A Librarians Guide to a Research Paper

A research paper is an essay that analyzes a perspective or point and gives facts that support this interpretation. In short, a research paper presents a point and argues it to prove its validity. To write an effective research paper, students must be able to use critical thinking and analysis, organizing information to present the topic and defend it. Writing research papers can help you learn crucial writing and organization skills as well as practice analyzing information and drawing conclusions from it. Research papers also require that students learn how to gather information and cite their sources correctly.

Prewriting

The steps in writing a research paper begin with a prewriting phase, during which you’ll need to choose a subject and then narrow your focus to one main idea. This brainstorming phase involves exploring the people and issues involved, problems that developed, and any controversies connected with the main idea. Ask a librarian to help you find good articles, books, and other references that you can use to learn about your topic and support your ideas. While researching and taking notes, most writers find it helpful to make an outline that includes the main topics and subtopics to be covered in the paper. The first entry of the outline is generally the thesis statement, which is a sentence that declares the main point of the research paper, the position that will be presented and supported. The purpose of the rest of the research paper is to prove the argument made in the thesis statement. After writing the thesis statement, the outline should include topics and subtopics that will support the thesis.

First Draft

After researching, taking notes, coming up with a thesis statement, and making an outline, it’s time to begin writing the first draft of the research paper. The paper should start with an introductory paragraph that includes the thesis statement and a brief overview of the information that will be covered in the rest of the paper. The body paragraphs should all connect with the thesis statement, presenting the main ideas that support your thesis in a logical order. The conclusion paragraph summarizes the main points and then restates the thesis statement.

Revising and Editing

After finishing the rough draft, it’s time to review and revise the research paper. During this stage of writing, you are focusing on the organization and clarity of the paper, making sure that each paragraph supports the thesis statement. Every idea included in the paper should have evidence to support it. Ideas should transition smoothly so the reader knows when one ends and the next begins. And when you’re done, the paper shouldn’t contain any grammar errors, punctuation problems, or misspelled words. Revising and editing usually take some time, but when you finish with this phase, you will be ready to write your final draft. The final draft should be typed and include a title page and a list of resources you used, and you should make sure to follow the formatting instructions the teacher gives, using the right margin sizes, font, and line spacing.

Citations

While writing a research paper involves gathering information from sources written by other people, you can’t use this information in your research paper without telling your audience where you got it. This is known as citing sources, and writers have to cite their sources to avoid committing plagiarism. Plagiarism is using information written by other people without giving credit to the original authors. Any time you use direct quotes, statistics, images, or even summarized information from someone else’s work, you have to cite where it came from. You don’t have to cite well-known facts or your own opinions. To add citations to your research paper, you can add a parenthetical citation after the information you are citing. This citation would include the source information in parentheses. You can also include a “works cited” page at the end of the research paper that includes a full list of your sources. Follow the format for citing your sources that your teacher tells you to use.

Writing Tips

Generally, research papers are written in the third person point of view, which means using pronouns such as “he,” “she,” “it,” and “them.” Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that clearly states the main focus of the paragraph, and each of the remaining sentences should discuss the topic sentence. Sentences should start with different words so the writing is interesting: Don’t make all of your sentences sound the same. It’s also important to follow grammar rules, avoiding sentence fragments, run-on sentences, wording errors, shifts in verb tenses, and vague word choices or phrasing such as words like “things” and “stuff.”

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