The Differences Between an Exploratory and Argumentative Research Paper

By: Colin deSousa

Throughout your college career, especially if your major resides in either the humanities or other social sciences, you’ll be tasked with writing a research paper. At this point, unbeknownst to you, you’ve reached a fork in the road. There are two types of research papers, similar and yet different—the exploratory and the argumentative. This blog post aims to explain the differences between the two to help you better understand how to write and use them for research.

An argumentative paper must not only explore a topic, but also suggest the implications of the situation; whereas, an exploratory paper informs without passing judgement.

The first distinction between the two is that an exploratory paper “explores” a topic at length to help the both author and audience attain better understanding. This means that the person doing the research would be more likely to express objective knowledge to inform, rather than influence. The purpose of an argumentative research paper is to influence the reader through the use of sources and opinionated dialogue on a subject. For example, say the topic for both types of papers was the prison system in America. An exploratory paper could discuss in depth the current state of our prisons in reference to the population, infrastructure strength, budget, etc., without giving an opinion on what needs to be done to fix them. That’s the job of the argumentative paper.

The second variance is the use and types of sources you would use. An exploratory paper’s sole purpose is to inform. For instance, instead of saying that the way we treat people with mental disabilities needs to be changed, you would instead give statistics on the current funding for mental institutions and/or federally funded counseling for those battling depression. An exploratory paper is also more likely to use sources that inform rather than suggest. Exploratory papers are also more likely to draw from personally conducted field research. This strategy is common among psychology and social work papers because they necessitate questionnaires for certain topics.

In contrast, argumentative research papers, to use the above example, would focus on ways to fix the way we treat and aid those with mental disabilities while also still providing evidence through the use of statistics. Statistics are one of the primary means of creating legitimacy and credibility for the opinion of the author. They can also be used for dramatic effect.

The last difference I will talk about is the differences in the “thesis” of each paper. For an exploratory paper, the thesis most often takes the form of a hypothesis that the author uses as a reference point before they begin their research. For example, if the objective is to learn more about the lifetime of bees from the perspective of a bee, they would begin by hypothesizing what they think they will find. This will then be either refuted or accepted in the conclusion of their paper. On the other hand, an argumentative thesis affirms its position at the beginning and aims to convince throughout.

Though the task may be daunting when you reach the fork in the road, hopefully this little guide can help you not only choose between each paper, but also help you stay on track when writing them.

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