Writing a Research Paper
This page lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.
Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.
- Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
- Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
- Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
- Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
- Writing the Introduction
- Writing the Body
- Writing the Conclusion
- Revising the Final Draft
Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
- Try to find a topic that truly interests you
- Try writing your way to a topic
- Talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
- Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved
Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
You will need to look at the following types of sources:
- library catalog, periodical indexes, bibliographies, suggestions from your instructor
- primary vs. secondary sources
- journals, books, other documents
Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
The following systems will help keep you organized:
- a system for noting sources on bibliography cards
- a system for organizing material according to its relative importance
- a system for taking notes
Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
Consider the following questions:
- What is the topic?
- Why is it significant?
- What background material is relevant?
- What is my thesis or purpose statement?
- What organizational plan will best support my purpose?
Writing the Introduction
In the introduction you will need to do the following things:
- present relevant background or contextual material
- define terms or concepts when necessary
- explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
- reveal your plan of organization
Writing the Body
- Use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
- Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don't let your sources organize your paper)
- Integrate your sources into your discussion
- Summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
- Move up and down the "ladder of abstraction" from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization
Writing the Conclusion
- If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.
- Perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research.
Revising the Final Draft
- Check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
- Paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
- Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.
- Documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited.
Research papers are a norm at colleges and universities. If you're stuck on where to start or even how to finish, this article can help guide you to finish that paper.
After you start college, at one point or another, you're going to have to write a heavy-duty research paper. This isn’t your high school English teacher’s five-page requirement, either. This is going to be the 28-page monster you’ve heard about, but hoped wasn’t really true, and it will be a task that you’ll likely have to repeat more than once during your college career. But you are not alone. Students at colleges and universities across the country are probably facing the same daunting task.
There is hope, though. No matter how long your paper must be or how little time you have to complete it, there are some general tips that will help you complete a first-rate research paper. Use the following college guide by Sharon Sorenson, author of "How to Write Research Papers":
Plan your time
Some instructors give you ten weeks to complete a project, while others might allot a measly four. Plan backward from the day your paper is due and map out a schedule that allows you enough time to finish.
Choose your topic wisely
You may not be given a choice about the topic of your paper, but if you’re fortunate enough to have the option, then select a subject that interests you. If you choose something outside your scope of interest, you may find yourself nodding off and have difficulty finishing the task, which is not a good impression to make at college. Information is crucial; keep your topic broad enough that you can find enough resources to cover it, but narrow enough that you can successfully develop and support your ideas.
Write a top-notch thesis statement
All research papers must contain a thesis statement, which reflects the main topic and the order in which supporting ideas will develop. For example, if you write a paper entitled "Teenagers Coping with Alzheimer's Patients," your thesis statement might look something like this: "Understanding the emotions of both the patient and the family will help reduce everyone's frustration."
This statement implies that your paper will discuss patient and family emotions, as well as the reduction of their frustrations. With any paper you write, feel free to fiddle with your thesis statement as you go along to better reflect the results of your research.
Use excellent secondary resources
If at all possible, don’t rely heavily on one source when writing a paper at college. Search for and consult as many varying sources as humanly possible. You want to provide a well thought out, persuasive argument. Make sure you aren’t using outdated resources, and gather information that will prepare you to address potential arguments to your ideas.
Build an outline
After you’ve gathered your most valuable resources, develop an outline of what you plan to cover. This will help keep you from drifting into uncharted waters as you write. Developing a structure or plan is great college info for any task you encounter, not just writing papers. It helps keep you focused.
Create a first draft
Complete a first draft, then go back and check your facts. Did you forget an important argument or piece of information? Does the content flow easily from section to section? Make sure you used your own words and quoted all sources.
Before you hand in your paper, go back through it again to catch any errors. This time, look specifically for grammar and keyboard errors. If the thought of staring at your paper one more time makes your eyes glaze over, ask a friend or relative to read it and provide constructive feedback.
Writing a research paper can be a daunting task, but breaking it down into small steps makes the work much more manageable. If you develop a system for completing your research and putting your paper together, it will serve you well at whatever colleges and universities you attend. It may not get any easier, but the more you write, the better your papers will become.
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