How do I write a research essay on a topic that I'm not familiar with? I need very specific instructions on how to research and write such an essay.
"How to Construct a Research Essay"
Notice that the title of this lecture is not "How to WRITE a Research essay." It's "How to CONSTRUCT a Research Essay." Just as a mason constructs a building by laying one brick at a time in a well-planned and skillful manner, so you will be required to create well-constructed, skilled research essays throughout your college career (and maybe even beyond). Through research, writing, and revising, you will be required to create numerous meaningful, ordered essays out of the flotsam and jetsam of an infinite amount of information. A daunting task indeed! The good news is that there is a system available to help you out. The more quickly you can learn this system (or better yet, adapt it to your own personal writing style), the more quickly you can begin to master the process of writing substantial research essays.
In this essay, I'm going to provide you with what I believe is a very powerful tool that can assist you throughout your college career. This tool will serve a guide and a template--a "blueprint" if you will-- whenever you are faced with the task of creating a lengthy, in-depth research essay. The blueprint I'm going to provide for you is a result of my own experience after having completed four years of undergraduate and five years of graduate college coursework (as well as numerous independent research projects, essays, articles, and so on). It is a step-by-step method I have used over and over to create well-crafted research essays for college courses. (Is this sounding like an infomercial yet?) And this is not just a method that works for English or composition classes. Because it is a systematic process, it can help you create essays on virtually ANY subject matter.
The first thing you must do is master the art of using quoted material--that is, material you find and use from other sources. Using quoted material consists of a three step method. I call it the "introduction, quotation, interpretation" method. When you use quoted material, it isn't enough to simply "dump" the quoted material into your essay without providing your readers with some sort of context. In other words, you must "introduce" the material you are about to quote. This can be accomplished by letting your readers know where you found the material, who wrote it, and by summarizing the gist of the quote before presenting it. For example, consider the following quotation from renowned psychologist Irvin Yalom's book Love's Executioner: First, here's the quotation:
"The more the therapist is able to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, the less need there is for the therapist to embrace orthodoxy. The creative members of an orthodoxy, any orthodoxy, ultimately outgrow their disciplines."
Nicely phrased, wouldn't you say? That's exactly why I chose it to use as a quotation. It is poignant, insightful, and concise. It gets to the heart of the matter and says something relevant, which are elements you really want to have when using a quotation. Now let's take a look at the same quotation with my introduction:
Irvin Yalom, in his best-selling book Love's Executioner, suggests that the ability of therapists to handle the uncomfortable feelings of not having all the answers will free them from restrictive rules: "The more the therapist is able to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, ...