Those Pesky Research Papers – Don’t Fight Them. Learn How to Do Them Right!

November 03, 2018
Content learn how to do research papers right

You cannot avoid them. They have been a part of your education since secondary school. And now, here you are in college and facing at least a few of these every semester. And the expectations and standards are higher. Before this, you were expected to take a topic (usually pretty boring), research factual information and prepare a rather objective reporting of that research.

Now, however, you will be expected to conduct far more in-depth research and analyze it – providing opinions or insights into the chosen topic.

So here are the steps with some useful tips that should make this major task somewhat less agonizing.

 Choosing That Topic

This makes the most important step of all. While the temptation is to just go ahead and pick anything your professor will approve, don’t do it. You are just asking to make the task more laborious.

Instead, do some brainstorming about the content of the course. What is the most interesting part of the course? And within that part, what intrigues you most? You are now on your way to selecting a topic that will be far more fun to research. Do a little initial research on the topic area, so that you can narrow it down to a specific question you really want to answer. Now you have something you will enjoy sinking your teeth into, and that eases a lot of the pain, especially the research step. (Do get it approved, however)

Conduct the Research

This step is two-fold. First, you must find the right resources and second, you must take notes to document all of the data or information you find.

In terms or resource selection, you must always go for the primary sources first. These include original research that others have done, historical and/or legal documents, and even surveys or interviews that you could actually conduct. Secondary sources are books, articles, etc. that others have written on the topic who are not first-line researchers. These are acceptable only if the individual who has authored the work is considered an expert on the topic. Otherwise, stick to primary sources.

Once you have identified the sources you will use, it’s time to dig in. You have to read and take notes, and the old-fashioned pen and note card system just does work best.

Armed with your note cards, start by making a bibliographical card for each resource. Number them. Then, when you take notes from those sources you can put that number at the top of each card, so you know where the information came from.

Now you are ready to take notes from each resource. Be certain to put the page number from which you are taking the information so that your citations are accurate. If you already have an idea of sub-topics for your paper, you may want to make note of the sub-topic that each card relates to. This will make it easier to organize your cards later on.

Organizing the Research

This can be a bit tough. You have to take information from several sources that relate to the same sub-topic and put them together. Unless you have sub-topics in mind, it can be frustrating.

Here is a suggestion: Access research papers on the same topic and identify the subtopics that writer used. You are not plagiarizing by using those same topics. The goal is to get all of your note cards into some sub-topic category.

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Developing the Thesis Statement

Now that you have finished your research, you have developed some insights and opinions. It’s time to develop a thesis statement that will drive all that you ultimately write. Here’s an example of a solid thesis statement on the American Civil War:

While there are a number of causes that historians have identified, there is a single cause that overrides all of the others. The issue of the power of the federal government versus the power of individual states had to be decided. And the strong difference of opinion on this issue led to war.

Crafting Your Outline

Do not skip this step. You must have a “map” to guide your writing and the points you will make, one by one, to support the thesis that you have. Determining the sequence in which you will make your points, and the information you will include in each of the points should be outlined before you ever begin to write.

Do you have to write a formal outline like you were taught, with all of those Roman numerals, letters and such? No, you don’t. But put some kind of an organizational structure together that works for you.

Writing the Rough Draft

The operative word here is “rough.” Your goal is to follow the outline you created and craft the body of your research paper. Each paragraph should have a solid topic sentence and a transition to the next.

Once the body is completed, you are ready to prepare your introduction. Find a “hook” for your opening – something that will pique the interest of the reader. This can be a startling fact or statistic, an anecdote, a quote, etc. And toward the end of your introduction, you will place your thesis statement – the reader needs to know what you are going to prove.

Someone once said that in any piece of writing, you tell the reader what you are going to tell them, you tell them, and then you tell them what you’ve told them. The conclusion should bring home your thesis statement. Summarize the points you made.

During this writing, be certain to insert your citations in the proper places, according to the format you are to use.

Editing and Proofing

You know the drill. You must now fully review what you have written.

First, read the entire paper without concern for grammar and punctuation. Does it read well? Does it flow logically? Is it coherent? Are there good transitions between paragraphs? Ask someone else to read it and confirm the flow and structure.

Second, read for sentence structure. If necessary, read each sentence out loud and be certain that it is correct. If you are not a grammar and punctuation “expert,” ask someone who is to review the piece.

The Final Draft

This should be easy. Your biggest challenge will be following all of the formatting requirements – title page, pagination, heading, margins, and those in-text and end-of-text citations.

No research paper is totally “fun” to write. They are hard work. But if you choose a topic you truly like, then the hard work is at least less arduous.