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Tips for Writing Research Paper

Getting Started

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.

Taking Notes

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 easier.

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 quotations.

Outline

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:

Introduction:

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.

Rough Draft

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, Term Papers

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

Final Words

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