How to Begin a Research Paper
Research papers can be fun, but to most they are a source of stress and unhappiness. There are simple things that you can do to make writing a research paper a lot easier on yourself. These simple policies are small things like how your workspace is organized to larger things like information sources that can make huge differences in how your paper begins and ends.
Note: The author is a Social Studies (History mainly) teacher for high school and has written hundreds of research papers ranging from 1-60 pages. He has spent quite a lot of time looking at how to better write research papers to better his own life.
Why Are You Writing?
The reason for writing something can be the main source of stress. Is it for school or work? Most of the time research writing is assigned, and therefore stressful. Just remember: its only a grade. Of course work is more serious, but if it is for school remember the results of the paper cannot physically harm you, and one paper won't ruin your life.
Relax, take a deep breath, and read your assignment again.
6 Keys to Orderly Papers
Speaking of relaxing, there are a few things that you might not think about often which can lead to a better paper that don't have anything to do with research papers and have everything to do with productivity.
1. Clean your workspace. A messy workspace can lead to a chaotic paper. Ordered items lead to ordered thoughts most of the time.
2. Remove all distractions. It is probably the easiest thing to happen - you are writing and notice something more fun to do. Even dusting has taken my attention away from writing research papers, so try to tidy up and move interesting books, toys, or internet things out of reach or eyesight.
3. Eat and drink. Have a snack nearby. Don't try to be working hard on something only to get distracted and unhappy because you are hungry or thirsty. This is worse than having a toy with you because it can take so much longer to go make something to eat and then try to get back to work.
4. Music without lyrics. What was that wording? That could not have been right, you better look up the words. Better yet, play it again and sing with it. If that doesn't work forums are the next move before calling a friend. You may not think it could happen, but believe me it does.
5. Turn off your phone if possible. Someone calling you can shred all concentration you had and derail your whole paper for hours. Turn it on when you take a break if you think you may have missed something, but beware that it is easy to get side tracked even when you like writing research papers.
6. Have a dictionary and thesaurus handy. They are very useful and you will probably need them. Of course Google works fine for that sort of thing but try to have a specific site you are familiar with just in case.
The Problem of Sources
Sources of information can be problematic at the best of times and nightmarish at the worst. Where do I find sources? Who are they to tell me information? What do I do if I cannot find any sources for what I want to write?
The last question is the most important in writing a research paper. Before choosing a topic you MUST have sources. This means you need to ask a research desk at a library, look at Wikipedia (more below on that), or ask your teacher because they will probably know if your topic will have sources to support what you want to write about.
Source credibility is also important. You can easily Google an author to find out who they are. Dr. Seuss may be credible as a children's author but certainly not as a medical professional. Make sure your author has the background to be trusted in the field you are writing for, or the base of your paper will be completely off.
Wikipedia is Evil... Or is it?
Let's be honest for a second. Most teachers scream bloody murder at the mention of Wikipedia. Most students don't care and use it anyways. Is there a middle ground?
Wikipedia is an amazing source of information but like all things on the internet it can be wrong or misleading. However, generally the editors are good at making sure information is well sourced and as accurate as possible. What does this mean for you? Do not disregard Wikipedia because your teacher says to. There are ways to legitimately use Wikipedia in a paper or even just to find sources you need.
Using Wikipedia as a Source
Using Wikipedia is possible but can be tricky, so here is an example of how it can be used.
Paper Topic: Queen Mary I of England (Bloody Mary).
Sub Topic: The Marriage of Mary and Phillip
You want information on Mary and Phillip, so you scroll down and read what it has to say. First, you make sure everything that you want to quote has a number by it. This ensures there is a book entry for it. Since there is a good quote like "Their marriage at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 took place just two days after their first meeting. Philip could not speak English, and so they spoke in a mixture of Spanish, French, and Latin." we now have something to work with.
95 and 96 are direct quotes from (95) Loades, pp. 224–225; Porter, pp. 318, 321; Waller, pp. 86–87; Whitelock, p. 237 (96) Porter, p. 319; Waller, pp. 87, 91.
What does that mean? Go online to find these books online, or go check them out from the library and you have good sources for your paper. Looking at the bottom of a Wikipedia page at the sources can tell you A) if there are a lot of sources for the subject and B) if a source is quoted a lot if it is valuable enough to buy or check out from a library.
You don't necessarily have to get the book though, you can usually use the quote as is because it has a citation with it. As long as the quote has the cited source, you have everything you need to fulfill your required citation. This cuts older methods of research drastically and will make your paper quite a bit easier to write.
Whether you are writing 1 page or 100 pages you should have found some helpful guidelines to follow in beginning to write a research paper. Remember that there are many distractions out there and you need to be firm to withstand them. Good luck writing your research paper!