Throughout your school career, you will be asked to write many research papers. A research paper represents a gathering of information that you have worked to evaluate, organize, and present in a specific, organized format. It is important that you are familiar with the rules regarding research papers so that you can write the best paper possible, and avoid making embarrassing mistakes by including incorrect information or misrepresenting or misquoting your sources.
Step One: Choosing a Topic
Whether your topic has been assigned to you, or you are able to choose a topic of your own, it is important to keep your topic as narrowed and focused as possible. For example, if your assignment is to write a 2-3 page paper, you will need to narrow down your topic so that your information will fit. It is impossible to adequately cover “The Most Important People of the 20th Century” in 2-3 pages! But, “The Most Influential Celebrities of 2012” may be more attainable.
Step Two: Researching Questions
Now that you have narrowed the focus of your paper, you must create appropriate questions to guide your research.
Ask yourself: What do I need to find out? What type of information do I need? What do I know about this topic? What do I need to know about this topic? What do my readers need to know?
Step Three: Pre-Writing
It is important to begin your pre-writing before you start gathering information for your report. If you have thought about the direction of your paper, you will be less likely to be influenced by outside sources in your research. If you don’t know much about your topic, try to complete the form with generalities or assumptions. Once you have done your research, you can replace any inaccurate information.
Step Four: Gathering Information
A source is anything you use to get your information, such as the Internet, book, newspaper, magazine, interview, poll, map, video, etc. Often, teachers will require you to obtain and use a certain minimum number of sources for your research paper. Additionally, they may require you to use specific sources, such as an encyclopedia, biography, newspaper, website, etc. Research Notes/Sources handouts can help while you gather your information at this stage.
It is important to note that there are two general types of resources: primary and secondary. You may use either or both. Primary sources are those that offer first- hand knowledge and information. Autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, journals, and anything created during the time period in which you are researching is considered a primary source. Secondary sources provide an interpretation of primary sources.
Secondary sources include reference books, biographies, essays, and journal articles.
When you have decided which types of sources you would like to use, you need to take your questions to the library and search for resources that answer those questions. As you gather your information, you may also create more questions, or modify the ones you already have, as long as they still are within your focused topic.
Step Five: Note-taking
Take notes from each of your resources using abbreviations, summaries, phrases or words. Leave out unimportant words such as a, an, and the. Write out the entire sentence ONLY when you plan on using it as a quote in your paper. Keep track of the resources you have used in order to create your Works Cited page. As you take notes, write the information about the source on the Sources page. “Note A” should correspond to “Source A,” “Note B” to “Source B,” etc.
Step Six: Organizing
Once you have gathered all of the information you think you may need, it is time to organize your information. For each page of notes, number your information in order of importance. Arrange your notes into a logical order. Cross out any duplicate information.
Step Seven: Creating a Rough Draft
Once you have completed organizing your essay, you can begin writing the rough draft. Using lined paper, or the Research Paper Organizer, rewrite your essay, skipping every other line on the paper for editing purposes. For the rough draft, work to fix any spelling and/or punctuation errors, as well as to improve your vocabulary and sentence length. Add in your support (refer to Incorporating Quotations on pages 147-149). Finally, compile your Works Cited page.
Step Eight: Peer Editing
You are now ready to begin peer editing. Check other students’ papers for spelling, punctuation, organization, structure, etc. and really work to help them to become better writers! Once your paper has been edited by two peer editors, you are ready to begin the process of polishing your essay.
Step Nine: Polishing
The process of polishing is like putting the icing on the cake. It is at this point that you will add bridges, fix spelling and punctuation errors, improve sentence length, and make sure all information has been credited for a final product!