Academic research can be daunting. The writing accompanying it can often be even worse. Almost everyone is forced to write at least one research paper during their college career, only adding to the anxiety of worrying about grades and graduation. You may even need to be a published author if you are planning to go to graduate school, or to improve your resume for employment after graduation. Before you can get published, you first need to write a successful paper.
This guide will give you some tips and techniques that will help even the novice writer accomplish what may right now seem impossible.
When beginning a research paper, the most important thing is to pick a topic that is neither too narrow nor too focused. For example, if you try to write a six-page paper about the entire history of the China, you will quickly turn your paper into a novel. On the other hand, writing about only the history of cheese usage in the Jing’an district during May of 1962 may lead to a lack of available resources, causing you to end up with one page of information and five pages of filler. In other words, you must pick your topic carefully. Can you stay within the limits of this paper, while still being able to include all information necessary to argue your thesis? Some journals may have specific page or word count requirements. If you have a target journal in mind before you begin writing, you must choose a scope for your paper that is not too broad or too narrow. If you are submitting a manuscript that’s already been written your paper will need to be edited before submission to meet the specific journal requirements.
If you are writing from scratch, an easy way to help discern if you are within the limits of your paper is to brainstorm. Write a list of topic ideas, and then try to narrow down to those in which you are most interested. Once you have chosen a few solid topic ideas, start researching. Finding what sources are available and learning more about your topic will often help to further guide the direction of your paper.
Ask a Question
After deciding the topic of your paper, it is critical to understand the point of a research paper is not necessarily to prove your point, but to answer a question. The idea of “supporting a thesis” does not necessarily mean “winning the argument.” This is not generally the case as you begin researching. Instead, as you start, find credible sources that can either prove or disprove your thesis. Try to form a question you want to answer in your research. Then, you can form your thesis to fit a factually-based theory rather than opinion-based thoughts. Your thesis should be a statement or theory to be put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved in your manuscript.
Sources of Information
Understanding how to find a credible source is crucial to research. Sites such as Wikipedia are never considered credible, nor should they be used in any research to be taken seriously. It is important to know not all who claim an expertise are really experts, and most anyone can post documents that claim credibility on the web. Looking for web addresses that end in .gov or .edu is a useful way to immediately eliminate some of the posers. If your institution grants access to online or physical libraries, searching those databases will help guarantee that you can find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles instead of blog posts. Peer reviewed sources carry the most authority. A source that is peer reviewed has been taken before a panel of experts that evaluate its legitimacy. It is also important to note most assignments will call for using sources that are fewer than ten years old. Imagine researching telephone usage with an article from 1912. The information would be largely misleading to your audience.
Now that you have found your articles, keep a list of all citation information. No matter the format you will use, the information used from each source will need to be cited. Each citation should be complete with all the information you will need for not only the in-text citation, but also for your bibliography/works cited page. At this point, if you are required to write a review of literature, it is a great idea to write what you will include in that paper. Even if you do not need to write a formal review of the literature, it is still a good idea to summarize and synthesize each source to help keep your thoughts organized.
Understand Your Material
It is critical to know your material. Many students try to “wing it,” and barely know what the sources say. This can cause problems if anyone decides to check the sources for accuracy and can also lead to confusion or problems in writing the paper. Not knowing the subject matter limits the scope of your writing to small amounts of information. Only understanding a small portion of your source material limits you severely. By understanding your sources, you widen your scope, which broadens your own credibility. A deeper understanding of the material broadens the horizons and extends the possibilities of your research.
Make an Outline
After you have gathered all your information, the next best step is to take the time to write an outline. Outlining is like creating a map for a journey. It is a graphic way to help with both organizing your material and visualizing where the paper will go. You can begin with headings like “Introduction,” “Section I,” and “Conclusion”. From there, fill in subheadings. This is a good place to make sure your paper has a clear and logical order. It is also a great idea to begin interacting with your sources by integrating quotes and paraphrases you will use to support your information. Make sure, as you use them, to note citation information so that you do not confuse your sources.
Next, you will want to free write. This may sound like a waste of time but jotting down your own original ideas you would like to include in the paper will help you avoid plagiarism. It will also help you formulate the layout of your paper even further. Will you need headings and subheadings? How many body paragraphs will you need? During this stage is when you can develop a strong thesis statement from the question you set out to answer.
Formulate Your Thesis
Just like your outline was your personal map to your paper, your thesis is the map your audience will use to find information about the paper. One of the biggest mistakes students make is not having a strong, concise thesis statement. You will want to exclude statements like “In this paper, I will argue…,” and the like. A good thesis will read something like this:
The pre-writing process is the hardest part of writing a paper. It is when all the background work is performed. In this stage you can simply follow the order in which you have decided to write your paper, making sure to include citations when needed. It’s best to avoid slang, contractions, and colloquial language. You will also want to make sure any quote you include makes sense where it is. If you are not interacting with that quote, it will seem dropped in from nowhere–something placed in your writing to fulfill source requirements, rather than enhancing your scholarly information. Quotes should not be overused and it’s best to try to avoid lengthy, block quotes when possible. The point of research is not to regurgitate what someone else said, but to interpret that information to help form new ideas and arguments.
Following the body of your paper, you will write a conclusion. The conclusion is not where you restate your thesis, copy anything verbatim from within your paper, or simply restate what the paper covered. Instead, a good conclusion will work to close the argument made within the paper. You will want to summarize some of the information in a concise manner and close the paper with a final thought or question. Here, you might even include a quote from an important person involved in the field to bring together the main point you would like to make. Do not, however, start a new topic other than perhaps a mention of future directions for research. Other than your bibliography or other ending information like tables, graphs, or endnotes, this will be the last thing your reader will read. Make it count.
Bibliography / Works Cited
The final portion of your paper will be your bibliography or works cited page. You will title this page according to the style required, but all types include complete citations from your resources. This is where having that information at the ready will be helpful. Some of the most common mistakes academic writers make with their references are not placing them in alphabetical order, mixing up style types, and leaving out punctuation. Your works cited page must be formatted accurately according to the particular style guide. If your paper will be peer reviewed, or if it will go through a database to check for plagiarism, any mistakes can result in rejection or cause your paper to be flagged as plagiarized. You can avoid this by learning the citation style online, from your instructor, or by way of a writing tutor or academic editing or consulting company.
Revision, Editing, and Polishing
The next step is one many students skip, either because time does not allow, or because they do not know how: revision/polishing. While you may be able to fire out a ten-page research paper in a day, it certainly should not be submitted without being edited. Even the most seasoned writers make mistakes in grammar and syntax. It is often best to let the paper rest for a short period of time while you take a break. Then you can return to the paper with a fresh eye to look for mistakes and things you might change or expand upon. It is always a good idea to let someone else review your paper. Polishing your paper is one of the most important steps. This way, you help protect your grade from being lowered by mistakes that were could have been avoided. You might be surprised how many students receive failing grades or are rejected from journals with acceptable papers simply because grammar or language errors prevented the instructor or reviewer from understanding what the writer meant. A refined manuscript ensures that your ideas are communicated clearly and effectively. Hiring a professional editing team is a great way to make sure your writing is as perfect as possible. Read more about APEs FIX services here.
All these steps seem like a lot of work. However, once you begin, your work will progress quicker than you might think possible. Following through with the prewriting and editing stages will keep you on track and help you find mistakes that may prevent your success. Writing a solid research paper is a necessary step before getting published. Following this guide and working towards being a strong writer help you attain success in your endeavors.
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~APEs FIX Team