Before we start our discussion off about how to write an effective research paper, let us go over the basics.
What is a research paper?
A research paper is basically a type of academic writing that should have theoretical and significant data that has gone through proper in-depth research. Take the five-paragraph expository essays of your high school days and imagine them on a more detailed—more epic—scale! They may also contain arguments based on a thesis with vital evidence from various helpful and reliable sources.
Though writing a research paper may seem painstaking and difficult at first, it really isn’t all too complicated once you know what proper steps you can follow to make it easier. It may be challenging because of the intensive research that it needs, but it doesn’t have to be frustrating for anyone. Before starting the steps, be sure you have enough note paper, various colors of highlighters (for your research markings) and index cards. Also take note, that reading the checklist regarding research ethics could also be of big help for you and writing your research paper.
Start off by following these essential steps:
- Select a topic that inspires you
- Find reliable sources
- Organize your notes
- Brainstorm a substantial outline
- Write a first draft
- Read through first draft and re-write
A great place to do reliable (quiet!) research for your sources is the library. There are various potential references available there and countless books, published articles, journals, etc.—not to mention free Internet access—that you can go over to find exactly what you need. Try finding yourself a cozy place, away from distractions, where you can do research. Use notebooks or index cards to track information as you uncover it in your research. It is best to be familiar with the services available and where your potential sources are located. Try asking the librarians for their help conducting the most effective research as possible as well; that’s why they’re there! And you can take those lessons on with you as you continue researching at home. Remember: the Internet is a rich, invaluable resource, and there are many legitimate scholarly articles to be found, but always check your facts using alternative sites and reference books.
Select your research topic
If you have the freedom to choose what to write about, it is generally best to choose a topic you’ve always been curious about so that you have interest in it learning about it in depth. Choosing a topic that doesn’t interest you much might not give that motivation to do effective research. Also remember to be specific when selecting a topic. A common mistake is choosing a subject that is too general—a wealth of resources about a broad topic can quickly become overwhelming.
Taking down the proper notes
Be organized when taking notes and learn what information is essential and contributive to your research so you’re not bogged down with useless facts and statistics. Color code your notes by topic and highlight the essential details so you can find that specific topic easily.
You may also try photocopying an article or a page from a book if there is too much to jot down. Highlighters pay a big role in this because you can highlight only what you need to remember when writing your research paper.
Every time you make note of something, write down the bibliographical information, including the author, book title, page numbers used, volume number, publisher name, and dates. This is vital to use in your research paper.
Write an outline
After your in-depth research, you are now ready to write an outline. With the notes you took down, you can start brainstorming where the topics and supporting information best fit. They don’t necessary have to be structured in a sentence, as this is only the “brainstorming” part. Does that statistic belong in the beginning, middle, or end of the paper? Is that anecdote good introduction material? You can rearrange as needed. This is a crucial part and may take longer than the other steps, but it’s well worth the time and effort, because this is the foundation of your final research paper.
Work on your first draft
When you’re finished with your outline, you may start on your first draft. Since your outline is done, you may now structure it into sentence and paragraph form, putting more life and detail into the paper so that people can better understand the point you’re trying to make. You may do more necessary research along the way if you feel like your information is lacking. And relax—this is only the first draft, so you can still change things around.
Write and edit your final paper
Once your first draft feels right, with all the vital information and sources put in, you can proceed to editing and writing out your final paper. Check for grammatical and typographical errors and spelling. Also, make sure that every source used is in your bibliography page. Do your final adjustments and read over it as many times as you’d like to make sure that it meets your professor’s requirements.
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- Do a thorough job annotating to make your outlining and paper-writing easier in the end. Make marks on anything that you think might be remotely important or that could be put to use in your paper.
- As you mark off important pieces in the research, add your own commentary and notes explaining to yourself where you might use it in your paper. Writing down your ideas as you have them will make writing your paper much easier and give you something to refer back to.
- Try writing each quote or item that you marked onto an individual note card. That way, you can rearrange and lay out your cards however you would like.
- Color code your notes to make it easier. Write down a list of all the notes you are using from each individual resource, and then highlight each category of information in a different color. For example, write everything from a particular book or journal on a single sheet of paper in order to consolidate the notes, and then everything that is related to characters highlight in green, everything related to the plot mark in orange, et cetera.
Construct a preliminary bibliography/references page. As you go through your notes, mark down the author, page number, title, and publishing information for each resource. This will come in handy when you craft your bibliography or works cited page later in the game.
- An argumentative research paper takes a position on a contentious issue and argues for one point of view. The issue should be debatable with a logical counter argument.
- An analytic research paper offers a fresh look at an important issue. The subject may not be controversial, but you must attempt to persuade your audience that your ideas have merit. This is not simply a regurgitation of ideas from your research, but an offering of your own unique ideas based on what you have learned through research.
Determine your audience. Who would be reading this paper, should it be published? Although you want to write for your professor or other superior, it is important that the tone and focus of your paper reflect the audience who will be reading it. If you’re writing for academic peers, then the information you include should reflect the information you already know; you don’t need to explain basic ideas or theories. On the other hand, if you are writing for an audience who doesn’t know much about your subject, it will be important to include explanations and examples of more fundamental ideas and theories related to your research.
- An easy way to develop your thesis is to make it into a question that your essay will answer. What is the primary question or hypothesis that you are going to go about proving in your paper? For example, your thesis question might be “how does cultural acceptance change the success of treatment for mental illness?” This can then determine what your thesis is - whatever your answer to the question is, is your thesis statement.
- Your thesis should express the main idea of your paper without listing all of your reasons or outline your entire paper. It should be a simple statement, rather than a list of support; that’s what the rest of your paper is for!
- When you outline your main ideas, putting them in a specific order is important. Place your strongest points at the beginning and end of your essay, with more mediocre points placed in the middle or near the end of your essay.
- A single main point doesn’t have to be kept to a single paragraph, especially if you are writing a relatively long research paper. Main ideas can be spread out over as many paragraphs as you deem necessary.
Consider formatting guidelines. Depending on your paper rubric, class guidelines, or formatting guidelines, you may have to organize your paper in a specific way. For example, when writing in APA format you must organize your paper by headings including the introduction, methods, results, and discussion. These guidelines will alter the way you craft your outline and final paper.
Finalize your outline. With the aforementioned tips taken into consideration, organize your entire outline. Justify main points to the left, and indent subsections and notes from your research below each. The outline should be an overview of your entire paper in bullet points. Make sure to include in-text citations at the end of each point, so that you don’t have to constantly refer back to your research when writing your final paper.