The Focus Essay

You are to write a paper describing how you found and used the books and articles you used to move from a general topic to the specific thesis statement that would be the focus of a research paper.  At each step along the way, you are to include the following information: 

  • How did you find each book or article?  What catalogs, indexes, and other finding tools did you use to find each item? Did you ask for help along the way, and what was the result? (Keeping a Research Log can be helpful in organizing this information)
  • What problems did you encounter in using catalogs, indexes, or other finding tools to identify useful materials?
  • Did you discard some books and articles that initially seemed likely to be of use? Why?
  • Were some of the articles too technical or did they require too sophisticated a reader to be useful to you?
  • What ideas for focusing your topic did each article present?

In conclusion:

  • What is your final thesis statement?


Your essay should chronicle the ways in which your ideas about your topic developed as a result of scanning the relevant literature.  You should discuss how this led you to a more focused topic as well as a working hypothesis, or central research question, that will guide your further research.  This project focuses on process not content.  This is not a research paper.  Instead, write about doing the pre-research. 

Recommended Organizational Format for your Focus Essay:

  1. Introduction: Describe your preliminary topic, the reasons why you selected it and your initial perspective on it.

  2. Environmental Scan: What are the results of your research? What did you find—and what didn’t you?   How did you find it?  How will your findings contribute to your final research project?  What were your most valuable sources?  What resources i.e. online catalog, databases, were most useful to you and why?  How did specific resources make you rethink your topic?

  3. Conclusion: Clear description of your newly defined research topic and the working hypothesis/thesis that will guide your research.

  4. Working Bibliography:  15-20 key sources that may be useful for your final research project.


Research Log

The Research Log provides documentation of the research process. It can be used in conjunction with the Focus Essay or as a separate assignment. The Research Log can consist of a diary or journal entries.  It provides a "trail" of the research process. The Research Log should consist of the following components: date and time of research, resources used for research, including which databases, key terms used to search for materials, the complete citation of any relevant materials retrieved, a brief analysis of the usefulness of the materials retrieved. The Research Log should consist of the following steps:

  • Identify your general plan or strategy for research--will you look for books, popular or scholarly articles, web resources, newspaper articles, or information from other media?

  • Keep a diary of your research process--write down the date and time of each research session, identify the key words that you use to search, indicate if you need to limit or expand your key terms, note your search syntax

  • Note whether you will use subject headings or additional descriptors found in citation records to expand or limit your search; write down the appropriate headings and descriptors

  • Keep a list of your search results--if you read an abstract and decide to search for the article, note that; likewise, note if you do not choose to use the article, be sure to explain your choices

  • Keep a list of the articles that you will use for your research using the appropriate citation style--if needed, add an annotation to your citations and tell how you will retrieve the information

  • Attach a copy of the full-text of the articles that you will use for your research

  • Evaluate your progress addressing what worked and what didn't and what you learned from the process


Page Created Clarence Maybee & Maintained by: Maintained by Peter Rogers | Last Updated: April 17, 2013 | © 2009

Colgate University Libraries | 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346 | 315-228-7300