Even if you've just recently been in school, going back can bring the harsh, cold reality of paper and essay writing to rain on your parade. In online colleges and universities, or even high level high school courses, things are different. Earlier, a teacher would assign you a book to read, or a document to discuss. Things were much more clear-cut. As you move up the educational ladder, you'll have to do a lot more work on your own before you even start any actual research.
Take the social sciences as a good example. A professor might ask for someone to compare two philosophies, such as utilitarianism and hedonism, and how they would impact an event. A student might then look at how decisions using each of those have affected businesses during the 2008 financial crisis. That's just one option, and the goal is to force critical thinking and research. So, how do you get there?
Thankfully, this is the one time when Google and Wikipedia can and should be used. Any of the topics that you're asked to cover are fair game. You can use the related links and sources on their Wikipedia pages, and search for them on Google, Bing or Yahoo to see if other ideas come up. You should start seeing if you can find any information that pulls you one way or the other.
Now that you have a few pages that give you a sense of where you want to go, make a generalized statement. It doesn't have to be what you end up with, just covering the information, like, "Utilitarian governments and businesses would have called for more active involvement in the financial markets." Then, go back and search for data that points to the opposite of your thesis.
This will give you enough information and a direction that you can continue to do research. Make sure as you go along, you're grouping the research under topics that make sense to you. This can either be based on topics, like aspects of utilitarianism or hedonism, or based on groupings such as countries or the like.
Now that you've got your thesis, you have most of your introductory paragraph. You simply introduce the problem the assignment asked of you, your thesis, and a few major supporting steps. As you go through the paper, make sure that you stick to the topic groupings you came up with, as well as acknowledging counterarguments. Now, you're all set. And each paper that comes after will be that much easier.
Data on U.S. Public High Schools & Private High Schools
Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. The data displayed is compiled from the most recent sources available. For public schools this is the 2012-2013 school year. For private schools this is the 2011-2012 school year.
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