- Understand the Research Paper Assignment Before You Start
- Choose an Engaging Topic for Your Research Paper
- Start Searching for Reputable Sources
- Create a Precise Thesis Statement
- Develop a Rough Outline
- Write a Draft and Finish Up Your Paper
- Cite Your Sources and Format Your Bibliography
- BONUS: Tips For Writing an A+ Research Paper
The end of each semester or the whole academic year usually requires writing at least one research paper. For many students, it means sleepless nights, stress and a lot of work. But does it have to be that way? Actually, it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first. The key to your success is to divide your work into many smaller easy-to-handle stages.
To write an excellent research paper and stay motivated throughout the process, you will also need some helpful advice, a well-thought-out plan of action, and a set of useful tools. Read on to find out how to simplify your work!
1. Understand the Assignment Before You Start
Before anything else, you should be absolutely clear on the writing assignment in front of you. Your teacher or professor should have relayed this information to you:
- The theme or idea the research paper should be on.
- Minimum word count or page length. For high schoolers, a research paper may. just be a 5 paragraph essay, while for college students, a research paper could be over 15 pages long.
- How your research should be cited.
- Accepted and unaccepted topics.
- Formatting. Including structure, double or single space, font etc.
- Other requirements including details about process, topic submission, etc.
Knowing and understanding these details beforehand means you won’t have to go back and redo any work. If you have any questions or something is unclear, reach out to your teacher before you begin.
2. Choose an engaging topic for your research paper
Choosing a proper topic is crucial.
Since each research paper entails studying different approaches, hypotheses, techniques, etc., you need to make sure the topic you think you’d like to write about has been investigated by others, too. Otherwise, you will definitely have to spend twice as much time and effort to come up with some substantial research results.
That doesn’t mean you should shy away from those difficult topics, especially ones you’re passionate about. If your instructor is ready to help you out and provide thorough guidelines on how to conduct it properly, you’ll definitely want to make the leap. It could prove to the teacher that you’re willing to take the additional work on and may even give your grade a boost for going the extra mile.
Another important thing is to choose an interesting topic so you don’t get bored of your research work and fail to carry it out. Write down a few questions about your topic that make you curious to find the answers. If you’re not sure how you can transform these questions and answers into your paper, talk to your teacher for some direction.
For some courses, you will be required to submit your topic idea ahead of time. Instructors can ask for this as they want to be sure not too many students are covering the same topic and that it is in line with what they’re looking for. If you need to schedule a meeting with your professor to go over your assignment’s subject, don’t wait until last minute! Others could have grabbed it already and your teacher will notice that you’re procrastinating.
3. Start Searching for Reputable Sources
To make a deep dive into the topic and ensure that your research is based on proven facts and statistics, it’s vital to use only verified sources of information. Make the most of such popular services like Google Scholar, Google Books or Microsoft Academic. They allow you to find scientific articles, journals, books or other kinds of research material. Just enter a search query and look through the list of relevant links. Here’s a shortlist of other helpful websites:
- Make use of numerous websites with .gov or .edu extensions.
- Online libraries with detailed category lists are worth checking out too. With such resources as NSDL (National Science Digital Library) or NAP (The National Academies Press), you can find high-quality material in no time. Select the category you want and press the Search button. It’s as simple as that!
- If you decide to refer to some particular terminology and learn when and how it appeared, try the wonderful world of encyclopedias. By visiting encyclopedia.com or infoplease.com, you will also be able to know the most precise facts about scholars’ achievements, theories they developed, historical dates and more.
Of course, you can always use your school’s library, too! Sometimes teachers will already have a list of recommended books that could help you with your assignment, and you can absolutely talk to the librarian if you need assistance tracking something down.
If you have quite a few sources you’ll be using, make sure you’re keeping track. You might want to write a short note next to each of them on your list saying what exactly you’d like to use it for. For example, one source may contain a paragraph about immigration laws while another has a citation on the theories on the origin of life.
4. Create a Precise Thesis Statement
Once a list of sources is ready, it’s time to develop a thesis statement. This can feel a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
A thesis sentence is simply the sentence or two at the end of your introduction paragraph that will sum up the point you are trying to make or prove in the rest of your assignment. You are aiming to answer these questions:
- What’s the subject of your research?
- How are you going to reach your goal?
- What methods will you use to prove your point?
- What do you expect to obtain as a result?
If you’re struggling to write the sentence, simply look through the your sources and thoughts again. Put them in a logical order. The sentence may jump out at you. If you can’t come up with a thesis, it could mean you’re looking at the topic from the wrong direction or you’re misunderstanding facts. Talk to your teacher with any problems or concerns.
You will also likely have to have your thesis statement approved by your instructor. They can provide some extra direction on your assignment, but they may also want to tweak your thesis to be more of a challenge for you or to be better in line with the project at hand. As a result, you will get a kind of mini-guide that will simplify writing a rough paper outline.
5. Develop a Rough Outline
Creating a detailed outline for your paper is half the battle. It serves as a map to help you reach your final destination. The outline should be laid out in a logical order and clearly account for transitions. How does paragraph 4 relate to 3 and 5, for example? You might find that paragraph 4 would have a much better home as paragraph 6.
Your outline should include your thesis paragraph and the basic idea of every following paragraph. You should also include supporting ideas and thoughts under each of those ideas so you can see how the essay will flow and also make sure you won’t leave out anything while you’re writing.
6. Write a Draft and Finish Up Your Paper
Once you’re happy with your outline, you can start writing your draft! This can be as rough as you want, but getting as close to the end result as possible now will save you plenty of work in the long run. When the draft is completed, read over your work and make sure that your writing is supporting your thesis. Some professors and teachers will also want to see your draft before you turn in your completed project and may give you feedback. If this isn’t the case, you might want to have a trusted friend read over your work.
And if you start writing and find that your outline needs a bit of tweaking, that’s absolutely fine and normal. You could locate additional ideas that slightly change your outline, or you might discover that the transitions didn’t work the way you wanted. Your outline is like a guideline – it’s not a hard and fast rule that you have to follow.
Make sure you read over your work, clean it up, and check for grammar and spelling errors, resulting in your final draft.
7. Cite Your Sources and Format Your Bibliography
If you fail to cite materials in your paper, it will be definitely considered as blatantly plagiarized. To avoid all possible unpleasant consequences, cite your sources accurately. With all the formatting rules of different styles such as APA, MLA or other popular academic writing styles, who can keep track of it all? No problem. There are a few online tools that can help.
One of them is mendeley.com. Apart from a free reference tool with thousands of journals you can cite, there are some extra add-ons you may find useful as well. Among them is a feature allowing you to highlight, annotate, and put sticky notes to .pdf materials you’d like to mention in your paper.
If you are unsure what formatting rules your instructor wants you to use, check with them! You don’t want to write them all using APA and find out they want MLA last minute.
BONUS: Tips For Writing an A+ Research Paper
We walked you through the process of writing a research paper, but we also wanted to give you a few other tips to help you get a higher grade.
Keep Your Notes and Sources Separate
When starting to write a paper, make sure you keep your notes and sources separate. If you fail to do this, you put yourself at risk of committing plagiarism. Even if it is done unintentionally, you can still be found guilty. Be sure to check your paper for originality against web sources to avoid plagiarism with tools like unplag.com. It also allows excluding citations and references from the search to ensure accuracy.
Use Index Cards
Even with an outline, are you having a hard time keeping track of all your ideas, sources, and thoughts? Using an index card can absolutely help you stay on top of it all!
These cards may just contain a quick idea you had, but they could also be great for relocating and properly plugging in source material. They should include:
- The name of the source
- Page number for books and line number for online sources
- The relevant quote or idea you’ll be using
These cards not only allow you to quickly reference something you already read, but they can be used to help you create your outline and draft. When you have them all, you can simply lay them all out on the ground or table and organize your own ideas and your source information into groups. These groups are your paragraphs. At this point, to avoid mixing them up in the future, you might also want to add little paragraph numbers in the top corner.
Bookmarks in the books you’re using will also be super helpful.
Don’t Use “Tricks” To Make Your Paper Seem Longer
A 15 page paper can feel daunting. However, that doesn’t mean you should try to use tricks to make it seem longer than it is. High school teachers and college professors do know these and they could result in you getting a lower mark or even failing the assignment. They will notice.
- Using a different font that is similar to the requested font but slightly larger
- Using 13pt font when 12pt font is requested
- Spacing slightly larger than requested (1.1 paragraph line spacing instead of the requested 1)
- Margin increases
- No contractions
Following these tips will absolutely help you write your research paper – and get a good grade on it! Our last tip will leave you with: don’t leave it until the last minute! This means every step of the process. Writing a research paper can include a lot of legwork and questions can arise. If you’re saving it until the night before, you could run into some serious issues. Good luck!