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A Step-by-Step Guide for an Effective Research Paper

Research papers can't just be your standard five-paragraph essay. Here's some step-by-step advice for writing an effective paper that'll score you a good grade.

Research papers are a big part of your academic career in college, but it’s never to early to learn how to write one. Developing this important skill as early as possible will only help you in the long run because it will improve your writing and critical thinking skills, which are universally important to your future career. But Before we start our discussion off about how to write an effective research paper, let us go over the basics and talk about what even is a research paper.

What is a research paper?

A research paper is basically a type of academic writing that should have theoretical and significant data that has gone through proper in-depth research. Take the five-paragraph expository essays of your high school days and imagine them on a more detailed—more epic—scale! They may also contain arguments based on a thesis with vital evidence from various helpful and reliable sources.

Though writing a research paper may seem painstaking and difficult at first, it really isn’t all too complicated once you know what proper steps you can follow to make it easier. It may be challenging because of the intensive research that it needs, but it doesn’t have to be frustrating for anyone. Before starting the steps, be sure you have enough note paper, various colors of highlighters (for your research markings) and index cards. Also take note, that reading the checklist regarding research ethics could also be of big help for you and writing your research paper. Start off by following these essential steps:

  • Select a topic that inspires you
  • Find reliable sources
  • Organize your notes
  • Brainstorm a substantial outline
  • Write a first draft
  • Read through first draft and re-write
  • Edit

Related: 5 Helpful Ways to Improve Your Writing in College

Select your research topic

If you have the freedom to choose what to write about, it is generally best to choose a topic you’ve always been curious about so that you have interest in it learning about it in depth. Choosing a topic that doesn’t interest you much might not give that motivation to do effective research. Also remember to be specific when selecting a topic. A common mistake is choosing a subject that is too general—a wealth of resources about a broad topic can quickly become overwhelming.

Proper research

A great place to do reliable (quiet!) research for your sources is the library. There are various potential references available there and countless books, published articles, journals, etc.—not to mention free internet access—that you can go over to find exactly what you need. Try finding yourself a cozy place, away from distractions, where you can do research. Use notebooks or index cards to track information as you uncover it in your research. It is best to be familiar with the services available and where your potential sources are located. Try asking the librarians for their help conducting the most effective research as possible as well; that’s why they’re there! And you can take those lessons on with you as you continue researching at home. Remember: the internet is a rich, invaluable resource, and there are many legitimate scholarly articles to be found, but always check your facts using alternative sites and reference books.

Taking down the notes

Be organized when taking notes and learn what information is essential and contributive to your research so you’re not bogged down with useless facts and statistics. Color code your notes by topic and highlight the essential details so you can find that specific topic easily. You may also try photocopying an article or a page from a book if there is too much to jot down. Highlighters pay a big role in this because you can highlight only what you need to remember when writing your research paper. Every time you make note of something, write down the bibliographical information, including the author, book title, page numbers used, volume number, publisher name, and dates. This is vital to use in your research paper.

Related: Tips for Better Organization and Study Habits in High School

Write an outline

After your in-depth research, you are now ready to write an outline. With the notes you took down, you can start brainstorming where the topics and supporting information best fit. They don’t necessary have to be structured in a sentence, as this is only the “brainstorming” part. Does that statistic belong in the beginning, middle, or end of the paper? Is that anecdote good introduction material? You can rearrange as needed. This is a crucial part and may take longer than the other steps, but it’s well worth the time and effort, because this is the foundation of your final research paper.

Work on your first draft

When you’re finished with your outline, you may start on your first draft. Since your outline is done, you may now structure it into sentence and paragraph form, putting more life and detail into the paper so that people can better understand the point you’re trying to make. You may do more necessary research along the way if you feel like your information is lacking. And relax—this is only the first draft, so you can still change things around.

Write and edit your final paper

Once your first draft feels right, with all the vital information and sources put in, you can proceed to editing and writing out your final paper. Check for grammatical and typographical errors and spelling. Also, make sure that every source used is in your bibliography page. Do your final adjustments and read over it as many times as you’d like to make sure that it meets your professor’s requirements.

Related: English Grammar Cheat Sheet for Students

Research papers are no joke, and professors will expect higher quality and more lengthy writing than the five-paragraph essays you’re used to. Use this guide to stay organized and on-task in your writing, and you’re sure to write a research paper that’ll impress and you can be proud of.

For more expert general writing advice for any kind of assignment, check out the tag “writing tips” to read more blogs and articles.

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