Some Seniors have ambitious research plans. Other ideas are more project-oriented. And others are still trying to decide between various original research ideas, or don’t have a clear idea of what to do yet. That’s OK – for now. But original research needs to be (close to) complete by the start of Winter Break, so coming up with a clear plan over the summer, or within the first couple of weeks of school, is really important. How do you know if your original research plan is on point? Here are a few questions to ask:
1. Will the original research produce not just a final product, but evidence that supports a thesis? This is the single most important measure of whether original research is on point, or off base. You may not yet know exactly what your thesis is, which is fine, but ideally you are becoming aware of the sources of debate within your topic. Does your original research tap into that debate in some way? Strong. Or is it more of a self-contained project? Weak. Simply learning a skill related to your topic is rarely going to be considered sufficient original research for senior thesis, because it does not produce evidence for your paper.
2. How can the process be documented in a way that produces evidence? Documenting original research is so important it has its own post. However, thinking about how you will document it before it starts, and what kind of evidence that will produce, can influence the research plan itself. Imagine actually typing about your research in your paper, and what exhibits, quotes, or data there might be. Is your original research going to produce evidence that will “fit” in an academic thesis paper? If not, you may need to think about how to modify the plan.
3. Is the magnitude of the original research plan right-sized for this class – about 40-80 hours of real work? Your original research should map out to be the same commitment as a non-exam class for the fall semester, approximately 2-4 hours of real work per week. If you get some done over the summer, that lessens the commitment in the fall. Sometimes seniors get a little carried away, and propose original research that would actually be better suited to the 3-5 years available in a PhD program! Save those ideas – who knows, it may influence some of your research choices in college. But for this class, prune it down to a manageable goal for one semester. On the other hand, sometimes seniors aim too low, with an idea that could basically be completed over a productive weekend. That won’t meet the requirement – how can you raise the bar?
I will add that Seniors who commit to professional training – e.g., an EMT or yoga certification, or pilot’s license, etc. – will put in more time than 40-80 hours because the classes likely demand more, AND it needs to go a step beyond that to tie back to the thesis as per #2. Although it is more time-consuming, in some ways it is also easier because someone else is setting the schedule and, if you successfully complete the course and are careful to tie your documentation & application back to your thesis, you almost certainly have strong original research.
4. Is part of the original research plan to learn correct methodology for conducting it? A huge pitfall that has lost major points on senior thesis papers is to not properly or adequately prepare for conducting the original research. It’s hard to generalize here, but at least one of your books should be directly tied to sound, proven methodology on how to conduct your original research, whatever it is. To be blunt: DO NOT WING IT.
5. Are you excited about conducting the research as outlined in your plan? As with all of senior thesis, it’s hard work that is only sustainable if you are excited about it. If you are bored by your research plan, your reader will be bored reading about it. Figure out how to align the plan with what interested you about the topic in the first place.
Do you have questions or feedback about planning original research? Email Ms. Farris anytime!