How to write a research paper

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You probably wrote several research papers in high school. However, don’t allow yourself to become overly confident. Not only are college research papers more complex, standards are also significantly higher. This means that you have to really bring your top game if you want to write research papers that impress your instructors.

Here’s some good news! This guide will show you how to write a research paper step by step.

Finding a Topic That Best Represents You
  • 1

    Think Broadly at First. Start by considering the relevant topics that have been covered in your class. Jot them down. These don’t need to be fully formed topic ideas. You just want some broad categories to consider.

  • 2

    Remember What Interested You in Class. Now, out of the topics that were covered, which were most interesting to you? These are going to be the most enjoyable for you to explore in depth. At the very least, they will be the least miserable.

  • 3

    Remember What Interested Your Instructor. Of course, it’s not all about you. Remember that you aren’t writing for yourself. You are writing for  your professor. It’s a good idea to think about their passions and interests as well. Were there particular anecdotes that your instructor enjoyed telling? Which lectures did your professor give that seemed the most engaging and interesting to the? Writing about a topic your professor enjoys can get you off on a good start.

  • 4

    Make a List of Topics. By now you should have identified some potential subject areas to explore. Now is a good time to make your list of topics. Be detailed. Remember that topics that are too broad never lead to interesting research papers.

  • 5

    Do Some Preliminary Research. Don’t commit to a topic until you know that you can find the sources you need. Most research paper assignments require that you use several sources, and that those sources are varied (e.g., internet, academic journal, reference book, etc.). Do a quick Google of your topics to ensure that you can find plenty of information.

  • 6

    Get Feedback. Run your final topic ideas by  your TA or instructor. They will probably have some good feedback for you. If you’ve joined a study or discussion group, bring your topic ideas up there as well. You can even work with the group to brainstorm topic ideas that everyone can use.

Points to Think About
  • 1

    Get Started With a Great Intro. Learning how to start off a research paper is very important. The anatomy of a research paper introduction should look like this:

    • Something to Grab The Reader's Attention: An interesting fact or anecdote work well here.
    • A Segue Into Defining Your Topic: Let readers know what your research paper is going to be covering.
    • Your Thesis Statement: This is the declaration that you will be trying to prove in your research paper.

    By the end of your introduction, readers should know your topic, what you will be investigating, and most importantly, be interested in reading more.

  • 2

    Your Structure is More Important Than You Know

    The standard structure of a research paper is introduction, body, then conclusion. However, the way that sequence the paragraphs in the body of your research paper can make more of a difference than  you realize. Here’s some advice on how to structure a research paper.

    Sometimes, it makes the most sense to structure your paragraphs so that your research unfolds in the order in which you conducted it. Other times, it’s better to cluster similar facts together. Experiment with the way that you structure the body of your paper. Then, go with what makes your points clearest.

  • 3

    Wrap it up With a Solid Conclusion

    Many students make the mistake of simply repeating facts from the body of the paper in the conclusion. That’s not how to write a great research paper. Instead, you should focus on showing your audience how all of the evidence in your body build up to prove your thesis. Sidenote: if your research ends up disproving your thesis, that is fine as well.

  • 4

    Don’t Get Too Far Without Considering These Points

    Here are some important points to keep in mind throughout the process:

    • Be intellectually honest. The idea is to prove that you can research and investigate. Don’t cast off sources because they don’t support your thesis.
    • Research papers are difficult. If you find yourself stuck, ask for help.
    • Break your research and writing down into manageable tasks.
    • Challenge yourself! Your instructor will see and appreciate your academic growth.
Do and Don`t
Do
  • Keep your notes organized from the start.
  • Attend your peer reviews.
  • Keep your rubric on hand so you make sure all points are included.
  • Stay on top of your citations.
Don't
  • Use sources that aren’t academically sound. Avoid blogs, editorials, and politically motivated resources. Be careful because many biased sources or websites with agendas will claim to be from ‘think tanks’ or to have done case studies.
  • Procrastinate and try to finish things up at the last minute.
  • Forget to use technology to keep your notes organized.
Mistakes to Avoid
  • One of the most common mistakes that students make is selecting a topic that is too broad or too narrow.
  • If you don’t think you can make your points within the allotted number of words or pages, it’s time to narrow things down.
  • If you are struggling to meet your word count, better find a topic that isn’t so detailed.
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