Tips for Writing Research Papers
There are various steps that a writer should follow to write a good research paper. These steps include:
- Narrow the topic
- State the tentative objective (or thesis)
- Form a preliminary bibliography
- Prepare a working outline
- Start taking notes
- Outline the paper
- Write a rough draft
- Edit your paper
- Write the final draft
Step 1: Select a subject
Choose your subject carefully, keeping in mind the amount of time you have to write the paper, the length of the paper, your intended audience and the limits of the resources. Check in the library to make sure a reasonable amount of information is available on the subject you choose.
Writing the paper will be much easier if you select a subject that interests you and that you can form an opinion or viewpoint about. In fact, it will be easier later on to narrow the topic if you choose a subject you already know something about. However, avoid controversial and sensational subjects that are not scholarly, or too technical, or will only restate the research material.
Step 2: Narrow the topic
The topic of the paper is what you want to say about the subject. To narrow the topic, you need to read background articles about your subject in encyclopedias and other general references. Do not take notes at this time other than to jot down possible main ideas.
Step 3: State your objective or thesis
Before you begin your research for your paper, you need to compose a thesis statement that describes the viewpoint you are going to express and support in your paper. Since your purpose in the rest of the paper is to prove the validity of your thesis, your thesis statement provides a controlling idea which will help you choose the resource materials you will use and will limit your note taking.
Step 4: Form a Preliminary Bibliography
A preliminary bibliography is a list of potential sources of information. In addition to the card catalog and the guides to reference books already mentioned in Step 2, there are other sources which will help you locate articles and books relevant to your topic. Some of these are listed below:
Reference Guides to Indexes and Abstracts Indexes
Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, (1900- )
Business Periodicals Index
Step 5: Prepare a Working Outline
A working outline is important because it gives order to your notetaking. As you do your research, you may find that you need to review your plan if you lack information about a topic or have conflicting information. Nevertheless, it provides a good starting point and is essential before you start to take notes.
Begin by listing the topics you want to discuss in your paper. (You should have a general idea of these from the reading you have already done.) Then, divide the items on the list into major topics and subtopics. An example of a working outline is presented below:
Step 6: Start Taking Notes
After you have gathered your materials and prepare a working outline, you can start to take notes. Write your notes on index cards (either 3×5″ or 4×6″) being sure to include only one note on each card. Each note should relate in some way to one of the topics on your working outline. Label each card with the appropriate topic; then you can easily organize your note cards later when you begin to prepare the final outline of your paper.
Step 7: Outline the Paper
The final outline is similar to the working outline, but is more complex, with each topic being further divided into several subtopics. To accomplish this, sort your note cards into separate piles according to the topics at the top of each them. Then, sort each pile into separate subtopics. For example, one of the topics from our sample working outline might be subdivided like this:
Your final outline also should reflect the organizational format you have chosen for your paper. This will depend on the topic of your paper and your thesis statement. For example, if the topic of your paper is the artistic development of a famous painter, you would probably want to use a chronological organization. However, if your paper is a discussion of the family life of baboons and humans, a comparison-contrast format would be more appropriate.
Step 8: Write the Rough Draft
After you have completed your final outline, you can begin to write your rough draft. It is important to remember that this rough draft will be revised. Therefore, at this time, you do not need to worry too much about spelling or punctuation. Instead, you should concentrate on the content of the paper, following your outline and expanding the ideas in it with information from your notes.
Step 9: Edit Your Paper
When you have finished the rough draft, read through it again and revise it. Pay particular attention to the content and organization of the paper. Does each paragraph have a topic sentence that relates to the thesis? Is each idea supported by evidence? Are there clear transitions from one section to another, from your words to quotations? Are there clear transitions to indicate to the reader when one idea is ending and another one is beginning? Revision often requires many readings, each with its own purpose.
Step 10: Write the Final Draft
The final draft of your paper should be typed and must include citations and a bibliography; some paper might require a title page, depending on the formatting style and/or the professor. The title page should include the title of the paper, your name, the name of the course, the instructor’s name, and the date the paper is due.
Footnotes are a matter of style and you can check with your instructor on the format he/she prefers. In general, though, a footnote is indicated by an Arabic numeral raised a half space above the line, placed after the sentence or passage to which it refers.
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