When you’re assigned writing a research paper, don’t panic. Get started right away. The sooner you begin, the more time you’ll have to find the best research paper topics, gather information, and polish your paper into a portfolio piece that earns you an A. Follow this how-to for some tips and resources to help you get off to a good start on your next research paper assignment.
First, make sure that you completely understand the assignment. Read the description that was given to you by your professor. If you have any questions, be sure to ask and keep asking until you are clear on what is required of you. There’s no sense in working hard only to find that you’ve missed the mark on earning an A.
You may think that all research paper assignments are alike. Wrong! According to the folks at ipl2.org, research papers tend to fall into different categories. In their article titled, “A+ research & writing step by step,” types of research papers can include:
- The report: This is where you pick one topic from a list provided by your instructor. Your job is to research the topic and report on what you find. The whole purpose of this kind of assignment is to see how well you can do research, analyze information, organize your findings and communicate your conclusions.
- Issue analysis: This assignment often involves a problem-solution approach to a topic. First you research a particular problem within an area of study. Then you conduct an objective analysis of different solutions. The purpose is to see how well you can identify the different aspects of the issue and how they relate to the area of study.
- Persuasive paper: This kind of assignment asks you to research a topic and take a stand for or against. The purpose is to see how well you can make your argument while addressing opposing views.
Before you get started researching your topic, make sure that you know what approach your professor requires.
Select a research paper topic
Before you get too far into your process, you need to settle on a good research paper topic. This takes some time if you do it right, so the sooner you start, the better. It’s a good idea to begin with a few possible topics and do some reading on each one. This may seem like a waste of time, but it’s really in your best interest.
Even if your professor gives you a topic to start with, you still need to figure out how to narrow it down to a managable research project. Every topic contains subtopics within it that you can use to develop your approach to the subject.
What you want to discover is whether your topic has enough information available for your needs. Read enough about the topic to get a general understanding, find out the subtopics and develop questions that you can address in your research paper.
Holly Samuels of the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS) Research Guide offered tips on “Getting an overview” for your research paper. When it comes to researching possible topics, she recommended that you start by looking at encyclopedias. Not only can you be sure that the information is accurate, you’ll find that encyclopedia articles are organized in ways that can help you plan your paper.
“Take notes on the headings and subheadings that are used to subdivide the information. These can give you some possible ways to help focus the topic of your paper,” Samuels advised.
Before writing a research paper
You’re working pretty hard and you haven’t even started writing the research paper! It’s worth it. All of the preparation in finding the right topic and the right approach will pay off once you start to write. Along the way, be sure to keep track of all the good resources you’ve found.
Another resource to explore is Questia, the top online research and paper-writing tool for students. Not only will you find millions of full-text books and articles, you’ll be able to learn from research tutorials that guide you through the entire process of planning, researching, organizing and writing your research paper.
To view the second part of the research paper series, click here.
Learn more about the research paper process at Questia.
What are your best practices for getting started on a research paper? Tell us about them in the comments below.