Tips for Writing an Awesome Research Paper
November 1, 2016
By Sophia Kvochak, Writing Tutor
Writing a research paper can be intimidating. Keep these tips in mind and make research paper writing a breeze!
WHAT IS A RESEARCH PAPER?
A research paper in college usually requires you to do independent research on a topic and present your findings in the form of analysis or argument. Just as a lawyer might research cases from the past to support their own case, you as the student might research a variety of sources to develop your argument and support your point of view.
FIND ENOUGH EVIDENCE
The worst thing that can happen when writing a research paper is realizing that you do not have adequate evidence to support your claim. Use all of your available resources to find information and evidence-class materials, the Xavier library, databases, and of course, Google. It is okay to have too many sources at first. Once you organize said sources and determine your claim, you can decide which sources are most relevant. If you find that most of your research materials disagree with your claim, you can change your topic to reflect said materials, or use the materials in such a way that strengthens your research question.
When choosing a topic, be specific and remember that simple is better. It is easy to be overwhelmed because we have access to so much information. That being said, it is much simpler to do solid analysis on a precise, more focused subject rather than an enormous, broad idea. How do you narrow a topic? First, choose any wide-ranging topic. For example, say you were doing research on Italian cuisine, a surprisingly complex subject. The next step would be to find something a little more specific about this topic. In this case, you could research the twenty different regions of Italian cuisine. However, twenty regions are a lot, so you can get even more specific about your topic-you could narrow your focus to one region, such as Sicily. From here, you might pick up on one or two specific issues or questions that you are particularly interested in. Then, think about the "so what?" factor. What is the greater purpose of those issues? As you consider these questions, a thesis or main argument will begin to show itself. You might come to a position on how the food of Sicily was impacted by those of its surrounding regions.
Write an outline! Organizing your ideas logically will be the most difficult part of the research paper. Figure out what your claim is and determine several main points to focus on as support. Then, use your research evidence and decide where it fits in your paper to most successfully contribute to your claim.
Evidence is key when it comes to supporting a research claim. Therefore, the right amount of direct quotes will be one of your greatest assets. I usually stick to no more than three direct quotes per paragraph or no more than 15% of your paper as a whole. In lieu of direct quotes, you may consider paraphrasing. Paraphrasing includes ideas and information from the text, but requires you to restate it in your own words. One effective method for paraphrasing is to read the text several times then step away from it and write down what you just learned in your own words. Although you state information in your own words, it is very important that you cite your paraphrase!
Research papers are not the same as literary analysis essays. Whereas a literary analysis paper often requires you to analyze specific assigned works, research papers usually require your own outside research and analysis. Your audience will likely be looking for such research and analysis. To make this as clear as possible, avoid superfluous and flowery language and stick to the point. Keep in mind that certain disciplines require more direct writing than others. For example, a psychology paper in APA format has very strict writing guidelines and will look different than an English paper in MLA format. However, regardless of the discipline, remember that you want your research paper to show focus in terms of writing style and sticking to your claim.
GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Again, because evidence is so critical to a research paper, good lead-ins to any direct quotes are vital. If your quote comes from a reliable source (which it should), naming the author and where the piece was published will do nothing but solidify your argument. For example: "In her article published in the Journal of Public History, renowned historian and scholar Sophia Kvochak adds, 'Insert quote here'." In-text citations are also important. In MLA format, for example, if you name the author in the signal phrase (as seen above) you only need to include the page number in parentheses: (304). If you do not name the author, your in-text citation would include the author's last name and the page number (Kvochak 304) following the quote.
For any paper, it is important to let it sit for a day or so once you have written your first draft. Then, you can revisit what you have written with a fresh perspective to revise. Look out for important issues like overall organization, clarity and flow, transitions, and refining your thesis. Take advantage of the resources here on campus (especially the Writing Center!) to help you polish the assignment.
There is no doubt that research papers can seem overwhelming. They require lots of independent research and complex analysis. However, by narrowing your topic, finding credible sources, and organizing your ideas, you will be on your way to writing an awesome research paper.