Research paper is a term that often causes feelings of dread, anxiety, and sometimes confusion. One reason for this is that research papers aren’t taught or assigned as frequently as other types of academic writing, so it’s not unusual to be unsure about how to approach them. Next time your teacher or professor assigns a research paper, don’t panic. Follow these tips and tricks to help you get through each step of the research paper writing process.
1. Choose an interesting, specific topic
If you’re allowed to choose your own topic, pick one that genuinely interests you. Research something that you’ve always been curious about, and it’ll be much easier to stay motivated and produce a quality paper.
You also want to make sure your topic is specific and focused. If your topic is too general, it will be hard to narrow down your research and write a paper that can thoroughly and deeply address your topic.
For instance, instead of choosing “world religions” as a topic, you might want to narrow it down to “Eastern religions,” and then to “Buddhism.” Even “Buddhism” is a fairly general topic.
At this point, you might want to conduct some light background research on Buddhism and choose a specific concept as the topic of your paper, such as “Buddhism and the eightfold path,” or “Buddhism and the four noble truths.”
These topics are specific enough to give you a focused, organized, and thoroughly researched paper.
2. Find reliable sources
An effective research paper must be supported with credible, reliable sources. It’s a good idea to use research databases, reference books, or websites ending in “.org” or “.edu.”
But if you want to branch out and use other sources too, try using the acronym RADCAB to ensure your sources are top-notch.
RADCAB stands for:
- Relevancy: Is the information relevant to the topic or question you’re addressing?
- Appropriateness: Is the information appropriate for your purpose, audience, and knowledge level? (For example, a highly technical article might not be a good choice if you can’t understand what you’re reading.)
- Detail: Is the information detailed enough for the subject you’re researching?
- Currency: How recently was the information published or updated? In most cases, it’s best to use sources, statistics, and studies that are more up-to-date.
- Authority: Who is the author? What makes him/her an authority on this topic?
- Bias: Is the text you’re reading meant to inform, or is the author trying to persuade you of something? Does the author’s approach to this topic seem emotional? Steer away from sources that may misrepresent or twist facts to support an agenda.
3. Take notes
As you research, take notes on information that will be useful in your paper. Remember to record where you found each piece of information so you can properly cite it later. It’s easier to cite AS you write and research, and not later when you may have forgotten where information was pulled from.
To organize your research, you may want to use the note card method:
- After you decide on the first source you want to use, label a note card “A” and write down important information about the source (URL, author, date of publication, title, etc.).
- Write each fact you want to use from that source on a separate index card, labeling them A1, A2, A3, etc.
- Repeat this process for each additional source you find, labeling your second source B, your third source C, and so on.
We’ll come back to these note cards when we discuss Tip #6.
4. Generate a thesis statement
Once you’ve gathered and reviewed your research, it’s time to write a thesis statement. The thesis statement tells the reader what your paper is about.
It also helps you write a focused research paper because every point you include should support or elaborate on the thesis statement.
After you decide on a thesis statement, write it at the top of a sheet of notebook paper or a document on your computer.
5. Create an outline
On this same paper, use your research and thesis statement to form an outline. An outline is essentially a blueprint for your research paper: It helps you logically organize your ideas and think through how you will present them in your paper.
Include an introduction, body, and conclusion in your outline.
The introduction should briefly preview your main points and provide your thesis statement.
The body of your research paper should be divided into paragraphs, with each paragraph supporting one of your main points.
Lastly, your conclusion should restate your thesis and summarize your key points.
6. Organize your notes according to your outline
Time to use your research note cards again!
Now that you have an outline, you can rearrange your note cards in the order each fact will be used in your research paper. Remember that your research should appear in the body of your paper, not in the introduction or conclusion.
Look at the way you have outlined the body of your research paper. What main point are you covering in each paragraph? Which main point does each piece of research support? Based on this information, you can decide which pieces of research you will include in each body paragraph.
At this point, you may also decide that some of your research doesn’t add anything useful to your paper, and you can remove those note cards from the pile.
7. Write your first draft
Once you have a thesis statement, outline, and organized notes, you’re ready to write your first draft. In this draft, don’t worry too much about perfect grammar and word choice—you can go back and fix that later.
Focus on the following:
- Organize your paper logically, following the outline you’ve created.
- Make sure all of your points support your thesis statement and that you stick to the topic.
- Cite your sources to avoid plagiarism. That includes using in-text citations and creating a MLA format or APA format bibliography.
- Use transitions to connect your ideas and make your paper flow smoothly.
- Are you conveying your point clearly? Will readers understand your message?
After you finish your first draft, you can go back and revise for word choice, style, tone, grammar, etc.
Research papers don’t have to give you nightmares. Follow these simple tips:
- Choose a topic that interests you, and narrow it down to be specific and focused.
- Find sources that are relevant, credible, and reliable.
- Take notes on your research using the note card method.
- Write a thesis statement and create an outline.
- Organize your notes based on the structure of your outline.
- Write your first draft, making sure to be clear, logical, and organized.
- Don’t forget to cite your sources!
By using these tips you can conquer your fears and master the research paper.