Part 4: “So what?” A Writing Series

Welcome to our final week of asking the “so what?” question.  Let’s get started.

So what about research papers? 

Again, start by asking the essential question: What does the paper want?

Research papers demand thoroughness. These assignments do not benefit from incomplete or missing information since the prompts tend to be wide enough to encompass various viewpoints, contradictions, and studies. Although theses will direct research papers, they demand completeness. After you’ve dedicated your heart, soul, and time to hours of research, your essay should be the manifestation of everything you’ve discovered about your topic. These papers are not summaries of your knowledge; they are the culmination of lengthy effort and gleaming analysis.

What kind of evidence is required?

Depending on the class, research papers may require several different kinds of evidence. Research papers may require anything from tweets to personal essays, depending on your topic. Some examples of types of evidence include news reports, research studies, or analyses on related topics.

Asking “so what?” in the thesis

Because research papers can be either argumentative or analytical, developing a thesis can be tricky. Consider your prompt; if it encourages you to take a side, then your paper will likely be argumentative. If it asks you to consider a topic, issue, or subject, you may have an analytical paper instead.

Like the other theses, asking “so what?” here will follow more or less the same structure; the central difference will be the broadness of your thesis. Because you will want to open up your avenues to many different kinds of research, your thesis might not seem as “focused” as the other papers.

Here are a few leading questions to consider in a research paper if your topic is “Patrick is a nuisance to Bikini Bottom.”
  • So what impact does Patrick’s behavior have on the city?”
  • So what does the city deem acceptable behavior in relation to Patrick, and is that an alternative?”
  • So what if Patrick is unable to control his behavior?”

Then, we can decide on a thesis that considers the effects of the topic and not just the topic itself.

An argumentative research thesis may be:

“Patrick’s shrewd behavior garners a myriad of trouble for the city of Bikini Bottom; if authorities do not quell his recklessness, Patrick may encourage others to follow suit.”

An analytical research thesis may be:

“Patrick’s behavior is akin to a genetic disorder, one that compels him to behave in accordance to instinct rather than logic.”

Asking “so what?” in the analysis

Your body of evidence for research papers will likely be mountainous; plugging in every bit of information you can may be tempting. However, it is important to first decide if your evidence bears enough relevance to your thesis. Analyze the usefulness of the evidence before you analyze the evidence in the paper. Think of this step as an exercise to weed out extraneous evidence.

Step 1: Decide what’s important

Remember that this process is not meant to reduce the amount of evidence you have. Rather, it should encourage you to think critically about what your evidence can do for you.

  • So what if I found evidence from a reputable study?”
    • Does it actually advance your research? Sometimes arguments by authority or even strong pieces of evidence might not actually be relevant for your argument. If you think you won’t be able to dissect it, it might not be enough, and you’ll have to seek out additional sources.
  • So what if this statistic/evidence/quote proves my point?”
    • Actively seeking out information that merely proves your argument isn’t always sufficient because it can take the place of your commentary. If you’re only going to include it to bolster your thesis, but you don’t think you can actually analyze it, you may need to reconsider the evidence.

Step 2: Decide how it contributes to your analysis

Once you’ve thoroughly examined your collection of evidence, it’s time to determine what it means in relation to your thesis. Because your research will likely garner lengthy documents, your analysis needs to be specific enough such that it doesn’t read like a summary.

Let’s look at this quotation by our favorite reputable Bikini Bottom citizen Patrick Star:

“That’s just fancy talk. If you want to be fancy, hold your pinky up like this! The higher you hold it, the fancier you are!”

Ask “so what?” to create a domino effect, of sorts.

  1. So what if Patrick thinks adding airs is “fancy talk”?
  2. So what if “fancy talk” reinforces hierarchy?
  3. So what if said hierarchy overlooks the majority of the citizens in Bikini Bottom?

If a quotation ever seems daunting or abstract, start small and use “so what?” to come to a broader conclusion. After answering those questions, you can connect your final point to your thesis as in this example:

  • Patrick’s insistence in preserving a hierarchy that divides the “fancy” from the mediocre establishes an antipodal relationship among the citizens of Bikini Bottom, ultimately suggesting Mr. Star is a nuisance through his influence.

That’s all, everyone!

The next time you’re working on a paper, remember how life-saving the “so what?” question is. I implore you to use that ever important question in every way you can.




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