Writing Great Research Papers

How many research papers do students write during the course of their education?




Regardless of the number, research papers make up a large portion of both high school and college courses. They are required not only for English classes, but also Science, History, Philosophy, Sociology�the list goes on. It is an integral part of reading comprehension and the ability to uncover information from a variety of sources. The problem is that few students really know how to write one.

They are usually the bane of every students’ existence, but if understood and written correctly, they don’t have to be! Research papers are really quite simply when the formula is understood, and when you’ve written one successful research paper, you’ve written a thousand.


Follow my steps, and you’ll be well on your way to research paper success. Even if you’ve never written an “A” paper before, you can do it now, and not spend hours on end struggling over structure and content.

1. Choose A Topic

Obviously. Actually, though, the amount of time you spend working on your paper will depend largely on the topic. If it is assigned to you, then you don’t have much leeway, but if you are allowed to choose your own, then make it easy one yourself!

Let’s say that the paper is on the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s a fairly common classic, and you have probably read it at some point in life, if not for this particular class. The fact that you have to write about themes in particular does not make the task harder; it actually makes it easier.

For our purposes, we’ll say that the paper must be at least five thousand words, must cite at least four sources, and must be on at least three specific themes. Your next obstacle is to choose the themes. In order to make the paper easier to write, choose the three broadest themes from the book so that they will be easier to research. For example, if you chose “Lightness versus Darkness” as one of your themes, you probably won’t find much information in the library. I can see it as a subtle theme, but you are making it harder on yourself by choosing an obscure topic.

On a piece of paper, write down the three themes that you have chosen, with several lines of space between each topic.

2. Find Your Sources

I recommend completing this section next because it is the one that might take you to the library, and you will need it before you actually begin writing. Go to the school or the public library and use the computer catalog to look up books or articles written about To Kill A Mockingbird. Jot down their titles and numbers, and pull them from the shelves when you have six or so. Then sit down with the books and start making notes about each of the sources.

The idea here is not to write down extraneous information. You don’t want to have three pages of irrelevant notes because they won’t help you with your paper. Only write down information that pertains to themes.

Make sure that the notes you take are categorized by the source, and that you don’t mix up the information.

3. Pre-Writing

Most educational veterans cringe at the idea of pre-writing, but don’t worry – it’s not as scary as you think. Take your notes and the piece of paper with the three themes written on it and start to further categorize the information. Take the information from your notes and separate it into three areas; if it belongs under Theme #1, write it there; if it relates to Theme #2, record it below that line, and so on. Have a second sheet of paper for information that pertains to the subject in general, and not to a specific theme.

Believe it or not, you have just written your paper!

4. First Draft

What you write next will not be recorded in stone. You will probably change it later, so don’t worry about sentence structure, grammar or spelling. Sit down at your computer and start to write your paper, using the information from your notes. It should be in five sections: Your introduction, the first theme, the second theme, the third theme, and the conclusion, though since this is a five-thousand-word paper, there will be multiple paragraphs for each section.

As you write, cross off the information from your notes. This eliminates the possibility of repeating yourself.

When you’re done, read it over and make sure that all of your information is correct, and that you’ve stayed on topic. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling just yet. You are only checking for the content of your paper.

5. Bibliography

Let your paper “cool off” for a little while to write your bibliography. Take all of the sources that you used and record their names, authors, publication houses, dates of publication, and publication dates. An entry in your bibliography should look like this:

Doe, Jane. Themes In To Kill A Mockingbird. ABC Publishing, New York, NY: 1976.

6. Revise & Edit

Now that you have been away from your paper for a while, go back and check for grammar, spelling, and cohesiveness. The paper should flow well with smooth transitions, and should make sense to the reader. If you need a second pair of eyes, solicit a friend or suitemate to read and comment on the paper.

And you’re done! Obviously, for longer papers, it will take more time, but this is the basic idea. Take things step-by-step, and you won’t be overwhelmed by the project and it will cause you less stress.

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