Research papers are a part of almost everyone’s academic career at some point. If you are pursuing an undergraduate degree in the humanities and social sciences (e.g. English, history, psychology, sociology, etc.), you will most likely be assigned many research papers throughout your four years while mathematics and hard science majors (e.g. accounting, biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering, etc.) may only require a few during the one or two English or social sciences class es needed to fulfill general education requirements.
If you decide to pursue a graduate degree (e.g. master’s, Ph.D., professional doctorate, etc.), you will see research papers as much as you see your best friend, and they can be as long as 100 pages in some cases (e.g. thesis, capstone project, final paper, etc.).
Knowing how to write an effective research paper will make the process easier and increase your likelihood of getting a good grade.
Helpful Hints for Writing an Effective Research Paper
Do Not Procrastinate and Stay Organized
A research paper is an assignment than cannot be held off until the night before it is due, especially if it in the 20-100+ page range. A successful research paper should be started several weeks before the due date.
Organization is key because you are working with multiple sources and materials. Getting a folder to keep all your stuff related to the research paper is helpful and making an itinerary to meet certain points by certain dates will help a ton.
Take Time to Thoroughly to Read and Evaluate Sources
Skimming resources is not helpful or ethical because you can pick a line out of a source to make a point when the source is making the exact opposite point. Misrepresenting the author’s words, even by accident, is unethical and can greatly decrease your credibility.
You must read your sources in their entirety and evaluate them to make sure they are presenting sound evidence and are written by credible authors and/or organizations. Reading both sides of an argument and using evidence from both sides to directly support your claim or support your claim by refuting the opposing argument increases your credibility and professionalism.
Your school library’s database is a great place to get credible scholarly articles, and website with that end is .org, .gov, or .edu are your best bet.
Highlight and Take Notes
From the time you first read a source, highlight the points you want to paraphrase or quote. Make notes in the margins about where you want to them in the essay and how you will bring them up.
Make an Outline
An outline is a skeleton for how your paper will look. It shows where your introduction, thesis statement, main points, rebuttal, conclusion, and other parts of your paper will be.
Use Helpful Resources for Citation
Be mindful of what format your instructor wants to use for citations and paper format. The most common are MLA (for English classes), APA (for the social science classes), and Chicago (when requested by the instructor for any subject). Purdue Owl is a great source to show you how to set up each type of paper and citations.
There are always websites (e.g. Easy Bib and Citation Machine) that will make citations for you, but you have to make sure you are inputting the correct information. Your best bet is to use a citation maker and double checking it with Purdue Owl. When it doubt, consult a research paper company, school librarian, or your instructor.
Write Your First Draft
Start writing your draft, and it will be done before you know it. Getting started writing the paper is half the battle. Do not be too picky about proper grammar and syntax. Just write and properly cite at this point.
Remember that direct quotes are to be put in quotation marks followed by a citation, and everything else is to be paraphrased into your own words followed by a citation. A works cited or references page (depending on the format you are required to use) is required.
Run it through a Plagiarism Checker
Free or low-cost plagiarism checkers are available online. Run your paper through after the first draft and again after the final draft to ensure you did not accidentally plagiarize and have a high originality rate to avoid accusations of plagiarism.
Proofread/Possibly Seek Peer Review
Proofread your paper several times. Your best bet is to print out your rough draft to have an easier time writing in editing marks and revision suggestions. Having a peer or school librarian review your paper can be helpful.
Why Research Papers are an Important Part of the Educational Experience
Research papers may seem like busy work, but they are an important part of the learning experience. Lectures and class discussions can only teach you so much, and objective tests can only demonstrate a narrow portion of your knowledge.
Research papers are intended to teach you more in-depth information about a topic beyond what can be discussed in the classroom, allow you to explore a topic that is of your personal interest in a subject, and demonstrate your broad understanding of the subject. Starting ahead of time, staying organized, and following the right steps will ensure a satisfactory grade.