C. Munzenmaier Hamilton College Urbandale, IA


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Topic Exploration Project

On paper, the research process looks very smooth. You find a topic, locate sources, take notes, and start writing.

However, if you've chosen an arguable topic, you may find your opinions changing as you read. For example, you may start out wanting to prove that capital punishment deters crime. You will find experts who support that point of view. However, others question these statistics.

As you read different points of view, you may find yourself favoring one side of the argument, then the other. That's part of the process. Give yourself the freedom to explore all sides. A good example of how to do this is Patrick Johnson's "Obesity: Epidemic or Myth?"

For now, remember Thomas Dewar's saying: "Minds are like parachutes—they only function when open." Once you've explored the arguments on all sides, you can decide which ones are the strongest and the most consistent with your values.

Your final stand will be stronger because you considered many points of view. In addition, you will be more credible. If someone brings up an argument against your position, you'll be able to respond logically instead of having to say, "Um, I never thought of that." Being aware of all sides of the argument instead of just one will make it easier for your audience to trust that you are knowledgeable and fair-minded.

How to Write Your Topic Exploration Project (50 pts)

1. Choose a topic.

2. Explain why your topic is controversial.

Remember that a research paper has been described as as “a record of intelligent reading in several sources
on a particular subject” (Raynor, n. d.). In this section, your focus is on what others have said about your topic.

One way to do this is to describe opposing positions on your topic. (For example, one issue in the gun control debate is whether homeowners with guns are safer. Some say that homeowners with guns can deter burglars; others claim that they are more likely to be injured during a break-in.)

Another approach is to identify different aspects of your topic that provoke debate. (See #2 in the model project on organ donation.)

3. Describe your thinking on the topic at this point in your research.

If you have an opinion, you might explain which side of the argument you feel is right and why.

If you're still developing your opinion, you might identify questions you need to answer before you can choose a side.

4. Identify your research question (or your working thesis, if you have one).

Your Internet and EBSCO searches are likely to turn up much more material than you can use. Your research question will help you select the material that's relevant. Suppose your topic is Alzheimer's. If your question is whether it can be cured, your research will focus on prevention and treatment. If your focus is on how to care for people with Alzheimer's, information about support groups for caregivers is relevant.

Class Materials

Topic Exploration Organizer (.doc)

Topic Exploration Rubric (.doc)

Internet Resources

Thesis or Question (Purdue OWL)

How to Generate an Effective Statement (Shepherd)
Writing Tips: Thesis Statements
Developing the Thesis Statement and Supporting Arguments (OhioLINK)
How to Write a Strong Thesis Statement (Wilfred Laurier U)
Re-evaluating Your Topic and Research Strategy (OhioLINK)
How to Develop a Thesis (J. Delaney's discussion of using prewriting techniques to develop a thesis)
Defining a Position
Research Resources
Need more? Go to your favorite search engine and type in "academic writing" and a keyword describing what you want help with, such as thesis
or grammar.






Use of topic exploration materials is restricted to students or faculty of Kaplan University.
Last updated 8/11/2010