If you aren’t familiar with what a research paper is, let me give you’re a rundown of the definition: a research paper is a form of academic writing that has theoretical and substantial information that has gone through the proper process of in-depth research. It could contain arguments based on a thesis with significant evidence from a variety of supporting and reliable sources.
If you ask many individuals, they may say that writing a research paper is one challenging and meticulous task. But with enough practice throughout the years in school, it could be much easier once you get used to it. It definitely is meticulous because of the intensive research that comes with it, but if you really look at the big picture of it, a research paper just needs a few basic tips for it to be less challenging for individuals that are struggling. Before we start with the tips for writing an effective research paper, have the following materials:
- Note paper (make sure you have enough because you may be jotting down a lot of notes)
- Two or three different colored highlighters (for highlighting notes)
- Index cards
Organization is Key
Follow these substantial steps to be organized in writing a research paper:
- Select your topic carefully
- Choose sources that will be helpful and make sure they are reliable
- Index cards should be used to jot down helpful notes that you may need throughout the process or writing
- Your notes should be organized based on the topic it is under
- Have an outline that is well thought of
- Write a first draft so you have a skeleton of what your research paper
- Go through your first draft, read it thoroughly and re-write
- Edit when it is needed
Do the proper research
If you want to find helpful and reliable sources of information, the library is literally the best place to look around. There are numerous books, published articles, journals and etc. that you can choose from about your chosen topic. Choose a comfortable place in your local library where you are away from distractions and you can focus on the work that needs to be done. Try using the card catalog and computers available to make your search easier.
Choose your research topic carefully
If you have the freedom to choose what your research paper could be about, take advantage of the situation and choose a topic that you are interested in or a topic you are curious about. By doing this, it gives you motivation to do necessary research for it. Be specific when selecting a topic because most writers make a mistake in choosing a topic that is too general.
Jot down the proper notes
Like our first tip, be organized when it comes to writing down your notes. Take note of the information that will only be of help to you. Try color coding your notes by topic and you can use highlighters for marking the beneficial details so you can find that specific topic very easily. If you’re allowed, you can also photocopy an article or page from a book that you’ll need. This is best if there is too much to note down on paper. It will definitely save you time. Every time you note something down, make sure to write down the bibliographical information such as the author, the book title, page numbers used, volume number and publisher’s name and vital dates.
Brainstorm an outline
After in-depth research, you can proceed to writing an outline. With all the notes and vital information that you gathered, start brainstorming where those certain topics fit in. To “brainstorm an outline” doesn’t mean that they have to be structured in sentences. Note down what part would be the beginning, middle and end. This is the part where your research paper starts to take shape.
Write a first draft
After your outline, you can start on your first draft. Take your outline and get the ideas jotted down and form sentences and paragraphs with them. This is the part where you put more detail and life into the paper so people can read it and actually understand it. You can do more needed research if you feel like you’re lacking information. This is only the first draft, so you can still make changes as you go on.
Proofread and write your final paper
Once you reread your first draft over and over and make the necessary changes you feel you should make, it is time to write your final draft. Make sure that all the vital information is included and your paragraphs and sentences make sense and has a steady and natural flow all throughout. Check for typographical and grammatical errors. Spelling is also another thing you want to check for. Make sure that every source that you used is in the bibliography page because this is vital to your research paper.
When you’re finished with your final paper, do the final adjustments as needed. Read it as many times as you want and even ask a friend or professor to go through it and give out their opinion.
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- Select a relatable topic (if you're given an option): Choose something you're interested in or curious about. Researching your information will be more enjoyable and you'll write with more enthusiasm.
- Make an outline: This will give you a "blueprint" for your paper and keep your writing organized. See the Writing Center's handout on outlining if you need a sample.
- Consider a form of prewriting: Try writing note cards out with your ideas on them, or mapping your ideas with a web diagram, or just talking your ideas through by yourself or with a friend. These steps will help your organization and creativity, which in turn will help you avoid plagiarism. If you are somewhat uncertain of what the paper's focus will be, conducting a broad area of research can be beneficial in narrowing a topic and selecting a specific area of preference.
- Develop a Thesis: A thesis statement introduces the topic and primary focus of the overall paper. While this can seem somewhat daunting, it is imperative to develop at least a rough thesis before endeavoring to write the paper. It should be noted, however, that a thesis can be manipulated throughout the writing process to better suit the purpose of a paper. Prewriting and research are necessary accompaniments when composing a potential thesis statement.
- Use transitions: Transitions should be a mix of the last sentences/ideas you wrote and what you're going to say next. See the Writing Center's handout on transitions for some ideas and sample phrases.
- Balance your use of paraphrases, quotes, and your own sentences: A higher ratio of paraphrases and your own sentences over direct quotations is the academic ideal (an excess of quotes can compromise the quality of the paper and indicate a lack of understanding and/or effort). When using a direct quote, it will be expected that you know why and how it relates to your topic. Remember to avoid plagiarism – you need to cite any ideas that do not come from you. This will include paraphrases, quotes, and even some of your own sentences that are based on ideas in your sources.
- Keep a list of your sources: There are few things more frustrating than having to track down a source weeks after you first accessed it. To save yourself time and potential frustration, keep a running bibliography as you write; cite each source as you use it. That way you'll have all the information you need right in front of you.
- Know your style standards: Go into the paper knowing whether you're writing in MLA, APA, or another style. Check a handbook or another reference for in-text citation styles, works cited/references page styles, and heading or title page formats. Even page number standards change between MLA and APA, so be sure you're familiar with the style and its conventions. You should also be aware of what style edition is required of the assignment; some professors prefer older editions, whereas others utilize the most recent.
- Produce your finalized title last: Titles can be limiting; your writing can stray away from original thoughts. You can only be sure that your title is tailor-made for your paper if you compose it after the paper is complete. Note that some writers feel this approach works best for them concerning introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, and thesis statements as well.
Some material for this handout was contributed by Tracy Wills
Last updated: May 2011