HOW TO START (AND COMPLETE) A RESEARCH PAPER
You are a re-entry student and it's been fourteen years since you've written a paper. You coasted through high school on your charm and good looks and never actually wrote a research paper. You have written research papers, but every time is like the first time, and the first time was like a root canal. How do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach to starting and completing a research paper.
- Choose a topic.
- Read and keep records.
- Form a thesis.
- Create a mind map or outline.
- Read again.
- Rethink your thesis.
- Draft the body.
- Add the beginning and end.
- Proofread and edit.
You may read this TIP Sheet from start to finish before you begin your paper, or skip to the steps that are causing you the most grief.
1. Choosing a topic: Interest, information, and focus
Your job will be more pleasant, and you will be more apt to retain information if you choose a topic that holds your interest. Even if a general topic is assigned ("Write about impacts of GMO crops on world food supply"), as much as possible find an approach that suits your interests. Your topic should be one on which you can find adequate information; you might need to do some preliminary research to determine this. Go to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in the reference section of the library, or to an electronic database such as Proquest or Wilson Web, and search for your topic. The Butte College Library Reference Librarians are more than happy to assist you at this (or any) stage of your research. Scan the results to see how much information has been published. Then, narrow your topic to manageable size:
|Too Broad: Childhood diseases||Too Broad: Eating disorders|
|Focused: Juvenile Diabetes||Focused: Anorexia Nervosa|
Once you have decided on a topic and determined that enough information is available, you are ready to proceed. At this point, however, if you are having difficulty finding adequate quality information, stop wasting your time; find another topic.
2. Preliminary reading & recordkeeping
Gather some index cards or a small notebook and keep them with you as you read. First read a general article on your topic, for example from an encyclopedia. On an index card or in the notebook, record the author, article and/or book title, and all publication information in the correct format (MLA or APA, for example) specified by your instructor. (If you need to know what publication information is needed for the various types of sources, see a writing guide such as SF Writer.) On the index cards or in your notebook, write down information you want to use from each identified source, including page numbers. Use quotation marks on anything you copy exactly, so you can distinguish later between exact quotes and paraphrasing. (You will still attribute information you have quoted or paraphrased.)
Some students use a particular index card method throughout the process of researching and writing that allows them great flexibility in organizing and re-organizing as well as in keeping track of sources; others color-code or otherwise identify groups of facts. Use any method that works for you in later drafting your paper, but always
start with good recordkeeping.
3. Organizing: Mind map or outline
Based on your preliminary reading, draw up a working mind map or outline. Include any important, interesting, or provocative points, including your own ideas about the topic. A mind map is less linear and may even include questions you want to find answers to. Use the method that works best for you. The object is simply to group ideas in logically related groups. You may revise this mind map or outline at any time; it is much easier to reorganize a paper by crossing out or adding sections to a mind map or outline than it is to laboriously start over with the writing itself.
4. Formulating a thesis: Focus and craftsmanship
Write a well defined, focused, three- to five-point thesis statement, but be prepared to revise it later if necessary. Take your time crafting this statement into one or two sentences, for it will control the direction and development of your entire paper.
For more on developing thesis statements, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
5. Researching: Facts and examples
Now begin your heavy-duty research. Try the internet, electronic databases, reference books, newspaper articles, and books for a balance of sources. For each source, write down on an index card (or on a separate page of your notebook) the publication information you will need for your works cited (MLA) or bibliography (APA) page. Write important points, details, and examples, always distinguishing between direct quotes and paraphrasing. As you read, remember that an expert opinion is more valid than a general opinion, and for some topics (in science and history, for example), more recent research may be more valuable than older research. Avoid relying too heavily on internet sources, which vary widely in quality and authority and sometimes even disappear before you can complete your paper.
Never copy-and-paste from internet sources directly into any actual draft of your paper. For more information on plagiarism, obtain from the Butte College Student Services office a copy of the college's policy on plagiarism, or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
6. Rethinking: Matching mind map and thesis
After you have read deeply and gathered plenty of information, expand or revise your working mind map or outline by adding information, explanations, and examples. Aim for balance in developing each of your main points (they should be spelled out in your thesis statement). Return to the library for additional information if it is needed to evenly develop these points, or revise your thesis statement to better reflect what you have learned or the direction your paper seems to have taken.
7. Drafting: Beginning in the middle
Write the body of the paper, starting with the thesis statement and omitting for now the introduction (unless you already know exactly how to begin, but few writers do). Use supporting detail to logically and systematically validate your thesis statement. For now, omit the conclusion also.
For more on systematically developing a thesis statement, see TIP sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
8. Revising: Organization and attribution
Read, revise, and make sure that your ideas are clearly organized and that they support your thesis statement. Every single paragraph should have a single topic that is derived from the thesis statement. If any paragraph does not, take it out, or revise your thesis if you think it is warranted. Check that you have quoted and paraphrased accurately, and that you have acknowledged your sources even for your paraphrasing. Every single idea that did not come to you as a personal epiphany or as a result of your own methodical reasoning should be attributed to its owner.
For more on writing papers that stay on-topic, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay." For more on avoiding plagiarism, see the Butte College Student Services brochure, "Academic Honesty at Butte College," or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
9. Writing: Intro, conclusion, and citations
Write the final draft. Add a one-paragraph introduction and a one-paragraph conclusion. Usually the thesis statement appears as the last sentence or two of the first, introductory paragraph. Make sure all citations appear in the correct format for the style (MLA, APA) you are using. The conclusion should not simply restate your thesis, but should refer to it. (For more on writing conclusions, see the TIP Sheet "How to Structure an Essay.") Add a Works Cited (for MLA) or Bibliography (for APA) page.
10. Proofreading: Time and objectivity
Time permitting, allow a few days to elapse between the time you finish writing your last draft and the time you begin to make final corrections. This "time out" will make you more perceptive, more objective, and more critical. On your final read, check for grammar, punctuation, correct word choice, adequate and smooth transitions, sentence structure, and sentence variety. For further proofreading strategies, see the TIP Sheet "Revising, Editing, and Proofreading."
How to write introductory paragraph for research paper
The writing of the research paper is a multi-aspect process. Because this type of academic assignment consists of several parts. If you fail to complete one of the levels, you will fail the whole paper.
Introduction is not a literal beginning
As you know, the hardest part is just to begin the paper. And what should do student at the beginning? Not writing an outline. And not working on the introduction. He should make a massive research on his topic. You cannot start writing an introduction without having a personal view on the issue that you are going to study. You have to prepare for introduction writing though analyzing facts available online and making notes. If it's hard to do it yourself, the online essay help service will solve this problem instantly!
Why do we need an introduction?
The key aim of introduction is to introduce to the reader the purpose of your research. Just imagine any academic writing starting from the main body section. You cannot pour on the reader your evidence, ideas, arguments without explanation of what are you writing about. In the introduction, you must clearly indicate the hypothesis you want to prove or deny. You must explain the necessity of your research, its urgency and significance for your study and, finally, hook readers to continue reading it!
What information can I get from my search for the introduction?
It depends on the discipline you are writing the research paper on. If your field of studies is Humanities, it is likely that you can find a relevant quote, aphorism, anecdote to introduce your topic to the reader. In case you study tech, social, medical sciences quotes are irrelevant. More precise and specific facts will fit such introduction. There is a general rule for all specialties too. You must find a fact that will intrigue a reader. You must hook him.
Attract the reader in any case
Imagine that your research paper is a product that you want to sell and be paid for it. Figuratively, it is truth because your aim is to be rewarded with high mark. The first thing salesmen do to sell their product is a promotion of it. They put efforts and use various methods to hook clients. So, what should writers do to attract a reader? Even if you write a research paper, and the style of writing is formal, it is still necessary and possible to draw his attention.
For example, your research paper topic is “How has the music industry been affected by the internet and digital downloading?”. After a hasty internet search, you can find out that there are many legendary musicians like Radiohead that gave up being dependant on music labels and started to issue their LP by themselves, online. Also, there is a site Pledge Music that is a popular crowdfunding platform for modern musicians. Such popular synth-pop band as IAMX raises money there to record and promote their albums.
This two facts prove that digital downloading somehow effect music industry, and it is urgent to research this topic to learn the character of this effect.
Writing a thesis statement
What do you feel what you watch a good teaser for the movie? You feel hooked, intrigued and eager to watch the story till the end. The same result you must achieve with the thesis statement in research paper. You must indicate the highlights of your essay, and leave an opened question, a mystery, which the reader will want to learn for sure.
To provide a worthy example of research paper thesis statement lets return to the discussed above topic “How has the music industry been affected by the internet and digital downloading?”.
A thesis statement is a point that you will have to defend. It mandatorily must not be general. For example, if you declare this statement during the conversation, it will surely provoke a conflict and make all people differ in their attitude and take a side.
Wrong way: “Downloading music from internet is bad and we must fight it."
It leaves too many questions to answer. And this statement is a way too objective, it does not reflect the controversy of your topic. The truth is that there are no absolutely good or totally bad phenomenon. And your thesis statement must show the reality.
Right way: “The culture of digital music consumption must be changed because the creations of musicians become worthless due to activity of web pirates and people stop valuing music according to its merit .”
In this example of thesis, I’ve narrowed my argument to consequences of digital music download on culture of music consumption. I’ve also focused on the fact that main harm for music industry present web pirates. It induces readers to assume that I will argue against them in the main body.
To check if you have created a debatable thesis statement for the research paper, you must figure out whether it is debatable. It means that you must make reader argue either for or against this statement.
Wrong way: “The music industry has changed because of era of the internet.”
It is a statement, but not a thesis statement. It is a general truth. There is no point to argue with that fact. You can narrate about that, but not argue and make research to provide proper evidence to prove your point.
Right way: “Free music download sites must become commercial because recording a music is a full-time job of musicians and every work must be rewarded.”
Now it is debatable. Opponents can argue that product that music product is not principal way to earn money for musicians, and internet is a the most effective way to promote their creation and lure audience to visit their concerts, what is a real way to earn money.
Avoid puzzlement. It means that you must not overdo with previous two thesis statement tips. It must be focused and debatable and should also show your side. In the latter example we can easily see that the writer is against free music download because it affects negatively on the work of music industry and he is going to prove why in the main body.
Research paper introduction writing tips
Research paper introduction is essential part of your writing and it must be created according to certain rules. It is true that when you write any kind of text you can push yourself too hard and cross borders of norms. Because academic styles of writing are referred to creative writing as well. You look for information, then analyze it, come up with thoughts, ideas, and reflect it in a coherent text. Next tips will show you how to fulfill the purpose of research paper introduction and get rid of the creative mess.
Size matters. Before a tutor starts reading the article, he reviews it visually. If the size of introduction is too large, it will make a bad impression on your paper. Just remember, all you have to present in the introduction is: definition of the topic idea and its urgency, explanation of the aim of the research, facts to hook the reader and thesis statement.
Be logical. Your introduction will be really strong if it contains key ideas only in few sentences. To reach such result it is important to satisfy logical connection of the thoughts. Your goal is to make reader understand in the end of the introduction what exactly you attempted to achieve in research paper and why this problem worth profound research.
Make it the last part. Many successful students firstly work on the whole outline, write the body of the paper and only then form the introduction. That’s because a person becomes more sure in what direction his research goes only after at least shallow search and analysis of sources.
Review previous studies of your topic. Every person can study the same topic in a different way. Before you start your own research, you must become aware of the discoveries other scholars made on this issue. Any result will be a reliable background for the future work. Note that it is better to indicate recent developments in the primary research rather than a lengthy report.
Research paper introduction example
Finally, when we have analyzed all highlights of introduction writing we can gather all parts of it in one, ultimate part of a paper. Lets refresh the exemplary topic of it: “How has the music industry been affected by the internet and digital downloading?”. Now, have a look at research paper introduction example:
“The musical marketing turns to be digital according to demands of current online epoche. Such underground, but worldwide famous bands like Radiohead and IAMX gain profit from the internet and use it as a primary source to show the audience their creation. On the other hand, many artists find digital era harmful and destructive for their creativity because there are many sites that offer their product for free, giving no profit to the creator. Currently, there are more and more studies that reveal the business side of music industry far from a positive side. This research paper will define whether the culture of digital music consumption must be changed because the creations of musicians become worthless due to an activity of web pirates and because people have stopped valuing music according to its merit.”
As you see, all main components are preserved in the example above. First sentences hook readers, the mid part of the introduction prove the reason of the research and thesis statement puts debatable argument that needs further analysis and right solution.
Integrity is a key
After you created the final paper, be decisive to make necessary changes and correction especially before the submission. It usually happens that in the end of the research a writer can face with inconsistencies in all sections of his writing. If the whole paper does not sound a cohesive text, make improvements. If your main part does not the answer the question raised in the introduction nothing obstructs you from adjusting its sense to the ideas from the main body. A paper with a cohesive text deserve high mark, so rule your writing!
Now you’re a winner
I suppose that before you came across this article you underestimated the value of worthy introductive paragraph. In fact, I have not introduced you another meaningful feature of it. You know that all academic essay must end with a conclusive paragraph. There is an assumption that this is the hardest part of research paper completion. In fact, if you have succeeded in making of impressive introduction, you will significantly facilitate the process of conclusion writing.