Compare and Contrast
What can we learn by comparing and contrasting the works of others? If we look at James Baldwin and Richard Wright side by side, what will we see? Can we turn this examination into a research question for further exploration?
Do you want to advocate for a particular point of view? If so, you will probably want to craft a compelling and persuasive essay that uses evidence (rather than opinion) to shift a reader's view.
According to University of Colorado, "Persuasion is the process of convincing an opponent to change his or her beliefs and/or behavior through moral or logical argument (rather than force). When someone is persuaded to do something, they do it because they have come to believe it is the right thing or the best thing to do. They thus do it willingly, even gladly, not grudgingly, as they do when they are forced to do something against their will."
Here's a great resource for crafting a persuasive argument from University of North Caroline Chapel Hill,
Many disciplines have a set of theories that can be considered when attempting to answer a research question. Think of these theories like filters or lenses which can be applied to a topic to help make meaning. For example, in literature, many scholars will approach a textual analysis by examining the work via one of several literary theories:
- Gender studies and queer theory
- Marxism and critical theory
- Structuralism and poststructuralism
- New historicism and cultural materialism
- Ethnic studies and postcolonial cri
Here's one essay that offers a good example. The author opens with this explanation of her analysis: "Charlotte Brontë invests gothic elements in Jane Eyre with a symbolic meaning to create a new, ‘female’ language. It is through this female Gothic language that Brontë creates a heroine whose autobiographical mode of writing is used to trace a story of female rebellion and search for identity. Although the use of gothic as the new ‘female’ language is a subversion of the predominant phallocentric language of the time, the need for a woman writer to make her assertions through the gothic, the symbolic and therefore the indirect implies that this new female gothic also represents the agency the woman and girl in 19th century Victorian England did not have. The romantic aspect of Gothic is used to reflect and rebel against this reality which is done from the Eurocentric perspective of a 19th century British woman.
Another approach might be to conduct a case study analysis where you take a real event in the real world and examine it using a particular concept of theory. (See handout of one of my old papers on utilitarian philosophy.)
The Research Essay
In the 1500s, the concept of the essay was born when French writer Michele Montaigne coined the term essai, which means "to try." He was known to carry a coin engraved with the question, "Que sais-je" -- "What do I know?" (Ballenger, 11). The essay is about exploring a topic, not necessarily trying to prove something. An essay can be more intimate in tone and the author's voice and presence in the narrative is often quite tangible. See Ballenger's The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons.