In writing a research paper, you will use the skills you have already learned, such as summary, analysis, and synthesis. You will go beyond the readings in the text, however, to add breadth and depth to your paper. Depending on your topic, you might use library research, field research (interviews, surveys, etc.), or a combination of the two.
What follows is a list of the steps you will take in planning and writing the paper. Remember that writing is a recursive process; you will not necessarily follow these steps in this order, and you may find yourself backtracking and looping.
Find a Subject
Decide what subject you are going to research and write about. Your text provides you with a wealth of ideas to start with. Use it as a springboard for discovering ideas.
Develop a Research Question
Formulate an important question that you would like to answer through your research. This helps you narrow and focus your topic. The answer to the research question will become your thesis statement.
Conduct Preliminary Research
To help you narrow your topic further and to find out what general information has been written on your topic, look at some general sources on your topic. Consult knowledgeable people, general and specialized encyclopedias, overviews and bibliographies in recent books, the Bibliographic Index, and subject heading guides. Consult your reference librarian for suggestions.
Conduct Focused Research
Consult books, electronic databases, general and specialized periodicals, biographical indexes, general and specialized dictionaries, government publications, and other appropriate sources. Conduct interviews and surveys, as necessary. In most cases, your research will be based on one or more of the following:
The sources that you find most useful will probably depend on your topic. Although books will deal with a topic in much greater depth than a journal article will, books take longer to write and publish. If you are doing research on a topic that changes weekly or monthly, you might find that journal articles (whether in paper or electronic form) are more current. On the other hand, you might want the historical background of a subject that only a book can provide. Too many times students use the sources that are the easiest to find, whether they are the best sources or not. Let your topic determine what sources would work best for your paper.
- Electronic databases (unless you are on campus, you might need a password to access these sources)
- Internet sources (articles and Web sites)
- Specialized reference sources
- Interviews and surveys
Develop a Working Thesis
Your question may have changed slightly in the process of conducting initial researchwhich is natural. As you discover more about your topic, you adjust your perspective. Now that you have done some initial research and are more able to draw conclusions from your research, formulate a working thesis that attempts to respond to your research question.
Develop a Working Bibliography
Keep a working bibliography (either paper or electronic) of your sources. Make this bibliography easy to sort and rearrange. Include all bibliographic information in the bibliography to be used in the "Works Cited" or "References" page.
Attempt to determine the veracity and reliability of your sources (particularly Internet sources). Before taking notes on the source, skim the source and check the date of publication. Look for references to other important sources. Use your critical reading skills; check the Book Review Digest; look up biographies of authors to check their credentials.
Take Notes from Sources
Paraphrase and summarize important information and ideas from your sources. Copy down important quotations. Note page numbers from sources of this quoted and summarized material.
Arrange Your Notes According to Your Outline
Examine your working thesis and write down the components of the thesis that need to be supported in the paper. Determine a writing strategy (comparison/contrast, cause/effect, etc.) for your paper. Develop a working outline of topics to be covered in your paper. Arrange your notes according to this outline.
Write Your Draft
Write the preliminary draft of your paper, working from your notes, according to your outline. Your goal in drafting your paper is to support your thesis by clearly and logically presenting your evidence. Work from your notes, but be sure that the paper uses the sources to present your perspective on the topic. Don't worry about perfection at this point. Put your ideas on paper and plan for time to revise extensively.
Take care to cite all quoted, paraphrased, and summarized source material, making sure that your own wording and sentence structure differ from those of your sources.
Use in-text citations and a "Works Cited" or "References" list, according to the conventions of the discipline (or your teacher's instructions).
Revise Your Draft
Use transitional words and phrases to ensure coherence and check for style. Make sure that the research paper reads smoothly, logically, and clearly from beginning to end and check for grammatical correctness, punctuation, and spelling.