Before getting down to a new activity, it's always helpful to find out what you are dealing with. Actually, there are several types of writings called "a research paper" which differ greatly from one another:
an academic paper - this one is written by professors and scientists, contains results of their own research or some kind of review in the chosen field of knowledge;
a thesis (a dissertation) - a paper, written by the postgraduate student who has continued scientific work and presents the results of his findings to take an advanced degree;
a term paper - the one, written by the high school, college, or university students over the term (usually a semester) and handed in somewhere at the end. This paper serves as an evidence of a student's ability to apply practically the theoretical knowledge he/she got during the term (or some longer period of studying) and influences greatly the grade. To be more precise, it makes up much of the course that's why it's worth being done properly, isn't it?
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So, you are to write a research paper of this third type. To tell the truth, it's quite a "consuming" activity; I mean, there are several items which will be for sure consumed by your research paper:
time: You put off this paper for the last night before the deadline? You'd better spend these ten hours in a more effective way for anyway you'll not succeed in writing a proper research paper. Then, what for all the fuss and brouhaha? To be serious, you should be ready to spend several weeks in order to write a good research paper: the two most time-consuming parts are gathering/studying the sources and the writing proper. Be careful to pay equal attention to each part of the process! Carried away by scanning the sources, you may run out of time and lack it for writing your own paper or do it not in the best possible way. In such a case, you'll just waste your time when working with sources. And efforts as well, which is discussed below.
efforts: I don't want to disappoint you but there is no possibility to write a proper research paper like "Slam bang - and it's done!". It demands much efforts, both physical and mental: the first to search for appropriate sources, take notes, make correctly bibliography cards, finally, to type several pages which you'll call "research paper"; the second to select a topic, to develop a thesis statement, to analyze the information you've collected from the sources, to choose your own point of view, and to present it in a proper way. On the other hand, I don't want to scare you by enumerating all the activities which are to be accomplished. Aimed at the common goal, they come into connection; therefore, if everything is done properly, the process flows smoothly from one stage to another.
when gathering your sources, you are to keep in mind a topic and probably some possible variants of a thesis statement of your research paper
when reading and analyzing the sources, you are for sure to concentrate on making notes, bibliography cards and at the same time you are to choose a way to develop your thesis statement
when writing different parts of the paper you are to watch the interconnection between them and make sure you present your ideas in a logical order.
paper: Joking apart! Be ready to have enough sheets of paper or better even cardboard cards to take notes and collect bibliography information while working with sources. Probably, you'll need several editions of your research paper to perfect your argumentation skills and organize it in the best possible way.
sources: It was already mentioned above that you should gather quite a number of sources and make a close study of them before writing a research paper. Be attentive, as opposed to an essay where you were supposed to use your personal experience, that of your friends, or some anecdotes in a research paper you are to deal with academic sources, publications of scientists and researchers. Make sure the sources you use are credible enough to refer to them!
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To sum up all the mentioned above, a well-done research paper is a several-pages long paper accomplished by the end of the term where student presents the results of his/her review of a scientific literature, its analysis, and skills in using it when arguing his/her own point of view. In the long run, you should produce a logical, consistent, and coherent text, based on the independent and critical analysis of some sources and their interpretation aimed at supporting your way of treating the problem. To do it properly, you are to follow seven steps and keep in mind some additional demands.
Algorithm of writing a research paper
Actually, after you've become familiar with a general idea of a research paper and some of its peculiarities, you are more or less aware of the procedure of its writing. Now let's reorganize these ideas and write them down in a strict concession to get a kind of algorithm:
Selecting the topic.
Working with sources.
Making bibliography cards.
Developing a thesis statement.
Outlining the paper.
Making the first draft of the paper.
Making the final draft, technical specification.
These are the main steps to follow while writing a research paper; in addition, you should keep in mind some important ideas which are helpful to improve your paper:
Tips concerning an effective title.
How to write an abstract?
What for do we need paraphrasing?
What is a summary?
Be careful to avoid plagiarism!
Now let's take a good look at each of these steps to clarify some particular moments which may help you when applying this guide.
Selecting the topic
In case you don't have to stick to the topic given by the instructor, you are to choose it yourself. Here are several tips to make a right choice:
First of all, think of the subject you are interested in. Preferably, it should be something you are already familiar with, so that you won't spend much time on studying the simplest notions in this sphere, but there should still leave some mystery for you to urge you forward while working with sources and then while writing your own paper.
Secondly, think out several (two or three) problems concerning the chosen subject. Make a kind of a preliminary research: look for information available on each of the problems and compare the number of sources. It goes without saying that the more sources you have the better research paper you may write. If you can hardly find academic publications treating the chosen problem, you'd better not develop it in your research paper.
Finally, be attentive to select a topic complex enough to be researches from a variety of sources and narrow enough to be covered in several pages. You may also think over the working thesis statement which you'll take into consideration when gathering and scanning the sources. Still, don't stick to it! Be flexible enough to change the aspect or the angle of the chosen topic; moreover, such transformations may take place on the second stage, while working with sources.
Working with sources
The best place to look for credible sources is a library. Here you may consult a librarian to get all the possible books, articles, and other types of publications concerning the problem you are interested in. Make copies of all the materials you find to be useful for your research and don't forget to write down bibliographic information. Otherwise you'll have to spend time on looking for these very sources or you'll not be able to refer to them in your paper.
If you are using online sources, make sure they are serious enough to be referred to in a research paper. Take notice of the website where you've found the information, make sure it contains an author. Here bibliographic information is also needed: web address and the date you accessed it.
This activity spares your time on rereading and looking hundreds of times through all the materials you have to find some particular idea which seems to be up to the moment just now. What you have to do is to prepare a number of note cards where you'll write down the most important information from different sources. If a quotation, it should be copied attentively and enclosed in quotation marks; if some interesting or valuable information, it may be rewritten briefly, in your own words, or taken as an abstract.
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When dealing with bibliographic information, two options are possible:
You may put it on the back side of the note card if there is one card with information from this source.
If one source requires several note cards, you'd better make separate bibliography cards, enumerate them, and put the number of this source on all the corresponding note cards.
Making bibliography cards
for a book: author's name, bibliographical title (underlined), publisher, place of publishing, date, Dewey decimal, library;
for an article in a magazine: author's name, bibliographical title (in quotes), title of magazine, volume and number, inclusive pages, library;
for the online sources: web address, the date you accessed it.
Developing a thesis statement
Now it's high time to turn back to your working thesis statement you were thinking over when choosing a topic and keeping in mind when working with the sources. Doesn't it need any improvements? Two main tasks of the thesis statement are:
to define the focus and the direction of you research paper;
to sound convincing enough to awake the reader's interest in the problem.
For instance, possible thesis statement may sound like this:
Original influence of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road upon the formation of the Beat Movement: personal experience, lively description, romanticized adventures.
Outlining the paper
Outline is a skeleton of your research paper: to make it, you should look carefully through all the notes you have and organize the information in the logical way. If properly done, the outline reflects the structure of the paper; therefore, there remains only to fill it up with more detailed information, such as quotations, examples, illustrations of the main ideas etc. You can use the outline to see how the ideas correspond to each other, how to organize them more effectively, whether each statement is really an independent idea worth being supported by more specified information.
When making an outline, you should keep in mind the general structure of the research paper:
introduction containing thesis statement,
body paragraphs based on the topic sentence,
conclusion characterized by the concluding sentence.
Each part should be reflected in the outline, indicated by the Roman numerals. Then you place important ideas which make the basis of your research paper: in the majority of cases, these are thesis statement, topic sentences, conclusive sentence. These statements are indicated by capital letters. Finally, you note down some secondary ideas which make part of mentioned above statements and enumerate them with the help of the Arabic numerals. In the long run, you'll have a following scheme:
Making the first draft of the paper
Now relying on your outline, you can make the first draft of the paper. In fact, it is called the first since there will be the second (and in most cases the final) draft; therefore, here you may pay more attention to content and structure without being too critical against punctuation. When dealing with the first draft, your task is to develop all the ideas which are presented in form of statements and show the whole sequence of thoughts with the help of which you come to your conclusion. Try to be as logical and persuasive as possible. Avoid unfounded statements and conclusions: you've studied a great number of sources to support your ideas.
Supply the skeleton with the necessary comments, explanations, and quotations.
Develop topic sentences of each body paragraph so that they take the shape of well-organized paragraphs with a proper content.
Add internal (inside the paragraphs) and external (between the paragraphs) transitions.
Make sure to put references to all the quotations and borrowed ideas. In-text references are done in parenthesis where you indicate last name of the author and the number of the page, like this: (Guterson 91). If the name of the author was mentioned with the citation, you are to put only the number of the page: (91). Rewritten text without references is called plagiarism!
Feel free to remove all the unnecessary sentences which don't contribute to your argumentation or repeat what was already said. Excess of words is no better than lack of words. They should be just enough to present the idea and build a strong argumentation, no waffling or chewing over.
Here I'd like to devote several remarks to the first part of a research paper called INTRODUCTION. The very word points out the task accomplished by this part: introducing the problem treated in the research by briefing the reader on the subject in general, on the objectives of this very paper, and on the ways to gain them. This task may be accomplished in three steps:
establishing a territory (you are to share with reader information concerning the recent researches in the chosen field of knowledge, present the subject, and underline its importance).
establishing a niche (in the majority of cases, two possibilities are available: either to claim that you follow the tradition in investigating this very aspect or reveal a research gap, lack of researches concerning the chosen problem so that you are going to fill it in by this paper).
occupy the niche (this step is devoted to your work: the angle you choose to treat the problem, the methods you are going to apply when analyzing the facts, the way you approach statistical information, the results which follow your research. Brief information about the structure of your research paper will be also up to the point).
Don't worry if you find out that you can't cope with this part just after making an outline. Many students have the same problem and actually, it's easy to understand: introduction is aimed at presenting the paper which is not written yet. Of course, you have already decided on the subject, the problem of your research, you've formulated the thesis statement, you may have some ideas concerning methodology but still it's difficult to foresee all the aspects needed for an introduction. That's why feel free to put it aside till the whole paper is written.