Almost every high school and college student is asked to write research papers during his or her studying. If you are assigned to produce a research paper for the first time, it may seem a very complicated task, but if you follow some simple rules, you can make the process much easier. Completing a research paper involves several main stages: selecting a topic, doing a research, creating an outline, and doing the actual writing. Of course, the assignment will not complete itself, but if you know how to write a research paper step by step, working on the paper practically falls into place.
Selecting a Topic
Put some helpful questions. Regardless of whether you can choose the topic yourself or there are certain strict requirements, you should keep several questions in mind, ‘Is there enough information available about this issue?’, ‘Is it original enough that I have an opportunity to offer fresh viewpoint?’, ‘Is it relevant to my class?’
Choose the topic you are interested in. Writing about things you enjoy helps make your paper interesting, unique and therefore successful.
Stay original. If you have to create a paper for the class, keep in mind other students’ possible ideas. Is there a big probability that they will also be writing about same thing? Get some ideas on keeping the paper unique and exciting.
Ask for advice. If you have difficulties with choosing the topic, ask your classmates or professor to help you select one. They probably have some good ideas that, even if they are not the best choice for you, can inspire you with outstanding ideas.
Do not be afraid to change the topic if you consider it necessary. Please keep in mind that your main question should not be how to write a research paper fast, but how to do your best to produce the quality paper, even if it requires more time. If you have selected the topic, start looking for data and if you find out it is a wrong decision, do not be afraid to change the topic.
Doing the Research
As soon as you have chosen the topic, the time has come to start the research. It comes in multiple forms including books, encyclopedias, journal articles, newspapers, blog posts and web pages. Make sure you use only professional resources that provide valid research and insight into your topic. It is also necessary to use not less than five sources to vary the information you are going to present. You should never rely on 1-2 sources while working on any parts of a research paper.
Go to the library. Do not consider it old fashioned. Please remember that libraries are storehouses of useful research materials. Also, do not hesitate to ask the librarian for help – they are trained and experienced in research and can tell you where everything about your topic is located.
Look online. But keep in mind that using one search engine and choosing the top three results is probably not the best way of doing a research. Instead, you have to use critical thinking to read every source carefully and determine whether it is legitimate. Blogs and forums online are not required to publish only truthful information, so ensure you use only trustworthy data. As a rule, websites, which end with .edu or .gov, provide reliable information, as they belong to schools or the government. Also, it would be useful to change your search query often so that you can get various search results for the issue you are writing about. If you still cannot find something worthy, there is a probability that your search query does not match well with the titles of most articles on the topic.
Use academic databases, which are available and provide you with the opportunity to search through multiple scientifically published journals, magazines, and books. Most of them require a paid membership to use, but as a student, you can use your universities’ membership without any fees. Go to your school or college library and ask the librarian for the list of such sources and the passwords for each.
Get creative. If you are lucky to find one amazing and perfectly matching book on your topic, look in the bibliography at the end of it. Chances are big that you will find many other great works on this issue.
Creating an Outline
Annotate your research. As soon as you have gathered the useful information on the topic, print it out and gather post-its or any other tools for marking notes. Then, read carefully through your research, take notes on vital points, and highlight key facts. You can write on your copies, or tuck slips of paper into pages to mark important sentences. It is very important to annotate the research as it makes the process of writing much easier. Mark any places, which you think you can use in the project. While making marks, add your own commentaries and notes explaining to yourself where they can be used in the paper.
Organize the notes. Making an annotation of the research requires quite a bit of time, but it helps add more clarity for the outlining process. Organize the notes you have taken by dividing the highlighted information into categories. For instance, if you are assigned to complete an essay analyzing a book, you could organize the research into notes basing on the characters, references to some points in the plot, presented symbols, etc. As you are looking through your notes and working on them, remember to mark down the publishing information as well as page numbers for all the sources used. You will need these marks at the stage of working on bibliography.
Determine the target audience. Keep in mind the information about your readers. Although you are writing for your professor, the tone and focus of your paper must reflect the target audience. Remember that if you are producing a paper for academic peers, it is important that the presented information reflected the information you already know. Avoid explaining basic theories. But if your audience does not have much knowledge about your topic, you should include some explanations of fundamental theories on the topic.
Develop the thesis. It is a statement placed at the beginning of an essay, which explains main purpose of the entire paper. Although you can change the wording of your thesis for the completed paper later, coming up with the main purpose of the research paper has to be done in the beginning. Take enough time to create a solid thesis statement because the entire essay will revolve around your this statement. Ensure you are clear on what you state in the thesis. One of the easiest ways of developing a thesis is making it into a question that the entire paper will answer. So what is the primary question which you would like to prove in your essay? Your thesis must clearly express the major idea of your research paper.
Determine the main points of your paper. The body of your paper is going to revolve around the ideas which you consider most important. So now you have to go through your research one more time and determine which points have the biggest meaning in your paper. Choose the ideas, about which you can write whole paragraphs. Determine the ones that have multiple firm facts and research to back them with evidence. Write the key points down on paper, and do the related research under each. Also, remember that main ideas have to be put in a specific order. Place the strongest points at the beginning and end of the research paper, and more mediocre ones in the middle of an essay.
Writing the Research Paper
Begin with the main body paragraphs. It is usually difficult to write introduction first rather than starting with the meat of the essay. Also, when you begin by writing the key points, you have the opportunity to slightly vary and manipulate your ideas.
Ensure to support each statement with evidence. Because you are working on a research paper, there should not be any remarks made without supportive facts from your research. Also, include explanations for the research. It is improper to present facts without any commentaries. Although you definitely want to provide a lot of evidence in your paper, make sure it is uniquely your own by adding commentary in whenever it is possible.
When you have completed the body of your paper, write the conclusion. After you have thoroughly worked through the evidence, create a conclusion which shortly summarizes your findings for the reader and gives a sense of closure to the research paper. Do you know how to end a research paper? First, restate the thesis in short, and then remind your reader of the key points. Slowly zoom out of the topic while you are writing, and end with accentuating the larger implication of your research. In very simplified terms, the conclusion of the research paper has to provide the answer to the question, “So what?” Your goal here is to make the readers feel like they have come away with something.
Now, when you have written the body and the conclusion, the time has come to write the introduction. In most aspects, the introduction is the reversed conclusion: begin by generally introducing the overall topic, then describe the narrow issue you have focused on, and in the end, supply your thesis. Avoid using the same phrases that have already been used in the concluding paragraph.
Document your research paper to avoid plagiarism. Depending on the topic and your professor’s requirements, you will have to use a particular formatting style. The most common citation formats are MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian. These academic formats determine the way you must use in-text citations, footnotes, and the order in which you have to present information in the research paper.
Edit the draft. There probably is a temptation to simply read the paper and use some spell-check tool, but editing an essay has to be more in-depth. You should have someone to look over your research paper. Ask that person to edit it for basic spelling and grammar mistakes, the persuasiveness of the paper and its flow. Do not ignore the person’s edits only because they require more work. If your editor suggests rewriting some part of the essay, there is likely a valid reason for such a request. If you are going edit the paper yourself, wait about 3-4 days before you return to it. According to studies, writing is still fresh in your mind for 2-3 days after it is finished, so chances are bigger that you skim over the simplest mistakes.
Now, everything that is left is creating the final draft. When the entire paper is edited and revised, formatted in accordance with the subject matter, you are ready to produce the final draft. Go through the research paper one more time, fix any errors, rearrange the information if there is a necessity, and adjust the font, line spacing, and margins according to the required format. Create the introduction page and the bibliography to bookend your paper. When everything is done, your paper is finalized. Save the document and print out your final draft.