Writing a research paper allows you to explore a topic through research and analysis. The length of your paper will vary, but often ranges between 10 and 15 pages. Some teachers may provide you with a research topic, or you might choose your own. With a topic in hand, you may feel overwhelmed about the task ahead, but essentially, you only have to complete four stages of the research paper process before you have a paper you feel confident submitting.
Your first step in the process involves thoroughly researching your topic. Explore a number of sources to get as much information as possible on your topic. To begin, you may want to perform an Internet search or look through encyclopedias to gain background on the subject. Look through books and periodicals as well. For another source of information, you may want to interview experts on your topic. If your paper involves a controversial topic, you should consider all viewpoints and provide research from differing perspectives as well. Once you have sources of information on the topic, you need to evaluate the credibility of each source. For example, Internet sources may include reader-added data, and your teacher may not accept these sources for your paper. Make note cards or organize your research in other ways. You should then create a bibliography with the sources you used during the research process.
Make an Outline
After you complete your research, you will most likely have some ideas on how you want to explain your topic. At this point, you will need to formulate a thesis statement, the main idea of your paper. For example, if writing about the regions in Northwest Mexico, your thesis statement may address distinct differences or similarities. With your thesis statement in mind, begin by making a list of the key points about the topic and this will make up the first level of your outline. When considering the northwestern regions in Mexico, your first level of the outline might break down by region: Baja, Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Sonora. Your next levels for each might include population, agriculture or other regional facts. Once you have a basic outline, you may want to go through your notes to check for any information you want to include but left out initially. Make changes to your outline as necessary, but having this as a guideline will help you have a logical flow to your paper and help you through the writing process.
Write a Draft
Guided by your outline, you can begin writing the first draft of your paper. If you allow yourself plenty of time for this portion of the process, you can focus on one section at a time, making sure to include as much of your research as necessary. When you leave your paper until the last minute, you run the risk of rushing through the process and leaving out valuable details that may help the reader understand your position on the topic.
After you complete your initial draft, proofread your paper carefully. Look for grammar issues and proper sentence structure. You should also make sure you have good transitions between paragraphs and main ideas. Make sure you cite your sources when necessary and that you relayed your data accurately. Consider the structure of the essay and ask yourself if it works. Make any changes necessary and continue revising.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Where do I begin?
- Cornell University Library: The Seven Steps of the Research Process
- The Bedford Guide to the Research Process; Jean Johnson
- Smithsonian: Mexico Regional Overview
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