Ever wondered how honor students manage to turn in “A+” paper after “A” paper? Think they’ve got magical powers or inside connections? Well then, you’re not alone. The prospect of writing a research paper can be daunting, even for the brightest of students. The truth is, however, procrastination is your biggest obstacle. Once you overcome the fear associated with writing, you’ll discover that the process isn’t as mystical as it once seemed. With a little planning, a few hours of concentration and a quick brush up on your organizational skills, you’ll find that creating a research paper is as easy as counting to five!
Develop your thesis
Don’t let this word scare you away; it’s not part of some obscure foreign language. A thesis is the position you want to advance and offer to maintain by argument. More simply stated, it’s the point you want to prove with your research paper. Figure out what you want to say then write it down as succinctly as you can in ONE sentence. This is how your paper will begin and end. See, you’ve already formed the basis of your introduction and conclusion, which will be discussed in further detail in step 4.
Sketch an outline
This doesn’t require an architectural degree or fancy formatting. No one’s grading you on how graphically appealing your outline is. An outline is merely a tool that you will follow so as not to stray from your main argument. You already developed your thesis in step 1. Outlining is now simply a matter of chronologically listing the ideas that will support your main argument. How do you get to point B from point A? What do you need to say to get from point B to point C? You can make your outline as simple or as complicated as you want. You might feel a short numbered list suits you just fine. Or, you might prefer to fill in more of the details before jumping into the actual writing. The decision is entirely up to you.
Conduct your research
This is perhaps the most important step in the research writing process, so do not go about it haphazardly. If you take the time to gather your research in one convenient place, you won’t have to interrupt your thought process mid-paragraph to track down a quote or locate a statistic. It is important that you gather all of your sources together before writing a single sentence. Whether you’re conducting your research online or at the library, TAKE COPIOUS NOTES. Index cards work particularly well for handwritten research, but the technique can be adapted to computer research.
Use one index card (or word processing document) for each idea.
Following the method set forth by your professor, jot down all required resource information. This strategy will prove invaluable when preparing your citations and bibliography (More on this in step 5).
Write down the pertinent information, being careful to tack your source’s page number to the very end.
Label the card (or document) with the corresponding letter or number from your outline. If the idea doesn’t fit into your original scheme, scratch it!
Continue this process for all of your sources.
Arrange your index cards (or printed out documents) following the pattern set up in your outline. Do you see where this is going? Everything you need is now in convenient chronological order and you’re ready to begin writing!
Armed with your outline and index cards, begin the writing process. Like any paper, a research paper has three main parts: an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion.
The Introduction—This is just an expansion of your thesis. Let your readers know what your paper proposes to say. Clearly state you objective and briefly define how you will support your claim. Limit the introduction to one paragraph.
The Body—Following your outline, fill in the gaps between your research. Use your index cards to support your claims, but DO NOT PLAGAIRIZE. Wherever possible, use your notes only as a guide, attempting to completely rephrase your sources’ ideas. In some cases, this won’t be possible. In such instances, you’ll need to quote your source directly and cite the publication (either internally or as footnotes, depending on your professor’s style preference). This is where those earlier noted pages numbers will come in handy. Consistent citations will eliminate the possibility of plagiarism. Note, you should not simply rehash your notes. Using transitional sentences for flow and inserting your own thoughts and ideas are both highly encouraged.
The Conclusion—This is merely a restatement of your thesis. Reiterate one last time the claim you have just proven. Again, keep your conclusion to one paragraph.
Prepare your citations and bibliography
If you have followed the procedures set forth in this article then this is the easy part. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you cite the authors of all quoted material or borrowed ideas. Citations need to be inserted throughout the paper, wherever the unoriginal content has actually been placed. The bibliography, or resource page, forms the last page or your research paper. Simply alphabetize, by author’s last name, each or your reference materials. Be sure to follow the biographical format requested by your professor.
Voila! Your paper is finished. Hand it in without the threat of plagiarism hanging over your head and wait for your “A.” In five easy steps, you’ve learned how to write a winning research paper and you didn’t even need your second hand to count!