We know that you don’t want to read a super-long article about how to write a research paper. Obviously, your time could be better spent actually writing, or doing literally anything else on this earth.
As such, this guide is structured specifically to help one write a better research paper without having to read something the length of an actual research paper. In other words, this is a light read that will help you tremendously.
The first step to a GREAT research paper is GREAT research.
Well, if you’re reading this you are on our website and there is a search bar at the top of the page, so you might want to give that a shot. Finding research can be difficult, but we have been building CRS for many years and, we think, finding credible sources is a little easier because of it. However, it can still be hard and you may need to look in more than one place to find what you’re looking for.
Here are some tactics we’ve learned while building CRS:
- You can use Wikipedia! You cannot use Wikipedia itself as a reference, but every Wikipedia page has references at the bottom of the page. Some of these references are print-based and won’t be accessible online, but there are usually a few that are. Most of the references you will find are credible sources and the kind of thing you won’t find on the first page of Google. This is a great way to get started with the research process, especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic.
- Search for “Open Access” scholarly journals or articles around the topic. Open Access refers to scholarly works that are open to the public online without paying any fees. Most scholarly publications require some sort of membership and associated fees, but if you include the words Open Access when using Google/Bing to search it should pull up articles that can be viewed freely. (Our search engine includes dozens of Open Access journals.)
- Follow the links. If you see an article by the New York Times or even BuzzFeed that references a study or research of some kind, see if there is a link to the actual source of the information (there should be) and use that as your reference instead of the article. (Of course, you could use both if the article adds to the research.) This will result in you having more information to work with and a more impressive Works Cited page.
Don’t write a good intro – at first. A good intro takes a while to think up and sometimes you won’t be able to until you’ve already written about the subject, or until you’ve finished the whole thing and can clearly understand what would make a good intro. Write a ‘placeholder intro’, seriously the most plain, boring thing you can think of to lead into your first body paragraph.
- Get this out of the way FAST, like stupid fast.
- Of course it should not be rushed, but this is more about starting and making progress than having a great intro. The worst thing you could do is spend time on the intro at the start – this is how you end up with two sentences after the first hour. You can (and should) edit the intro (and the whole thing) when you’re done, so just get something on the page.
- Start with a ‘hook’, like a quote, question, or interesting fact.
- Don’t forget the main objective: Introducing your topic, as well as providing a little background or stating your point, depending on the type of paper.
A thesis statement is generally one sentence in your intro paragraph that sums up exactly what you are writing about. If this guide were to have a thesis statement it would be “There are specific ways to approach the process of writing a research paper that will enhance the quality of the paper and reduce the time it takes to complete it.”
3 pages, 5, or 10? Well, believe it or not it matters very little. This impacts only the time it takes to complete the assignment, not how you should go about it. If you have a long paper to write, many students would adapt the mentality of embellishing an extra page or two to meet the minimum requirement.
The answer here is more research. The more research you have, the easier it is to write more about a subject. If you have an abundance of research you should be able to meet any length requirements for the assignment.
Tips for the body:
- More research, more to write about.
- A thesaurus is super helpful for regurgitating the same things you’ve said before to meet the min. page requirement.
- Organization is important – you may not be the type to do outlines, but be mindful of the order in which you present information and what info/points you are discussing in each paragraph. Ask yourself how rearranging your paragraphs would affect the paper (ex: swapping the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, etc.). Most teachers will pay attention to the structure of your thoughts and points, and poor organization could hurt your grade.
- Let your research dictate how you write. If you found some interesting studies on the topic you are writing about, what is the most powerful way to reveal that interesting information? This goes back to the importance of organization, but also speaks to the importance of research. Write about the best stuff, in the best order, and your body will be the easiest part of the whole paper.
Who cares? You’re done!
Just kidding, hopefully you still care a little (or ever did). Generally speaking, most students probably aren’t failing because of their conclusions. The requirements here are a bit simpler. Most teachers are looking for something that clearly makes it a conclusion (the cringe-worthy “In conclusion…” phrase comes to mind, but there are so many), so make sure you check that off the list. A masterful conclusion will connect the points made in the body of the paper together to support the thesis. Now that you have provided all of the necessary background information and research, the conclusion gives you an opportunity to tie it all together.
Let’s Talk About Editing…
Good writing is just average writing that has been edited by someone who knows what good writing is.
There are many reasons students don’t edit their writing, or why they won’t do multiple drafts – but they don’t have anything to do with the work it takes, the desired grade, or the aptitude of the student.
Editing can literally result in a straight-up letter grade improvement, on one assignment but also, if made into a habit, on one’s entire GPA. Furthermore, the hard part of writing a research paper is usually writing 5 pages of anything (or whatever ungodly number of pages you’ve been assigned), or maybe figuring out APA format, etc. Editing simply requires one to read what they’ve written and fix some typos or poorly-structured sentences. At the absolute worst, you might have to rewrite a paragraph; unless the thing is a disaster, you probably won’t have that much editing to do. This is all to say, editing is not, by any measure, the worst part of the process but can provide the largest benefit. You should do it.
Probable (but very poor) reasons students ignore the editing process:
- The requirements are met. Required number of pages are written, the credible sources have been cited, the bibliography and cover page are done, and those are the requirements for the assignment. A student could have all the intention in the world to edit that paper but when those requirements are met and there is another paper, or more homework, that editing isn’t going to happen. The distinction here is that the requirements have been met but the paper isn’t actually done; in other words, you have turned incomplete work even though the basic requirements were met (and your grade will likely suffer for it).
- The paper was started at 10pm Thursday night and it is due by 11:59pm Thursday night. Its too bad, too; it was a solid paper after just 2 hours, but no more time to work on it.
- Editing seems harder than it is. Sure, a first and second draft will leave you very prepared to write the final version, but are you really going to write a paper 3 times? Not likely. Yet, this is how many would think of incorporating editing into the writing process. Multiple drafts are fine, but certainly not the best approach for every student. Editing can happen as you’re writing, the next day, with help from friends, etc. The only rule is that you do have to edit your work, how you do it is entirely up to you.
Truth is, editing can be much less stressful and time-consuming than writing. The bulk of the work is done, now it is simply time to refine and polish that work. If you just pull up the paper and start re-reading it, you will most likely start editing it naturally, even if that was not your intention. Every student has experienced being in class, paper in hand, ready to turn it in, but then something catches your eye. A typo, right there on the first page! How did you miss that? Can’t fix it now, but one more look at the paper before turning it in may have saved you some points.
Again, enough emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that making sure you fully edit your papers will legitimately increase your grades in any classes where you are writing papers.
Once more, for good measure:
Good writing is average writing that has been edited by someone who knows what good writing is.
- Try printing out a copy and carrying it with you so when you have a minute you can proofread it a little, and just use a pen to mark any corrections. This can save you time, and sometimes seeing it on paper can help you notice new things.
- Do your best to give yourself a day or at least a few hours after finishing your work before editing. You want to have “fresh eyes” so that you are better able to catch those typos. When you have read the same paragraphs and sentences over and over noticing something wrong or sounding weird is much harder to do. This means you can’t finish the paper 5 minutes before its due…
- Speaking of fresh eyes, if you can have someone else read it for you and note any errors or weird sentences it can be incredibly helpful. Professional writer’s and novelists usually have a “writer’s circle” – a group of other people who will read their work – where they share each others work for feedback. If it works for the pros it can definitely work for you.
You may need more in-depth help with certain parts of your paper. This guide is meant to be brief and helpful so that one can read or reference it while working on a paper without taking too much time away from the task at hand. Here we have gathered some other resources that might be helpful if you still have questions.
The Art of War for Writers (A fantastic, fun read on this subject)
The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
Gen Ed Writing Guides from the Harvard Writing Project
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (The all-time classic writing guide)