This video was adapted from the Dalhousie Libcast writing guide on term papers
Writing your first research paper can be a daunting task, but also a rewarding experience!
By the end of this video you should have a better idea on how to approach writing your research paper.
There are two types of research papers:
- the analytical paper looks back and evaluates previous research in order to provide new perspective on an issue.
- the argumentative paper takes a stand with a fresh idea and backs up its claims with facts and evidence.
What will your paper be?
The process is the same for both types of papers, so let’s begin.
Step 1 is to Choose a Topic
Maybe there’s a list of topics for you to choose from, or maybe it’s been left to you to invent your own.
In both cases, read the assignment carefully and don’t be afraid to talk to your professor or TA about your ideas.
Choose a broad topic and then get an overview of that topic.
Read up on it in your textbook, or make use of the Reference Collection’s many handbooks and encyclopedias. Ask a librarian for help. This will get the ideas flowing.
It’s helpful to draw a mind map. This will aid you in visually outlining and narrowing your topic, so that you can begin to form a thesis statement.
As you choose your topic, you should begin to develop your thesis, but it doesn’t have to be set in stone.
Your thesis statement will vary depending on whether you are writing an argumentative or analytical paper.
An argumentative thesis makes a statement, and the paper proves it!
An analytical thesis sets the reader up for the research by asking a question. The paper provides a possible answer.
With Step 2 it’s now time to prove your points and start researching! I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but start researching early.
Research comes from many sources, and your professor will expect you to use academic sources, not just web sites.
Get acquainted with the library’s book and journal collection by accessing the library’s web site. There are many Subject Guides that will help you find scholarly resources.
You can use books, interviews, journal articles, newspapers, diaries, documents and more for your research paper, so long as you have interpreted and evaluated the sources, which brings us to
Step 3 - Evaluating Sources
Luckily it’s easy to evaluate sources if you know what you’re looking for. For example:
In books, read the Table of Contents and skim the introduction. In articles, read the Abstract and take a look at the Conclusion paragraph.
How do these sources support your thesis?
Look for biases which may affect the paper’s conclusions.
Consider how the intended audience may affect the source’s purpose.
Check to see what else the author has published. The more presence they have in the scholarly community, the more authoritative their viewpoints will be.
As you read through the sources you’ve gathered - take notes - copy down information that supports your thesis. The more sources that support your idea, the stronger it will come across. Copy down information that contradicts your thesis too; acknowledging opposing views is a good way to have a balanced, unbiased paper.
As you take notes, it is important to keep an ongoing bibliography which will save time later, and ensure that your paper is not plagiarized.
Many free citation management tools can help with this task. The library provides support for Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote Basic but they all provide the same basic functions such as the ability to save and organize your references, and create bibliographies in any citation style. For more information, check out the Citation Management web page found under the Quick Links menu on the library’s home page.
Now you are ready for Step 4 which is to ‘Build an Outline’
The outline is the skeleton of your paper. It should map out the main ideas that you will use to prove your thesis. Outlines also help you to organize your research into a logical form.
A simple way to create an outline is to first brainstorm and list the ideas you want to include. Then organize them by grouping the related ideas together, and finally order them into sections and subsections if necessary.
Now you are ready to write the first draft of your research paper. If you encounter problems along the way, contact the Writing Tutorial Service for assistance. They are located on the 4th floor of the library or visit us at the Research Help desk on the main floor, and good luck with your paper!