While you're most likely familiar with the process of writing a research paper in the traditional style, where you research a topic and write about what you've learned, listing facts and details backed by observation and careful study, you may be less familiar with the concept of an approach paper. Often encountered for the first time in middle school English classes, approach papers ask students to try a new style of writing. Instead of listing facts, these paper assignments ask students to form their own opinions and make a solid argument for that opinion.

If you're puzzled by an assignment asking you to write an approach paper, don't worry. These papers can be hard to understand and start at first glance, but once you understand the assignment, writing approach papers can be incredibly fun and easy to work through.

What Is an Approach Paper?

Approach papers are formal papers, much like the more traditional research papers with which students are familiar from their science and social studies classes. As the name implies, an approach paper asks you to offer an approach to a certain topic or subject. Most often, approach paper assignments ask you to take a piece of media like a novel or short story and analyze it from an angle of your choice.

As long as it falls within the assignment guidelines provided by your teacher, you can interpret a story as an extended metaphor; make an argument for the symbolic meaning of one or more characters, scenes or settings; or suggest that the book takes a specific stylistic approach. Mechanically, these types of approach papers are similar to a research paper in that it has a thesis and supporting arguments before ending in a conclusion.

Other approach paper assignments will ask students to summarize stories and characters and then pick a key passage and think of a few discussion questions. These types of approach papers are easier but can feel more restrictive if your teacher wants things in a specific order and style. Many students find approach papers easier to write than other types of papers, but before you can begin writing a more complex one, you'll need to determine your angle of approach.

Finding Your Angle

Though an approach paper asks you to express and support an opinion, preparing to write one isn't too different than the research and writing process with which you're familiar from writing research papers. Once you have your assignment, you'll need to examine the subject of your approach paper in detail.

If you're writing an approach paper on a book or short story, read through it and take notes on the things that stand out to you. If you've studied the life of the author or the time period in which the book or story was written, look over your notes. Take time to think over the subject until you find an idea that speaks to you. This can be as simple as saying that the river in "Huckleberry Finn" is a symbol for time and growing up or as complex as saying that the way Harry and Ron treat Hermione in "Harry Potter" is a metaphor for how people don't think things through until it's too late. Once you have your idea, write it down. This will be the thesis of your approach paper.

Building Your Case

Once you've found your angle of approach, you'll need to research it. Read through the text of the book or short story again and find passages and ideas that support your idea. Look up outside information from biographies or other books from the same time period that you can reference when making your argument. Take notes from all of these sources and think of ways you can use this information to support the idea you're going to present. Organize them into a few key points and then build an outline for your paper. Once this is done, you'll be able to write your approach paper, but you'll need to follow your assignment guidelines while you do so.

Making Your Approach

Once you've done your research and taken notes, you'll need to follow your assignment guidelines to write it. Write it like you would a formal research paper. Be clear and serious and avoid using exclamation points or phrases you would use when talking to your friends.

If your teacher has asked you to summarize the story and the characters first, follow your assignment and do so. Otherwise, begin by introducing the story and/or the author. Explain what the story is about or who the author is for a few sentences and then state your thesis and list some of the reasons you have to support it. If your approach paper assignment is more complex, continue by explaining your supporting ideas in the next three or more paragraphs. Offer the evidence you've found in the story or in outside sources and connect them to your main idea.

In a more structured approach paper, follow the summary by listing some of the bigger questions about the story that you've thought of after reading it. Afterward, write out the most important passage you've found that supports your idea and follow it up with an explanation of why you believe it to be important. Make your case using the evidence and notes you collected before writing the paper. Regardless of the type of approach paper you've been assigned to write, finish your paper with a conclusion. Repeat your thesis and then summarize the reasons you've offered for why you support the idea about which you've written.

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About the Author

Blake Flournoy is a writer, reporter, and researcher based out of Baltimore, MD. Working independently and alongside professors at Goucher College, they have produced and taught a number of educational programs and workshops for high school and college students in the Baltimore area, finding new ways to connect students to biology, psychology, and statistics. They have never seen Seinfeld and are deathly scared of wasps.