Writing your first research paper can be a daunting task, but also a rewarding experience!
By the end of this presentation you should have a better idea on how to begin.
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 library’s many online encyclopedias or handbooks. 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, takes a position and the paper defends and 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 find answers to your questions, prove your points, and begin researching! I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but start early, as researching takes time!
Research comes from many sources, and your professor will expect you to use academic sources, not just web sites.
Get acquainted with the books and journals on your topic by using the library’s main search tool. There are also many Subject Guides that will help you find the best scholarly resources.
You can use secondary sources such as books or peer reviewed journal articles, or Primary Sources such as newspapers, diaries, interviews or documents for your research paper.
It’s also a good idea to check the footnotes or bibliography of secondary sources to identify important primary sources.
Step 3 – is about Evaluating your 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.
Ask these questions:
How do these sources support your thesis?
What are the sources claims?
Are there any biases which may affect the paper’s conclusions?
Consider how the intended audience may affect the source’s purpose.
Look at the documentation and footnotes with a critical eye to see how the author has used previous research
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. A great tool for this is a citation manager like Zotero. For more information and help, check out the Citation Management web page on the library’s web site.
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.
Now you are ready to write the first draft of your research paper.
Remember your paper directs your argument to a very focused conclusion by clearly laying out the evidence you have found and documented. If you encounter problems along the way, ask a librarian for help, or contact the Writing Services for assistance. Good luck!