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Tips for Writing Research Paper
1. The first thing you want to do is give yourself enough time to
work. For an average length (10-20 pgs) paper you should give yourself a
month to adequately collect the library research and materials. At a bare
minimum you should give yourself a week. Organization will help you make
the most of however much time you have. Write a quick schedule to help you
keep track of time: list the days you have left and the time during the day
you'll be able to work. You will need to allot yourself time to go to your
school library, take notes, write an outline, write a first draft, and revise
the paper. Try not to set yourself up for a lot of late nights, unless you're
a night person. Generally, people do better work when they're alert.
2. It's very important to start out your research with a solid
Thesis Statement. This is the question you propose to answer in the paper.
Some professors will want to see the proposed thesis statement before you
start your research. A couple of hints:
* Keep it simple; you don't need an enormous subject to work with.
* Make it specific. It's much easier to do research on a narrowly selected
subject than a massive idea. Help yourself by sharpening it down.
* Make sure your idea will work. Check with your professor about the suitability
of the thesis to the assignment. Do a little preliminary research in the
library to make sure there's enough available material on your topic.
3. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the libraries you'll
be using. Each library has it's own system for reference materials, and,
chances are, they'll have separate technologies to help you along. It's a
good idea to talk to one of the reference librarians about where and how
to start. If you're under deadline, you don't want to waste precious time
trying to locate materials. Every minute counts.
1. Use small (4"x 6", 5"x 8") index cards. If you can, buy several
different colors. If your subject has two or three separate main ideas you
can color code the research.
2. Make sure you include authors' names, date and page number at the
top of the card. Also, on a separate index card, write down all the bibliography
information in the proper form for your reference list or bibliography. This
will help you identify footnotes and citations and make typing the references
3. Try to be as accurate as possible when you write down statistics
and direct quotes. Be sure to check for errors when you're finished.
4. It's good to have a lot of pertinent quotes when your finished,
but keep in mind that no more than 10-15% of your finished paper should be
This is the critical step in the process. Your paper will only be as good
as the outline you write for it.
1. Write your introduction at the top. This, essentially, is your
Thesis Statement expanded to a paragraph. Set up your statement carefully,
and make sure it matches the material you've gathered.
2. Underneath the intro, have your first main heading. Write subheadings
underneath that and list your main points in the paragraph.
3. Take your note cards and figure out which of them you will use
to illustrate your points. It should look something like this:
Expand your thesis here. It should be concise and definite. Don't put opinionated
statements like "I think..." or, "In my opinion...". This reduces your
credibility. For example, if you were to write a paper on the economic factors
involved in World War II, you might start like this: Germany's involvement
in WW II was predicated by the purposeful dismantling of the country's economic
power by the Allied Nations. Main Headings: This is where you begin to answer
the questions you posed in your introduction. Systematically go over each
resonant point in your argument. If you're dealing with a historical paper,
you might begin with the background and history of your material. eg. Germany's
post-war economy. Sub Headings: Here, you break down your Main Heading into
smaller paragraphs of information. Each paragraph should have clear, well
thought out points. eg. Production.
One important idea you want to convey in your paragraph. If you intend
to use one of your note cards, you can actually tape the card to your paper.
eg. Manufacturing of exports.
1. An even smaller bite of information you want to make sure you cover.
eg. Reisling Company's profits down 65%% by 1937.
2. An additional bite you feel is appropriate. eg. Co-owner was eventual
Nazi conspirator, Max Heinrich.
Follow this method all the way to your last, concluding statement. Your
Conclusion should be a final synopsis of the paper; a summary of the Thesis
Statement you started out with. When you edit your outline, make sure each
point is clearly made and that the flow of the paper works to make a convincing
case. By the end of the outline you should have covered all the main points
you posed in your thesis statement.
Write your first draft as freely as possible, following your outline closely.
Use all the notecard information you feel is relevant and important. Don't
pad your paper with excessive quotes. When you've finished the rough draft,
check for accuracy and completeness of facts. If you think certain sections
are too long or too skimpy, rework them until you feel they're the strongest
you can make them.
Final Draft Revise paragraphs for unity and coherence. Reword your sentences
for effectiveness of structure, grammar and punctuation. Use a dictionary
to check your spelling and usage, or, if you have a computer, run a spell
check. You might want to read the paper aloud to yourself to see how it flows
and to correct any awkward sentences.
Footnotes and Bibliography
You should consult a style manual to find the correct forms to use.
Here are a few very good manuals you can try:
Campbell, W.C. & Ballou, S.V. (1990). Form and Style: Theses, Reports,
Strunk, W. Jr. & White, E.B. The Elements of Style (1972).
Turabian,K.V.(1987)A Manual of Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations
When you've finished the paper, take some time for yourself before you re-read
it. Make sure your quotes and citations are accurate; keep your note cards.
Take a minute and congratulate yourself, unless you're already late for class.
By George Mason University
Since December 1999 - last modified: February 22, 2012