STEP 1. PICK A TOPIC
It is very important to choose the right topic for your research paper. On the one hand, the topic of your research paper must be interesting for you, on the other hand, it should pose a bit of a challenge. In other words, developing this topic should be such an engaging task for you, that you can keep your enthusiasm up until your research paper is ready, even though the most tedious parts of the process. These two factors will predetermine your zeal to complete this work.
Try to be as specific as you can. For example, “Military History” is not a good topic, it can be narrowed down to “Military History of the 20th Century”, and further down to “Vietnam War.” Naturally, before you begin your research, your topic needs to be approved by your teacher or professor. Then, you will be given an assignment on this topic. If some details happen to confuse you, re-read them. If necessary, ask your teacher or professor some extra question, but don’t leave any unclarities unattended.
STEP 2. CONDUCT A PRELIMINARY RESEARCH
There are two common places to look for information:
- The Web. The first most obvious thing to do here is to go online and surf the Internet. Remember, however, that a serious research is not about simply typing your topic in Google, hitting enter, and looking through several of the first search results. Unfortunately, the information found on the Internet is not always reliable and needs to be double-checked at all times.
Some websites are more trustworthy than others. The websites with .edu domain name extension will be the most reliable for your research because this extension is used exclusively by educational institutions who have no interest in posting unreliable information, quite the contrary. ,” websites with .gov extension are also reliable, but these domains are reserved exclusively for governmental institutions. So, they should be treated with a bit of caution, because – for obvious reason – the information presented on these websites may be politically biased.
You may be misinformed that websites under .org domains are normally also trustworthy because these domains are allocated for non-commercial organizations. This was true back in the day. Today, however, pretty much anybody in the world can register a .org domain and put a website there with (almost) any information on it.
Domains with other extensions can also be registered by pretty much anybody, so those websites cannot be relied on, unless you are 100% positive – for example, with britannica.com – the website of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
As you dig deeper with your online research, you will learn how to tell the trustworthy sources from the ones to be doubted.
- Libraries. This may seem old-fashioned, but the books from the library are sure to have only reliable information.
The introduction of OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog). This is a resource that allows you to instantly check the availability of printed materials in your local library or any other library of your choosing: books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries, magazines and newspapers, governments publications and reports, almanacs and atlases, etc., – down to the yellow pages ans telephone directories.
Read what you can find and evaluate the relevance of those sources. Bookmark the selected resources. Some people find it more convenient to have everything on paper and print out the selected web pages. Others prefer the digital format and make scans of their printed resources.
As you gather your resources, remember to put down all the necessary bibliographical information: author, title, publisher, place and date of publication, pages numbers, URLs, dates of creation and modification of web pages and dates of your access. Have it written on or pinned to your printouts or scanned copies, It is critical because a resource is worthless when it cannot be properly cited.
STEP 3. STATE THE THESIS OF YOUR RESEARCH PAPER
Give your topic and your gathered resources a good brainstorm and put your preliminary conclusion in one sentence. This will be your thesis statement – the highlight of what you plan to prove with your work. Your research paper will primarily consist of arguments to support your thesis statement.
STEP 4. PUT TOGETHER AN OUTLINE
First of all, remember that this outline will not be the final one, but only a draft at this stage. You are free to modify it on later stages of your work.
The outline should consist of an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. It must be detailed, but all the points must directly relate to the topic of your research paper.
Here is an example of a research paper outline:
- Definition of Alcohol Poisoning
- Significance of the Study
- Definition of Terms
- Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
- Effects of Alcohol Poisoning
- How to Deal with Alcohol Hazards
At this stage, the purpose of shaping an outline is to help you organize the fact that you have gathered and your ideas on the topic into a logical structure. A detailed and comprehensive outline is arguably the most important step in putting together a decent research paper. Therefore, make sure that the points are organized in such a way that they smoothly flow from the previous to the next. Let us take a closer look at what should be stated in the three main parts of your outline (and, consequently, your research paper).
Introduction. This is where you state the thesis of your paper as the purpose of your research. It is also a good idea to mention why you find this topic important, how you relate to it, and how you approach it. You also briefly explain how you see your work (what kind of work it is – a factual report, a review, a comparison, analysis, etc.) and what your major points will be. The main goal of your introduction is to engage your reader.
Body. Here you present your arguments to support your statement. In is recommended that each of the arguments, in turn, has three supporting arguments. It is a good idea to place the stronger arguments closer to the end.
Conclusion. This is where you re-tell your arguments in brief form and re-word your thesis statement explaining how you have come to your conclusion.
STEP 5. SYNCHRONIZE YOUR NOTES WITH YOUR OUTLINE
Put all your gathered resources in order in accordance with your outline. Double-check your factual data and analyze it. Don’t forget the opposing opinions, because they may be helpful in making your conclusion more convincing in the end.
This is not just another step in putting your research paper together, it is more than that. This is the stage of digesting all you gathered information. It is during this process that you will most probably learn something new about the subject, and this is actually the entire point of the whole thing, the real goal behind this task.
Putting all your findings and ideas together in an organized manner will help you make them look and sound more convincing – that is, when presented in both written and oral form, either.
Thoroughly sort out the pieces of information that are not relevant to the topic, even if you like them. Also, by all means, avoid information that you are not sure you understand on a proper level. You don’t want to give ground for questions that you will not be able to answer.
Once again, make sure that all your reference materials are properly cited. Make them ready to be transferred directly into your Bibliography section in the correct format. If you don’t this will look like a case of plagiarism, and it is a very serious allegation. It can render your research paper invalid, all your spent time and effort will be in vain, and your academic future will be put to question. As for your original ideas, make sure they are worded originally as well. If necessary, run your notes through some online plagiarism checking tools.
A good tip to organize your notes effectively is to highlight them in different colors. For example, if a certain note belongs to “Effects of Alcohol Poisoning,” it can be marked with II-B where II means the second section of your research paper, and B stands for the subsection. You can use longer codes if your research paper has more levels of subdivision. This will help you to quickly put your notes in the proper places on future stages as you compose the actual draft of your research paper. This is just an example of how notes can be organized, you are welcome to invent your own unique way of organizing your notes if you think it works for you best.
STEP 6. MOVE ON TO YOUR FIRST DRAFT
Now that your outline is ready and your notes are properly organized, you can move on to putting together the first draft of your research paper.
Start with your Introduction and read through all the notes that you have prepared for it. If you marked your notes the way we have suggested earlier, the ones having to do with your Introduction should be marked with I.
Remember to combine different ways of citing your sources. You can quote them directly or indirectly, you can paraphrase them, or you can summarize them. Actually, it could be a good idea to have some of your notes paraphrased beforehand and have the paraphrased versions directly in your notes.
All your notes need to be put together in accordance with your outline. If you prefer the digital version, give your notes meaningful filenames including the indexes that we suggested earlier (for example, IA3b, 2C, etc.), so that you could find them easily to copy and paste them into the draft of your research paper. Once your first subsection is ready, you can save it under the name “1A” and move on to “1B” and so on and so forth. Writing you research paper in such small bits makes you less prone to procrastination and facilitates the process a great deal.
Remember that this is only your first draft, and your task at the moment is not to have all the blanks filled and build a research paper ready for submitting. If you find yourself stuck at some point, you are free to leave it for later and return to it when you feel ready. Just remember about such point. In order not to forget them, you can mark them in a certain color or with an uncommon symbol or a combination of symbols that you do not normally use throughout your research paper – for example, “#” or “^~^.” This will help you to find these gaps in future when you are ready to return to them. Remember to remove the symbols once the gaps are taken care of.
STEP 7. PROOFREAD AND EDIT YOUR OUTLINE AND YOUR DRAFT
This is the time to once again double-check the factual data included in your research paper. If necessary, re-arrange your ideas so they would accord with your outline better. Through this process, always bear your reader or listener in mind and remember that your text needs to stay convincing.
Check if you are using all the terminology properly, use dictionaries and thesauruses for this purpose. Also, use special spelling- and grammar-checking software or online service. Those can be found on the Internet, and some of them can be used free of charge.
If you are not sure about your writing style, you can check out some guide on academic writing.
Be encouraged to find someone with good writing skills and let this person look through your draft. A fresh look can be extremely useful. Remember that this person has to be trustworthy because your research paper is your intellectual property. Also keep it in mind that, while all the possible recommendations should be paid attention to, they still should be treated with a healthy dose of criticism. It is still your paper, and you are not obliged to introduce all the suggested changes.
It is helpful to ask yourself and answer the following questions:
- Is my thesis statement clear and comprehensive?
- Is the outline followed accurately with no point overlooked?
- Does every paragraph begin with a strong and engaging introducing sentence?
- Do my argument flow into one another logically?
- Is every argument well integrated into the text?
- Are my arguments convincing to prove my thesis statement?
- Are they illustrated with examples?
- Are there any run-on or unfinished sentences?
- Are the sentences not too long or too short?
- Did I make sure that there are no grammatical or spelling errors?
- Did I avoid using contractions (“we’re”, “don’t,” can’t,” etc.)?
- Is there any misused or overused terminology?
- Did I avoid personal constructions like “I think,” “I assume,” etc. instead of the preferred third-person construction?
- Did I cite all my sources properly, so I would not be suspected of plagiarism?
- Have I made my point clear in my research paper?
- Have I kept my paper objective while still interesting and engaging?
- Does my paper look complete?
Carefully work through this checklist.
STEP 8. PUT THE FINISHING TOUCHES
Re-read your assignment to make sure that you are fully aware of your professor’s expectations to fulfill them. You should understand by which point your research paper will be evaluated and ensure that all those points are met.
Proofread your paper for the very last time to be 100% positive that there are no grammatical, punctuational or spelling errors, missing or duplicate words, etc. Make sure that it looks neat and tidy.
All research papers are to be submitted in printed form, so be recommended to have it printed on a good printer and on a good quality paper. Even such a small detail as the tactile feeling your paper gives to your reader can influence your reader’s experience and their overall impression.
It is best to have the final variant of your research paper ready about two or three days before you have to submit it. Once it is done, try your best to distance away from it. Remember that we are all our own fiercest critic and the process of perfection can last forever. So, once you have decided that your research paper is done, try and keep yourself from returning to it or even thinking about it. Switch to some other tasks or just relax, and remember about your paper only on the day when you are to submit it.