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There are two goals for this initial research stage:
a. Formulate your Research Question
Based on your background research into your chosen topic, identify an important question that you want to answer. Keep in mind that your paper should relate chemistry concepts to the bigger picture in terms of the environment, society, economics, or politics. As you write your outline and first draft, you should periodically return to this question to make sure that you stay focused on answering it and do not stray too far. An alternative could be to formulate an interesting thesis that you want to assert regarding your chosen topic, in which case you should make sure to construct a strong logical argument in support of it.
For example, if your general research topic is “fracking”, the following examples could work as a research question:
1. Is fracking harmful to the environment?
2. How does fracking impact climate change?
3. What is the role of fracking in the energy infrastructure of the United States?
Obviously, you would not be limited to these examples, but note that these are all complex questions that provide a good opportunity to explore the science as well as the larger societal impact. They also provide a more concrete direction to focus your paper (rather than simply writing about “fracking” in this example).
b. Identify Major Themes
Look for patterns and recurring themes in your reading. Identify and write down ideas that come up repeatedly or are given special emphasis. It may help to consider some general questions about your topic. What is the scientific basis of your research question? What are the relevant chemistry concepts? What are the broader social, political, or economic implications? What are the commercial or industrial interests in this issue? What communities are most affected? Look for evidence that answers your question in different ways. A well-argued position should present facts in its favor, while also addressing the strongest counterarguments against it. During this time, you can also write down any other supporting ideas that you want to include, and group them according to the major themes.
Note: It is ok for your question or thesis to present a particular point of view, but it must be supported by evidence and a logical argument.
1. Introduction – 1 paragraph introducing the topic in general terms and presenting your research question or thesis statement in a clear and concise manner.
2. Background – 2 or 3 paragraphs on the scientific background and context of your topic.
3. Discussion – The core of the paper where you present your arguments and evidence.
A. First Major Idea
1. Evidence #1 for First Idea
2. Evidence #2 for First Idea
B. Second Major Idea
1. Evidence #1 for Second Idea
C. Third major Idea, Etc
4. Conclusion – 1 or 2 paragraphs reviewing and summarizing your main argument.