The final research paper for a class might make up a large portion of your course grade, so it’s vital that you produce something you can be proud of. Writing a research paper is tough, however, so we’ve put together a brief guide on how to get through the process.
Start on your paper as soon as you receive the assignment and set deadlines for when you want to have each phase of the process completed. For example, you should set a date for finishing your outline, for completing your rough draft, for your first round of revisions, etc.
Gather Your Sources
Whether you’ve been given a reading list or you have to do most of your research on your own, try to gather as many sources as you can before you start amassing information. Having a well-rounded selection will help you gain a comprehensive view of your subject. Your course textbook is a good place to start looking for basic facts. Be sure that each source you use, whether it is electronic or in print, is of high quality (yes Wikipedia is great but no it is not an academic source). Verify the credibility of both the author and the publisher and notice the date of publication. Some older books retain their relevance, but you should still check to see if there is a newer edition available or even new information that could replace or invalidate the old. One word of caution: this is a big project and you will find a lot of interesting information that may tempt you to pursue tangents. Stay focused on your topic.
Take Notes and Create an Outline
As you dig for information, take notes. Be sure that your notes are well organized. One option is to color code them according to source or subject, or if you’re using a software program for your notes, create headers for easier navigation. Get a few different colors of sticky notes so you can mark the places in books where you found information. After you have a basic understanding of your topic and you’ve collected some notes, put together an outline. In addition to jotting down the information you want to include in each section (and attributing the source), make notes about how long you want each section to be. This will ensure that you don’t end up with a lopsided paper.
Write Your Rough Draft
Use your outline to create a rough draft. As you write, think about things like whether the information flows the way you want it to and whether the voice you’re using is appropriate for the topic at hand. Don’t worry too much about details like grammar and punctuation; you can polish those things up in your final review. This is the time to make sure you avoid plagiarism. If you find a fact in your notes that you didn’t write down a source for, either find the source or use a different fact. Use attributions in the text, along with endnotes, to make sure you give credit where it is due.
Check Your Work
After completing your rough draft, have a peer look over the paper. A fresh set of eyes can point out flaws in logic and other errors that you might have become blind to. Then, go over your paper one more time to correct any minor issues related to format, syntax, grammar, or spelling. Remember that running spell-check is not the same as proofreading or editing.
Writing a research paper is tough, but it’s easier if you take your time and follow these logical steps.