should avoid religious or philosophical arguments in favor of more concrete, objective, practical approaches to your topics.
Argumentative means that you are taking a position on the topic and defending it by using evidence. In other words, you are not simply reciting facts, dates, and other information – that’s a report, not a research essay. Instead, you are taking a position (such as "Evidence indicates we should abolish the current death penalty statutes") and then supporting that position carefully with evidence you’ve collected from solid, credible, reliable sources.
Choose your topic carefully!
2) Your essay must have a thesis, where you take a position on your topic and defend your point of view. Think of it as a "pro" or "con" position, where you must take a strong stand on one side of the issue or another. Do not sit in the middle – pick a side and defend it! So if you choose to write about the death penalty, your essay should either by for or against the use of the death penalty, and make a case for why you believe you’re right.
3) Remember – this is an argumentative essay, not a report. Simply repeating facts about your topic or summarizing its history will not earn a passing grade. If you choose to write about the death penalty, for example, you shouldn’t spend paragraphs talking about the history of the death penalty in the United States, unless that history directly relates to an important argumentative point you are making in your essay, and you make that connection clear to the reader. Otherwise it’s not relevant and should not be included. You must analyze information from your sources and use it to persuade the reader that your point of view on the topic is one they should adopt themselves.
4) Your essay must have at least three (3) sources. These sources must be authoritative, reliable, and relevant for college level academic work – not personal blogs by non-experts or infotainment websites with no fact checking. If you are wondering if a particular source meets course standards, contact the professor. Note that three is the minimum - it’s not a bad idea to look for more!
5) You must quote your sources properly, and include a Works Cited page correctly listing all the sources used in your essay. Use MLA format for all quotation and source citation standards.
6) The Research Essay should be 5-7 pages, not including the Works Cited material. It does not require a cover page, and if a cover page is used, it does not count toward the minimum number of pages. Pages that consist mostly or entirely of images or graphics also do not count toward the minimum.
7) There are no exceptions to these requirements.