8 tips on how to compose a college research paper

College students dread the research paper. But in actuality, writing a research paper is not so difficult or time consuming if you know what you’re doing. Following a step-by-step plan or outline will make your task seem less like a chaotic jumble.

Do you struggle to write research papers? (Credit: endlessorigami.com)

Do you struggle to write research papers? (Credit: endlessorigami.com)

So here are some tips on how to compose a research paper.

1. Choose a topic.

If you can choose your own topic, make it something you’re already interested in so the research will be fun. (Or, if you’re adventurous, make your topic something new you want to be challenged by.) If your topic is too big (such as World War II), then you’ll need to narrow it down to focus on one specific aspect that you can develop into a research topic. Consult your teacher if you’re having trouble finding a topic.

2. Do research.

Check out resources online, at the library, in databases, in technical and academic journals, in primary and secondary sources, books and bibliographies. Doing thorough research will also help you refine your topic choice.

3. Write your thesis statement.

What is the point you want to make? What is the focus? The answers to these questions make up your thesis statement. According to SUNY Empire State College’s ESC Online Writer Center’s “Thesis Definition,” “A thesis sentence focuses your ideas for the paper; it’s your argument or insight or viewpoint crystallized into a sentence or two that gives the reader your main idea.” What are your ideas, and what will you be writing about?

4. Create an outline.

This may be the most important step which will make the rest of the paper fall into place. In three or four statements or sections explain the research or findings that support your thesis statement. Ask questions, then answer them using supporting information from your research. List the main points you will discuss, and explain why your thesis is relevant.

5. Write the body of your paper—first draft.

With your outline, you can now more thoroughly develop each section of your paper that supports your thesis. Consult your research sources and cross reference so you can integrate information into your discussion. Explain your thesis, analyze your available information and summarize. Don’t worry about being perfect—this is your first draft. Just get text onto the page right now. Later you can revise. Writing out your various sections of the paper may make you change or develop your thesis in a different direction.

6. Write the introduction now.

Actually, the introduction/abstract and conclusion should be the last things you write. “After all, how can you summarize something that is not yet written? Economy of words is important throughout any paper, but especially in an abstract. However, use complete sentences and do not sacrifice readability for brevity,” noted Rice University in “Writing Research Papers.” Include in your intro/abstract: purpose/hypothesis, explain how you will answer/solve the purpose/problem, context of your approach versus established literature on the subject, assumptions and limitations. Keep the intro short and be direct and clear.

7. Revise—second draft.

Now you can take time to read everything you wrote, fine tune, delete, add, re-reference, check spelling and grammar. Prepare your final document with appropriate font, margins, title page, page numbering and headers/footers, references, etc.

8. Plagiarism—nuh uh!

Don’t even think about it—nobody likes a cheater. Especially teachers, who by the way, aren’t as dumb as you think they are! According to professor Abraham Hoffman in his article “Two Cheatproof Projects for U.S. History Courses” published in Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Spring 2015: “It is ridiculously easy to catch many students who cheat on their term papers… It took me about two seconds to find [a student’s] article on the online Columbia Encyclopedia. The student had copied and pasted the article… Grade: F and a referral to the Academic Vice President who would summon the student and apply the college’s policy of violating plagiarism rules.”

For more information, check out Questia’s library on Education. 

What parts of a research paper do you need more help with?

1 reply
  1. Tessa says:

    I totally agree with these points, but what we shouldn’t also forget about is the language of the research. A student can do an in-depth research, but if he uses the wrong words the paper won’t receive the same acknowledgment as the paper in which the correct words are used and not needed are omitted. This all I got from the article on Words and phrases to never use in college papers, which I rad recently. Myself like most of the students never paid attention to this aspect of writing a research paper, but I should have. Language presents us to the society, and no matter how great we look but the moment we say something inadequate the society will change their opinion to the worse.

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