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Surviving the Research Paper Assignment

Category: Writing Date: 17 October, 2018

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Okay, so it is stressful. Every time you get a research paper assignment, you get that uneasy feeling. How much time is this going to take? How can I get it done with everything else I have to do?

You probably know all of the steps involved in producing a decent paper – you can recite them, actually. But knowing them and getting through each of them – that’s another matter.

So how about we take a look at each of the steps, and maybe you can pick up some tips, ideas, and even some tricks, that can make this job easier.

The Topic Choice

Most of the time you will be given options from which to choose. If not, you may have to choose your own topic from scratch. If you have options, choose the one that you are most interested in. Maybe none of them interests you. Then, just choose the one that you think will be least painful.

If you get to choose your own topic and don’t know where to begin, again, think about the lecture topics or class discussions that have interested you. Another tip is to get through your textbook chapters and sections within those chapters. Something might strike your fancy.

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You can also go online and Google “research paper topics for _______(name of course). You’ll get plenty of results. Even the New York Times publishes topics for a lot of coursework.

The Thesis Statement

You probably don’t want to do anything about this until you have finished your research. After all, you don’t even know what the point of your paper will be until you have read about it and formed some kind of opinion or point you want to make. So, just skip this for now.

On To the Research

College instructors/professors are pretty picky about the resources you use. Encyclopedias? No. Secondary sources that are from authors of questionable credentials? No. Obviously biased journals or news outlets? No. Your instructors want primary sources or secondary sources that at least come from recognized experts in their fields.

So here’s a little trick. Get online and google research papers on your topic. You will be able to find samples/examples. Choose a few that are most recent and look at the resources used in those papers. This will give you a pool of resources that you can use in your own paper.

I know what you are thinking – couldn’t I just take one of these and re-write it a bit? No. You can’t. You’ll end up plagiarizing some of it, even without realizing it, and then you are toast. Of course, read the papers at will. Just don’t steal them.

The Pain of Research

It’s tedious and not much fun. All that note-taking and making sure you have the right author, title, and page number for the pieces of information you will be using.

There’s no shortcut here, so just bit the bullet and get it done.

Organizing that Research into Sub-Topics

This can be a bit of an ordeal too. Fortunately, you may have a good shortcut for this. Remember those research papers you accessed and read? How were they organized? What sections were included? You can take your cue for your own organization if you have read a paper that looks good to you.

Getting to that Thesis Statement

Now you are ready to develop this statement. Think about where all of your research has taken you in your thinking. What stands out to you? Have you developed a definite opinion on this topic? Is there some major point that others should understand this topic? Answering these questions will help you form that thesis statement. Remember, it has to address exactly what you plan to cover in the paper, and it should be one solid sentence that comes at the end of your introduction.

Organizing the Sequence of the Sub-Topics

The best way to organize the sequence of the points you intend to cover is to begin with the one you believe is most important and work you way down. Most people do this be creating some kind of an outline. It’s a good idea, actually. You can list your sub-topics and then the details you intend to include under them. This way, you don’t leave out anything that is important to support your thesis. Nothing formal needed here. Your high school English teacher who insisted on those Roman numerals, etc. is not looking over your shoulder.

The Rough Draft – It’s Called Rough for a Reason

Now write up the body of your paper. Again, make sure you cite the information and quotes you are using, just like you did when taking those notes. It’s Hell going back and looking for them later. The point of this draft is to get your thoughts into real sentences and paragraphs with topic sentences and transitions. The polish comes after this. Never turn in a rough draft.

The Introduction and Conclusion

The introduction includes your thesis statement, but that’s not all. You have to give the reader a bit of a jolt in the beginning. Do you have a startling statistic? Can you relate a short anecdote? How about a relevant and engaging quote? The point is you want the reader to want to read on. (and it does impress an instructor).

So, have you supported your thesis well? You should state so in your conclusion and maybe reiterate your major points.

Editing and Revising

Get yourself a good grammar software tool. Upload your paper and go through all of the errors and suggestions you get. This is the easiest way to clean up your writing. And most of them will check for plagiarism too.

Formatting and Citations

You have been given a format requirement. Follow it. If your instructor has not given you a guide for that format, get one online (Purdue Owl is good) for title pages, pagination, margins, and such. For your bibliography, use a free tool that will take your resource info and create the right format for you. (Your parents did not have this – be grateful).

There you have it. Your research paper is finished. Was it painful? Yes. Was it less painful than those you have done before? Hopefully, it was.