Exploratory writing is writing that allows students to explore a topic of interest, research and gather information regarding it, and share that information with others. This form of writing is primarily requested by instructors for their students to allow them to better understand the writing and research process as well as learn how to truly explore a concept or idea without quickly coming to a conclusion. In a way its a more relaxed approach to writing that does not place heavy emphasis on solving a problem or thesis but rather focuses on varying viewpoints and perspectives as well the process of exploring and forming resolutions.
What sets exploratory writing apart?
Exploratory writing differs significantly from other forms of writing in how you present your ideas to the reader as well as the way in which you express your point. Some key phrases that may help to describe exploratory writing
are "thinking process" and "working mind". Unlike other papers, in exploratory writing, you take the reader along with you through the journey of finding an answer to a problem or discovering various points of view and solutions to a proposed question.
Instead of following the traditional method of developing an argument or fast forwarding to the conclusion, in exploratory writing you will explain to the reader:
- the series of steps you took when researching
- the resources you chose and why
- answers you discovered
- different perspectives you stumbled upon
- and any issues to consider for further research.
An exploratory essay
should contain a definite problem or research question that you attempt to explore. It should still be clear and precise even though you do not need to persuade, convince, or argue the results of it. Likewise, the findings you share may or may not provide a concrete resolution to the problem.
In essence, you are also providing the reader with a 'behind the scenes' view of things. Therefore, in your introduction, for example, you would explain the sources you approached to find the answers to your question, and similarly in the body you may indicate, why you chose those particular sources, your findings, and alternative views and perspectives of the problem as well as solutions.
In some cases your professor or instructor will provide you with a specific research question that you need to explore in your essay. Or they may also issue an exploratory essay assignment in conjunction with a later more final scientific report or essay. If this is not the case, then you will need to work to find your own topic to expand upon. Thankfully, topic selection for this form of writing is actually not as difficult as it may seem.
Ideas worth exploring
Some of the best exploratory topics are those that
- clearly interest you and
- provides 'open-ended' or varied solutions and explanations.
For example, a question such as, 'What is the relationship between heart disease and poor nutrition?' is pretty straightforward, and somewhat of a 'closed' question. Even though the answer can be properly expanded upon in an essay it doesn't offer much variation when it comes to solutions and research methodology. The answer can easily be found within most health or medical reference books or websites and is pretty simple to explain (the answer is that poor nutrition leads to heart disease because fatty foods can interrupt the blood flow to the heart due to the effects of high cholesterol).
Alternatively a better and more appropriate question for exploratory purposes would be,
'Should child support be legally mandated and enforced?' This question is very open in its responses and explanations as well as with the types of resources required to satisfy a resolution. Your source list for example may range from secondary resources such as books and journal articles to primary sources such as interviews and first-hand accounts from mothers and fathers with current child support cases. Likewise, there are many different perspectives on this issue. Some may feel that the government should not have the right to take people's wealth and that support should be handled between parents while others may feel that it has to be done in this manner to ensure that children receive some form of support from both parents.
As you can see the second example is much more suitable for exploratory purposes and provides a wider range of possibilities and avenues of discussion.
Additionally you should consider a concept or idea that you are genuinely interested in; for instance, something that has always concerned or perplexed you. Maybe you always wanted to know whether or not standardized test scores are truly reflective of a person's intelligence. Or perhaps you've always been concerned about child safety in day care centers-you may decide to ask a provoking question surrounding security measures and staff credentials. These are all great approaches to take in identifying and sound and intriguing subject to explore.
Choosing a topic
There are many great ways to go about selecting a specific topic for your paper. As discussed previously, provocative, perplexing issues make good exploratory questions. Along this end, controversial topics also fit in nicely. If you're not sure of where to begin when looking for a topic you can start by scanning newspaper headlines or magazines articles for specific things that people tend to 'argue about' or dispute. Below are some examples of questions that may fit this description.
Examples of exploratory topics:
- Should children be vaccinated or not?
- How can legal authorities properly address Internet safety controls to prevent children from harmful websites?
- Why is it that people can date or cohabitate under 18 but cannot get legally married?
- What factors should determine whether or not a person is allowed to carry a firearm?
- Why should people pay taxes?
In addition to the above mentioned advice, you can also freewrite or brainstorm to discover a great topic. For instance, you may choose to simply freewrite about issues or problems that you've always wondered about but never had a chance to research or investigate.
Also you may choose to use graphic organizers; such as cluster maps, tree diagrams or spider webs. With webbing you can identify a thought or main idea and draw it in the middle of a sheet of paper and then link it to other connected or related ideas on the same sheet of paper, thus forming a spider web. Working in this way has proven profitable for many people in identifying suitable writing topics. And overall following all these steps will hopefully lead to a more developed and structured question that you can then use in your paper.
Lastly, sharing your ideas with teachers or friends may also help to spark new ideas, refine broad topics and initiate more complex subject matters to explore or examine.