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: 

  1. 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)
  2. What problems did you encounter in using catalogs, indexes, or other finding tools to identify useful materials?
  3. Did you discard some books and articles that initially seemed likely to be of use? Why?
  4. Were some of the articles too technical or did they require too sophisticated a reader to be useful to you?
  5. 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. 


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