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The Focus Essay

Your essay should chronicle the ways in which your ideas about your topic developed as a result of exploring 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.  Keeping a Research Log can be helpful in organizing your experiences.  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) Literature Review (answer the following sorts of questions in this section):

  • What were the results of your research?
  • What did you find—and what didn’t you?  
  • How did you find it? 
  • What problems did you encounter while searching for sources?
  • 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? 
  • Where there sources that you ended up not using?  Why not?

3) Conclusion: Clear description of your newly defined research topic and/or question 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


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