I encountered my first research paper in WRA 370 (Intro to Grammar & Style). This may seem late in the game but I wasn’t alone. Most of my classmates had no idea what the difference was between a research paper and a regular old college paper. However, we learned the hard way that writing research papers is a completely different process from just writing college papers. It is harder and involves much more time and work. You not only need to know what primary and secondary sources are but you also need to use them throughout the paper. Confused? Well, here are some tips I found that may help you get ahead of the game on your next research paper.
Start early but not too early
Okay, so the weekend before the paper is due is really not going to cut it, especially if you’re aiming for that golden 4.0. However, starting an essay too early can lead to a false sense of security and a whole lot of procrastination. Start thinking about the topic you want to do as soon as soon as the essay is assigned and then start researching about 2 weeks before the paper is due. Then give yourself another 1-2 weeks to write.
Talk to your professor
Professors really like it when you come and talk to them about your ideas. It shows enthusiasm, and it gets them interested in your paper even before you write it. It has even been shown that talking to your professor after class can raise your grade a whole point. Plus, professors have a ton of great insights and sources they will happily share and can clarify anything you were unsure of.
Research, research, research
Gather as many resources that seem relevant for your topic and put them all in your annotated bibliography/work cited. This way, even if you didn’t use the research in your paper, at least can get the credit for doing it.
Internet sources are great and convenient. However, the best research and studies are only available in published works. Scholarly articles found in databases are useful but not everything is available on Google Books so do yourself the favor and make that trip done to the library.
Make sure you have both primary and secondary sources in your essay. Primary sources are original documents, creative works, and relics or artifacts. Secondary sources are publications such as magazine articles and textbooks. These are the biggest things that make research papers different from regular college papers.
For more information on primary and secondary sources, http://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html.
Formulate a thesis
Even though this is a research paper, it still needs a thesis; otherwise your paper will lack sophistication and complex arguments. Have an idea of a thesis going into your research and then fully form it after you collect and assess your research.
This is probably the easiest and hardest part at the same time. Many people, including myself, recommend you just sit done and mentally vomit an outline of sorts and then go back and try to refine it. However, it is easy to over think an essay so take lots of breaks to refresh your mind. Maybe even have someone else give it a read. Pop on down to the Writing Center and have them give it a look!
I don’t know about you but I am constantly editing and re-editing as I write. I move paragraphs and sentences around like puzzle pieces. However, once you have finished all your edits, give your paper to a friend to look over. It is always a good idea to have fresh eyes on a paper before turning it in.
Avoid stupid mistakes
Don’t forget your footnotes, annotated bibliography/works cited, page numbers, title of the essay, date, and your name. With the amount of dedication you’ve put into that essay, do yourself a favor and double check everything.
For more research writing tips, check out http://www.education.com/worksheet/article/how-to-write-a-research-paper/ and http://www.survivingcollege.com/how-to-write-that-a-research-paper/.