While they aren't difficult to write, research papers require much more work than regular papers and sometimes it's easy to get lazy with them. However, if you want to survive college, it's important that you learn the proper way to write a research paper without tearing all of your hair out first. So, without further ado, here are a few tips on how to do it.
1. Find Your Research Question
Before you even begin writing your paper, you should have a topic for your paper. The topic should be very specific. If it's easily answered by "yes" or "no," then there is probably not research to support it. Make sure that your topic has an underlying question. A research paper without a question is just a bunch of compiled facts. The question is what will drive your research and it's what you'll be proving in your paper through your various supporting points and evidence that goes with them.
2. Write Down Supporting Points
After you've found your research question, think of some supporting points that will make up the body of the paper. These are what you will be researching, so try to ask yourself what topics are important to understand in order for you to generate an answer to your question. Also, write down any questions that are raised in response to your initial research question. For example, if my research question was "How Does Global Warming Affect Sea Turtles?," a supporting point may be "sea turtles' nesting habitats are being destroyed" and a sub-question might be "how does warmer ocean water affect sea turtles?"
3. Locate Your Sources
As for finding research databases, your school has usually already paid for databases, so definitely check your school's website to see which specific databases they have purchased for your use. In the rare case that there are none, EBSCO offers a couple of free databases and so do Truman State University and California State University.
4. Research Smart
Scientific journals and historical records may be a tad scary, but if you know how to use them, your research process will go a whole lot smoother. To begin with, you want to put quotation marks around whatever term/event you're researching. Sometimes search engines find results based on related items, but doing this will ensure that the search engine on the database only looks for the specific term you put in. When researching, make sure to write down not only facts and points that you discover, but also questions that come up and could be used towards further research and a deeper understanding in your paper.
5. Organize Your Research
Now that you've structured your paper and gathered the necessary information, it's time to organize that information. When organizing, it can be helpful to separate out your articles, websites, data and more by which supporting point they're acting as evidence for.
There are many websites and tools to help with this process. One such tool is an app called Evernote, which I swear by. Evernote is your all-in-one place to take and organize your research notes, and it's completely free. Another great site is Noodle Tools, but you have to pay for it, so I would check with your university to see if they already have a subscription. Of course, if all else fails, Microsoft One Note is an extremely efficient program.
6. Form an Outline
Everyone formats their outlines differently, but make sure that whichever one you choose makes sense to you. If you're into the traditional format, then go for it, but if you work better with a different method, then that's the way you should do it. Remember that you are the only person who's going to see your outline, so it doesn't matter if it's really messy with notes all over it. This way, you'll have a skeleton of what your paper should look like and it'll be a lot easier than just writing your paper blindly.
7. Write the Body of Your Paper
If you've followed this process the whole way through, actually writing your paper should prove simple. With an idea of what each paragraph will be about and the proper research to go with it, all you have to do is put everything into words. However, you should go about writing your paper by doing the body paragraphs first. These are arguably the most important parts of a research paper, as they are the actual facts and evidence that help to answer your question. If you have trouble with starting, take it one paragraph at a time. There is no need to rush or look ahead. Start with your first supporting point and write out what you want to say. Then, find the places within that paragraph where pieces of evidence could help better and further explain your point. Do this for all your supporting points and you'll have the body paragraphs.
8. Write the Introduction and Conclusion
One of the best tips my senior year English teacher told me was to always save your introduction and conclusion for last. This is because those paragraphs are the lead-in and lead-out of your paper. If you write them before you write the actual body of the paper, how are you supposed to know what to put in them? Once you've written the actual paper, crafting these should be easy. The introduction is simply letting the readers know what your topic is and how you will be breaking down your research. Conversely, the conclusion is a culminating paragraph of everything you've talked about. It should bring up all of the important points you mentioned in your paper, while tying them together into an answer to your question. And then, voila. You have a paper!
Writing a good research paper can take time and experience, but with these tips, you'll be on your way. Don't forget to read everything over when you're finished and revise anything that could be written better. Good luck!
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