54 Research Essay Requirements

In this Research Essay, you are asked to explore some aspect of culture: art, music, identity, media, crime, or other aspects. You will then do some research about the topic you choose and write a paper that incorporates support from that research, along with your own insights and ideas.

The major elements of this assignment include research, documenting sources, and incorporating sources in the research essay.

Throughout this unit, we will focus on finding and evaluating sources, incorporating them into your writing, and properly documenting your research in MLA style. Along with your final essay, you will create an annotated bibliography of sources to demonstrate the logic behind your research choices.

Essay 3 – Research Essay


  • be aware of the components of argument and create your own arguments in conversation with other members of your discourse communities
  • focus on a specific rhetorical purpose
  • acknowledge audience stakeholders and their positions
  • argue for and against positions to understand the scope and breadth of an argument
  • conduct and document research
  • express a working knowledge of key rhetorical features, such as audience, situation, and the use of appropriate argument strategies


  • Choose one of the topics presented below or propose your own.
  • Conduct research.
  • Identify your opinion on the topic (be sure to be critical of your own ideological biases).
  • Prepare an annotated bibliography with your sources
  • Create an argument that examines the beliefs behind the topic your chose and a critique of how that belief supports or damages the community.

Requirements and Evaluation

Essay Specifications:

  • 5+ pages
  • MLA format
  • At least 4 sources, 3 or more from databases of articles

Annotated Bibliography:

  • At least 6 sources, 4 or more from databases of articles
  • MLA format
  • follow instructions for layout and content
  • provide annotations that critically engage the text (not summaries of the abstract)

Overall Evaluation:

  • Use of rhetorical strategies
  • Awareness of audience
  • Comprehension of key concepts – i.e. ideology
  • Use of sources
  • Organization & Coherence
  • Attention to grammar, punctuation & spelling.

Essay Topic Prompts

  1. In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman describes a woman undergoing treatment for mental illness. Hillary Clinton’s speech “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” focuses on how laws treat people differently based on sex or gender. For this research topic, start with one of these texts and then explore a historical or political topic relating to gender or sexuality. You might look at gay conversion therapy, reproductive rights, maternity/paternity rights, childbirth, or sexual reassignment.
  2. Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story, “In a Grove,” reviews a crime from the perspectives of witnesses, investigators, victims, and perpetrators. In the end, the story does not clearly fill readers in on what really happens. For this topic, research an investigation into a crime, a cover-up, scandal, or other controversial occurrence. Your goal is not to reopen the case, but rather to perform a research-based media analysis of how the event was depicted and how accurately citizens really know what is going on. Examples might include O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Mumia Abu Jamal, George Zimmerman, or Leonard Peltier.
  3. In Corey Doctorow’s “Anda’s Game,” the title character learns a hard lesson about the real world from her involvement in the virtual world of a video game. For this prompt, research the intersection of our physical and digital lives. How are they intertwined? How does one affect the other? You might look at social media, dating apps, gaming, hacking, privacy, or some other related topic.
  4. Some of the readings in the “Identity Shifts” strand of this course explore ways that crossing borders leads to cultural exchange and cultural change. For this topic, research a custom or practice in the US that began within a minority or immigrant population. You might look at music, art, holidays, fashion, and more. The custom can be from any immigrant or minority culture.
  5. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s story, “The Gambler,” the protagonist, Ong, must come to terms with the nature of American news media and the values of media consumers. Using “The Gambler” as a starting point, conduct research into a popular news story and the reactions of audiences. Examples might include Richard Nixon and Watergate, Hillary Clinton’s emails, climate change, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, or the Edward Snowden leaks.

Annotated Bibliography

Before you begin writing the essay, you’ll create an annotated bibliography. This will also help you create the Works Cited list for your final paper.

See the Annotated Bibliography for more information about this assignment.

The best way to compile citations for your works cited is by using the citation tools located on the right side of the screen in most research databases. If you email yourself a source, you will get a .pdf of the source and a formatted citation. You will have to choose MLA from a drop down menu. Check out the links below for more on MLA 8 and documenting sources.

Excelsior College OWL – MLA Style and Quoting Activity

Writing Commons – MLA 8th Edition and Works Cited Checklist

PCC Library – Avoid Plagiarism, Annotated Bibliography and MLA 8.

Writer’s Handbook – Creating an Annotated Bibliography

Resources for Citing Sources, MLA Style

For more on properly formatting and using quotes, see Notes on Quotations


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