College advice: A few tricks to starting your research paper

Student Research Paper Advice

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Starting a research paper, like any art form, begins with simple strokes. And much like painting or sculpting, the first steps are often the hardest. The trick to getting past this proverbial road block is to just get your ideas down on paper, even if they are not fully formed. Perfecting and refining your ideas can come later. It is much more difficult to work on ideas if they remained bottled in your head. Here are some helpful hints for getting started on your research papers this semester.

Always be refining

As with any great artist, you should always be refining. But what if you are stuck on how to start your paper? Well, nobody says that you have to start at the very beginning. Sometimes starting with the middle of a lengthy research paper, getting right into what you really want to talk about can help you get past the initial writer’s block that so often plagues us college students. According to the article, “The Secrets to Starting Your Paper Instead of Procrastinating,” from Briarcliffe College, “You shouldn’t write just anything, but you should start writing anything topic-related if you can’t get past the first sentence or two. Organization is usually the hardest part of building an effective argument, so start by choosing paragraph topics and typing any evidence that could support it.” You’ll end up having to rearrange your paragraphs by the time you’re through, but that is a normal step of revision.

Research paper introductions

Now, since you finally know where you are taking your audience, it is easier to form an introduction to lead them cohesively into the body of your paper. You don’t need to give a full play-by-play of your research paper in the introduction, but do give a preview of the topic and let your readers know what direction you’ll be taking your research through your thesis. Writing your introduction second (or even last) may not be entirely intuitive or what they teach you in high school, but once you get the hang of it, it can help with those pesky papers and writer’s block. Intuition, despite what you may think, is partially learned. And knowing that, here is another trick for starting a paper.

You’re not in high school anymore

Forget everything that you learned in high school about writing an essay. You’ve made it to college because you’re an intelligent student. While that five paragraph essay format was just fine back in your high school days, it won’t quite do the trick in college. According to the article “Welcome to College: Say Goodbye to the Five-Paragraph Essay,” by author Elizabeth Guzik, “The five paragraph essay encourages students to engage only on the surface level without attaining the level of cogency demanded by college writing.  In its broad, overarching style, it has a tendency to encourage overly general thesis statements that lead to poorly developed and unfocused papers.  And its formulaic nature makes it prone to produce papers with stilted organization.” It’s also really tricky to avoid simply repeating yourself over and over again in this style of writing. Find your style. There are numerous ways of getting your point across that are easier to work and can fit your style of writing. Most papers do not lend themselves well to just five paragraphs.

Just keep reading!

And the last trick for starting a good research paper is done prior to ever being assigned one. That trick is to just read as much as you possibly can. According to the article “Become a better writer by learning to be a skilled reader,” by Belle Beth Cooper, “Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms, and other genres of writing. Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.” Of course, you’re in college and your time may be pretty maxed out these days. But reading more does not simply mean that you need to pick up a massive novel and spend all your free time reading. You can read anything!

  • Do the “recommended reading” for your class. Your professor often picks this out to give students additional perspective outside of your textbook.
  • Take an elective in literature so you’ll even be graded for your time.
  • Pick up a book of short stories by various authors. This will give you a taste of many styles.

There are many ways and styles of writing but the only way to be exposed to them is to read. So read often and good luck with your research papers.

My name is Tuyet Le and I am a third year sculpture student at Georgia State University.

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