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Basic Composition and Reading (ENGL 50 - Herold)

Use this guide to master skills you'll need to complete Erin Herold's final essay.

Background Information

Many students turn to Wikipedia for their initial exploration of a topic.  This is fine, but be sure to augment your background research with sources you can actually include on an academic bibliography.   

Conduct background research because:

  • It is a great source of core knowledge on your topic
  • It can generate ideas on different ways to focus your topic
  • It can answer research questions you've already posed
  • It may help you clarify and/or expand research questions.
  • It often points you towards other sources of information on your topic 

 The MJC Library subscribes to several article databases that are great for finding background information.  Try searching in:

Why Research Questions?

Think of your research questions as a grocery list designed to guide you through a huge “storehouse” of information.  This list will allow you to efficiently locate and retrieve the most relevant knowledge possible to support your thesis, prevent you from getting off track as you sift through large quantities of information, and even help keep you organized as you begin writing. Your list of questions may change and/or expand as your research progresses.

Getting Started With Research Questions

Good academic communication should include an introduction in which your topic and thesis is clearly defined, an analysis of your topic, and a clear conclusion.

Start out by introducing your topic, communicating to your audience why the topic is important, and providing enough background information to allow your audience to understand the analysis that is about to take place. Your introduction is also the logical place to embed your thesis.

Examples of defining/introductory questions:

What is _________________?

o Why is ____________ an important issue?

o What background information is necessary to understand ______________?

o What are the different types of ____________?

All academic research demands analysis. Some projects lend themselves well to a cause/effect structure ("What caused hip-hop to emerge and what are some of the effects its had on American culture?), while other assignments require a pro/con format ("What are the positive aspects of stem cell research? What are some of the negative implications?). Some projects can easily conform to both modes.

Examples of analytical/body questions:

What are the causes of ________________?

o What are the effects of ________________?

o What are the “pro” arguments about_______________?

o What are the “con” arguments about ______________?

o How can I refute arguments about ______________?

o What is being done about ______________?

Your conclusion allows you to demonstrate to your instructor that you have synthesized the information you found and clearly answered your thesis question (informative projects) or effectively proven your thesis statement (persuasive/argumentative assignments).

Examples of concluding questions:

o What do I think should be done about  ________________?

Based on my research what do I think about  ________________ and why?