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Writing a Coherent Exploratory Paper

Exploratory papers or essays are a kind of written work whose purpose largely follows from their name. Indeed, the word “exploratory” is quite self-explaining. The author composes a paper (or an essay which is shorter in volume and less significant in terms of informative value), which seeks to describe a relatively “raw” subject creating a basis for its further analysis. Thus, an exploratory paper is a kind of reconnaissance mission, in which the author is like a scout trying to get a maximum useful information about an unknown terrain.

However, unlike a scout in a reconnaissance mission, the author of an exploratory paper usually analyzes various information sources on the issue rather than physical unexplored terrain. Such a genre naturally has certain peculiarities and hints.

Characteristic features of an exploratory paper

An exploratory paper has its characteristic features, which actually determine the methods and algorithm of its writing. Typically, according to specialists, an exploratory paper is characterized by various features, from which the most relevant ones seem to be the following:

  • There is an urgent and unsolved or controversial issue that is identified and described in the exploratory paper (often in the introductive part).
  • The author describes the so called rhetoric situation around the topic. That somewhat artificial concept comprises five elements (“text”, “reader”, “author”, “constraints” and “exigence”).

“Text” reveals what sort of writing in produced on the issue, whether the subject is discussed in public, including in the news and by what social and professional groups. “Reader” determines the audience groups interested in the issue, their different positions and reasons of their interests. The “Author” element describes the people who write on the issue. “Constraints” points to the limits within which the issue can be discussed. And lastly, the fifth and the most mysteriously named element – “Exigence” – describes why people are really interested in the issue (an overlap with the “reader” element), provides the history of the problem and mentions the enduring issues related to the subject.

  • A few most important positions towards the issue from the analyzed sources are described and summarized.

However, the above mentioned features don’t seem obligatory, because the quality of an exploratory paper is eventually defined by its informative value and its contribution to further detailed analysis of the issue.

Following the above analogy with a reconnaissance mission, the author as an “information scout” needs to collect from the available sources maximum useful information about an interesting field of research. Hence, what should really matter is the amount and quality of obtained data on the subject, which represents interest for further analysis.

Exploration efforts are often undertaken on so called enduring issues, that is on those which remain urgent constantly or for a long time. In economy, it may be taxation aspects, and, in the environmental area, it may industrial pollution as a phenomenon. In such cases, individual exploratory works usually address such current topics (as parts of wider enduring issues) as the rise of a particular tax or an incidence of pollution caused by a particular event.

How to write an exploratory paper

The above features of the exploratory genre suggest the methods and sequence of stages in the production of a proper exploratory work. As to its general layout, an explanatory paper may consist of the standard elements like introduction, main part or body section and conclusion.  Let us now consider individual sections of your future exploratory paper.

The paper’s components

Introduction: producing an intrigue

There are a number of methods to grasp the readers’ attention in the introduction. They include:

  • Retelling a real story, event or tendency
  • Providing a couple of self-explaining statistics, which clearly point to the issue
  • Producing a vivid description of a scene or situation that clearly indicate an existing conflict
  • Providing an intriguing or provocative statement
  • Making a list of problems grouped around an underlying phenomenon
  • Giving a few bright and exiting examples of a problem
  • Posing a series of questions (which may be rhetoric questions) that undoubtedly need solution
  • Organizing an interview with questions and answers clearly indicating the issue

Now that we have outlined the urgent issue and readers are familiar with it, it’s time to produce the main part or the body section of your paper.

The body section is where you can place the analysis of the above mentioned “rhetoric situation” around the topic. The “rhetoric situation”, despite being a rather clumsy construction, definitely affects the positions of different sources in the issue that you are exploring.

Roughly speaking, the content of the body section mainly consists of your description and assessment of those different positions (or different sources) that write and comment on the problem. Here is the right place for you to set out arguments in the favor of individual positions and sources or criticize them. However, the essence of the body section doesn’t consist in your argumentation, but rather in revealing the “information field” around the topic of your paper, that is, in the exploration of the whole complex of information on the issue.

In the conclusion, you may emphasize the urgent character of the issue (largely based on the contents of the body section) and/or indicate the position that you support and explain why.

Writing the paper

Using the above hints on each constituent part of your future exploratory paper, you may now pass over to the proper procedure of writing your work.

We suggest the following simple algorithm for writing an exploratory paper or essay:

  1. First, prepare a basic outline of your paper using the above format.
  2. Discuss your concept with a friend or in a small group.
  3. Write a draft.
  4. Try to include in your draft summarized ideas and quotes from different positions in the issue.
  5. Perform a peer editing session, probably with the same people that you earlier discussed your concept.
  6. Revise the text based on the peer editing and perform the final review.


Again, we’d like to state that the above procedures and hints are likely to provide the author a convenient framework rather than a rigid system of restrictions. The main purpose remains the same as in any reconnaissance mission: finding out maximum information that may be useful for a more solid action. And the purpose includes a related objective of proving the urgent character of the issue and insufficient state of its investigation.

Thus, if, in your exploratory paper, you managed to reveal important features of the investigated subject, and the data that you found out considerably improve the conditions for further research, then the task of your exploration is accomplished.

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