Write a Top-Notch Research Paper

So you've completed the research for your paper and now have a collection of information. What's next? You may think it's time to sit down to write, but that's like setting off on a road trip without a map. Organizing helps you think about what you want to write. It also ensures that you cover all of your points.

Outlining

Your research provides the basis for your organization. Ask yourself, "What did I learn? What do I want to say?" You can play around with the ideas by arranging your research. For example, compile groups of similar ideas, with each group making one main point. After you divvy up the information, you can then organize the groups into a logical order.

If you're having trouble logically arranging your outline, consider one of the following methods:

  • Timeline or chronological order

  • Cause/effect

  • Problem/solution

  • Ranked by importance

In addition to putting the ideas into order, evaluate your material for each of the main points you want to make: Do you have details, examples, evidence to back up your assertions? If not, you may need to go back and do some additional research.

Writing

The writing stage is where many students freak, because they don't know what to say. Often, this leads to a paper in which the writer includes other people's thoughts strung together with a few connecting words. But that paper (and that writing method) is weak. Instead, you need to take your research and interpret in your own way. How do you do this? Start by quizzing yourself.

  • Ask yourself the typical journalism questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Think about what makes the topic unique. Summarize why the topic is important.

  • Identify any tension or controversy about your topic. What are the main issues? What are the conflicting sides or the pros and cons? If there is controversy over the topic, decide on what the consensus is and then ask yourself, "Do I agree? Disagree?"

  • Think about how your topic relates to similar ideas. How does it fit within the overall big picture? Look into how your topic is structured or covered. Consider how your topic has changed or developed over time. Think about what your topic impacts or influences. Ask yourself if things might have turned out differently for any reason and, if so, what the implications would be.

Don't worry about being perfect in your first draft. Just get the words on the paper. Let it flow. Tell a story. Be yourself.

Editing

Even the best writers revise their work, sometimes multiple times. Editing your paper is what makes a so-so paper good or even excellent.

When you work on subsequent drafts, you'll revise, tweak, correct, elaborate, fix, and check your work. You'll do a detailed edit of the ideas, content, organization, and summary. In addition, you'll proofread your work, checking for spelling or grammatical errors.

When reading for content, consider the following:

  • Is the topic interesting? Do you open with a strong statement?

  • Do you argue a unique point in the paper? Make sure the paper isn't just a rehash of what others have said. Add your own unique ideas.

  • Do you have enough evidence to back up your assertions? Make sure that each point you make is well-supported with details.

  • Have you included information that isn't relevant? Sometimes, you'll come across a fact or idea that's interesting, but that doesn't really pertain to your topic. Weed it out.

  • Do you include the opposing view? Acknowledge any opposing opinions. You can then counter those arguments, explaining why that reasoning is invalid or not applicable.

  • Do the ideas flow in a logical order? Do paragraphs transition from one idea to the next? Are the ideas balanced? Your paper is lopsided if you cover one point in great detail (long paragraph) and the rest in short paragraphs.

  • Are all your sources cited? Most often instructors ask you to follow MLA guidelines for citing works.

  • Did you follow the instructor's style guidelines? Use the correct font styles and sizes, margins for the body, the title page, headers or footers, and the bibliography or Works Cited page.

  • Did you check for errors? Correct all spelling or grammatical errors. Neither the grammar nor the spell checker in your word-processing program is foolproof, so you'll need to proofread your work.

Using your assignment as a guide, check that you've met all the requirements of the project.