Writing a college research paper involves one of the best learning experiences for students — perfecting the research and writing process will pay many dividends as students prepare for a rewarding professional career. Because high-quality research papers can serve as an important foundation for both your college years and future career, Research Optimus outlines a workable process that will help you be more effective and successful.
We are publishing this article exclusively for students because over time we’ve received a lot of requests from students on this topic. A research paper involves an in-depth examination of a specific topic and often serves as the “launching point” for further studies that delve into social, technical and scientific issues. The research process will test your abilities to find appropriate source material from historical writings, statistics and facts.
Getting Started with a College Research Paper
Especially in your first assignment, you can easily feel intimidated as you develop a research paper. As with any new learning challenge, you will get better with experience — but you can make the entire task easier from the beginning by organizing and prioritizing.
A suggested starting point is to develop the topic and research question. Your first “research mission” is to make sure you can address the topic adequately — constantly ask yourself if the research topic and question is manageable. It can help to work backwards by thinking in terms of the number of pages you will have to cover the subject.
Specific topics and questions are likely to be more manageable. For example, researching and writing about “Societal Changes in the Last 250 Years” is likely to be too broad for a focused research paper — but “The Effect of Television on American Society from 2000 to 2015” could be adequately covered in a concise research report. However, this can involve a delicate balance, and you should avoid choosing topics that are too restricted and narrow as these subjects might be difficult to research properly.
Discovering, Narrowing and Focusing a Researchable Topic
Always try to find a topic that is interesting to you. Writing your preliminary thoughts and then talking to classmates and your course instructor can help you move forward. Try to state your topic as a problem to be solved or a question to be answered. Here is an illustration using the topic of juvenile delinquency:
- What is the rate of juvenile delinquency in the United States during 2010?
- How can juvenile delinquency be reduced in the United States?
- In reducing juvenile delinquency rates, does education play a role?
When you are finished with your list of questions, pick a topic that is “just right” for your research paper purposes — neither too narrow nor too broad.
Brainstorming Your Topic
Brainstorming is well-suited for the research process — trying to come up with as many ideas as possible. You can do this by yourself, but a group environment is usually most productive. Write everything down as suggestions are verbalized, and then review the brainstorm results for research paper opportunities.
Your initial research review will help you to narrow your focus and determine if there is truly enough to write about — think of it as marketing research regarding new product development. Use whatever sources are at your disposal. The preliminary research phase can include suggestions from your instructor, online research, scientific and professional journals, books, bibliographies, periodical indexes and library catalogs.
Writing the Paper
Your final research paper is the “public version” of your entire research process. At the very least, your final report should include a cover page, introduction, main body, summary and conclusions. As you are writing your paper, keep your thesis and supporting information in mind — does the information support your thesis, make a relevant point and defend your position?
Proofreading and revisions can often be facilitated by reading your paper aloud. The “revision process” is a critical part of your end result when researching and writing. Bestselling author James Michener made a wise observation about the value of revisions — “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
Always cite your sources properly — above all, this will help to avoid any appearance of plagiarism. The format for reference and source citations will often depend on your instructor’s guidance. You should familiarize yourself with different writing style standards such as Chicago, MLA (Modern Language Association) and AP (Associated Press). While in-text citations might be appropriate for some research papers, you will often need to include a summary of sources at the end of your paper.
Finished Your Research Paper Writing? How Do You Present It?
Your research paper will typically be more effective when you combine high-quality content with a high-quality presentation. While “appearance alone” is never enough, it often helps get your research paper off to a good start during your instructor’s evaluation. Your editing process will be aided by using a word processor such as your computer — format suggestions include a 12 pitch font, one-inch margins and widely used fonts such as Times, Times New Roman and Arial.
Here is a partial checklist to review as you finalize your research paper presentation:
- Source citations in format specified by your instructor — AP or MLA styles are common.
- Special format for longer quotes — Indent if quotations are more than four lines long.
- Get your readers’ attention — Start your research paper with a compelling storyline.
- Thesis consistency — Accurate statement of thesis, relevant supporting points and conclusion.
- Recheck information for accuracy — Examine facts, statistics, charts and quotations.
- Review and revise — Check for organization and grammar.
- Check your length and word count — Too long or too short?
- Proofreading — Both by you and someone else is a winning combination.
Like travel directions that start in one place and progress methodically to your destination, a well-written research paper moves smoothly from the beginning to end. Without a sound conclusion, the research paper will not have a logical end point.
The experts at Research Optimus can help you navigate through the research paper process. For example, we can provide advice and tips for creating new knowledge from available information.
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– Research Optimus