Organization Plan for an Exploratory Essay

Minimum page requirement: 2-3 pages (double-spaced Times New Roman—12 point font)

Other requirements: Minimum of two sources, using in-text citations (MLA or other approved style) and a Works Cited page

Writing Task

The Exploratory Essay is designed to help students explore a topic that they are interested in writing about for the Research Paper. The Research Paper, in turn, is designed to help both the writer and the reader learn something valuable about a chosen topic which is in some way arguable, and about the nature of research and discovery. However, as opposed to the Research Paper in which the writer typically will assume a detached and objective stance, this Exploratory Essay allows you to relate the evolution of your own thinking about a topic as you first start with your own ideas, then describe your research as you begin to explore sources and others’ views.


Choose a topic that truly interests you, a problem or concern you want to be more informed about. The topic, however, has to be argumentatively rich (<link is hidden>controversial), meaning that there have to be different viewpoints on the issue. It’s up to you to choose a suitable topic, but there are some topics that cannot be researched. After you have chosen a topic you want to make sure that several sources are available (sources might include the readings in the textbook, local libraries, MACC’s online catalog and electronic resources you find using such databases as Lexis-Nexis, EbscoHost, Thomson-Gale, etc.). Then proceed to writing about what you discover.


Address your paper to your fellow peer-scholars who might be interested in your subject and could be interested in your analysis and research.


You can use the “Organization Plan for an Exploratory Essay” on page 43 in Writing Arguments for a good model, or you can also think of the paper in terms of having these three distinct sections (described below): 1) “What I Know, Assume or Imagine”; 2) “The Search”; and 3) “What I Discovered.” This three-part format of this paper can be organized explicitly—for example, set off with subheadings—or implicitly.

Part I: What I Know, Assume, or Imagine

Before conducting any research, write a section in which you explain to the reader what you think you already know, assume, and/or imagine about your topic. This will be your introduction.

Part II: The Search

Test your knowledge, assumptions or conjectures by doing some preliminary research on your topic. What are the views and opinions others have about it? What are some of the points of contention between scholars on your topic? Are there any facts that surprised you or, in fact, supported what you already believed? It can be useful to write about your search in a narrative form (chronologically with specific details) to record the steps of the discovery process. Do not feel obligated to tell everything, but highlight the happenings and facts you uncovered that were crucial to your hunt and contributed to your understanding of the topic.

Part III: What I Discovered

After concluding your search, compare what you thought you knew, assumed, or imagined with what you discovered and offer some personal commentary and/or draw some conclusions.

How to Proceed

Let’s say, for example, that you decide to investigate teenage alcoholism. You might start in the introduction by offering what ideas you already have about the causes of teenage alcoholism, then you could provide your own estimate of the severity of the problem, and create what you think is a portrait of a typical teenage drinker, all prior to conducting your search.

For your body paragraphs, you’d then consult outsides sources–useful books, journals, magazines, newspapers, online sources, films, and/or library databases–for information and arguments. You could also interview people who are authorities or who are familiar with your topic. For the topic of teenage alcoholism, you could visit an alcohol rehabilitation center, attend a meeting of Alanon or Alcoholics Anonymous, and interview a substance abuse counselor. You might also ask a number of teenagers from different social and/or economic backgrounds what their first exposure to alcohol has been and whether they perceive any alcohol “problem” among their peers.

You could then devote one body paragraph for each source, summarizing what the source has to say, or you could interweave information you’ve gleaned for each source into paragraphs, organizing them thematically, or use still some other organizational strategy. The purpose here, however, is to nudge each of you to begin the research process early and get your “hands dirty” by exploring sources right away.

In the conclusion, you could then revisit what you thought you knew and put those preconceptions in conversation with what your sources had to say. For the teenage alcoholism example, during your initial research into teenage alcoholism, you might learn that the problem is far more severe and often begins at an earlier age than you formerly believed. You may have assumed that parental neglect was a key factor in the incidence of teenage alcoholism, but now you have found that peer pressure is the prime contributing factor.

Consequently, when crafting your thesis for the Research Paper, you might want to propose that an alcoholism awareness and prevention program including peer counseling sessions be instituted in the public school system as early as sixth grade. This part of the paper will also contain in-text citations indicating what information you’re integrating from outside sources, as well as corresponding Works Cited page entries.

An Easy Outline for the Exploratory Essay

Use the introduction to explain what you thought or assumed before you began your research.

For the body paragraphs, summarizing each source—you can stick with just two. Try for a solid 250 words for each summary.

Use attributive tags rhetorically to introduce the authors and indicate their attitudes toward the topic and your thinking about them. Be sure to properly cite your sources (use parenthetical citations, too, where you need them) and include a Works Cited
Optional: for a third body paragraph, you can begin to synthesize the two sources—put them in conversation.
Add transitions between the body paragraphs that connect things at the idea-level as well as the world level
Conclusion: tie things to the introduction, to the bigger picture, call for action, leave the audience with a vivid image, or recapitulate your ideas—but be sure to indicate what your thinking about the topic is now and how your thinking has changed since you first began.

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