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Online Writing Lab

The Investigative Essay

An investigative essay is often used as a precursor to an argumentative essayIt is similar to a research essay, but the difference is most investigative essays allow for some form of personal experiences or opinions. The focus should be on performing research and using outside sources, but other sources may be incorporated, as well. As always, be sure to speak with your instructor for the exact guidelines of your investigative essay. 

The primary goal of an investigative essay is to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the subject in an unbiased manner. Doing this requires performing significant research, interpreting the research and presenting it in an organized manner throughout the essay. It also means articulating the various viewpoints of the issue. 

The key to the investigative essay is to begin with a legitimate question to research. Doing this allows you to keep an open mind throughout the process. On the other hand, if you choose an issue which you have already made up your mind about, objectivity may be lost. For example, if you want to investigate whether current cellphone laws while driving are effective or not, it is better if you truly aren't sure instead of assuming they are or aren’t.

Topic Selection

As mentioned above, you should pick a topic that you have not already made up your mind about.  In addition, it is also important that the topic be current, debatable, researchable and manageable. 

A current topic is one that has not been overdebated and is still being decided by society. Most writers and readers are sick of topics that have been debated for years: abortion, the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, etc. 

A debatable topic is one that has differing viewpoints. In other words, it is a controversial issue. Writing about how child abuse has consequences for society is not debatable because no one would disagree with this thesis. On the other hand, debating whether the punishments for child abusers are effective or not in deterring crime is debatable.

A researchable topic is one in which the writer can find a variety of credible and current sources. In other words, the writer needs to be able to find unbiased research performed by qualified individuals to help answer the initial question.  

A manageable topic is one that can be successfully performed within the page requirements of the essay. Writing about widespread issues, such as national or global problems is often unmanageable in a short essay. For instance, it is not possible to investigate possible solutions to solve world hunger in several pages. It may, however, be possible to investigate whether a particular city or county program is effective in dealing with localized poverty. 

If a particular topic meets all of the above criteria, it should make for an appropriate topic to investigate.

Note: An investigative essay is sometimes referred to as a pro/con essay, although a pro/con essay can also be slightly different. Regardless, the underlying goal is the same: to present several sides of an issue without taking a stand.