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Writing a Research Paper

Updated on April 7, 2011

Writing a research paper can seem like an insurmountable challenge.  Breaking your project down into a few basic steps can make the task much simpler, and give you the motivation you need to get your assignment finished quickly and successfully.

1.        Narrow Down Your Topic.  The first thing you must know is what you are going to write about.  Your topic must be very specific or you will waste a large amount of time searching for information you do not need.  For example, instead of choosing elephants as a research topic, try to come up with a question about elephants that you would be interested in answering.  How do elephants communicate?  What are the migration patterns of elephants?  Having a question in mind will enable you to complete your research quickly.

2.       Research your topic.  Use the internet and other resources to find journal articles, books, reports, statistics, and other information related to your research question.  Start with the basics.  Get the background information that you need to know first, then proceed to delve more deeply to get the details that will answer your question.  As you gather your sources, keep their information handy in a single text file, or on index cards.  You will need this later for your bibliography.

3.       Outline your paper.  Starting with your question, write a brief outline of the content of your research.  Put your question in the introduction and then give a brief overview of your subject, the basic information your reader needs to know in order to grasp your subject.  After this get into the meat of your paper where you answer your proposed question.  End with an summarizing paragraph that relates the importance of your topic and suggestions for further research.

4.       Write.  Begin to write your paper using your outline as a guide.   At this point, it’s best not to delay yourself by worrying about grammar and editing.  Simply get your thoughts down on paper and keep your focus on the content of your research.

5.       Take a break.  Phew, that was tough! If you can afford the time before your deadline, take a break from your paper for a day or two.  No doubt that you’ve spent hours on it by now.  Allowing yourself a day or so away from your writing, will enable you to give it a fresh perspective when you come back to it.

6.       Edit.  Edit your paper for grammar, sentence structure, and effective writing.  Give your paper to a couple friends or family to look over, and ask if they understand the topic that you are addressing. 

7.       Put on the finishing touches.  Once you have successfully edited your paper,  finalize its appearance by addressing any format requirements given to you.   Make sure you have a title page and a bibliography.  Referencing your sources is the most important part of a research paper.

8.       Celebrate!  Congratulations on finishing your paper.  Enjoy the feeling of accomplishing such a large task and be proud of yourself for seeing it through. 

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