TEN STEPS FOR WRITING RESEARCH PAPERSThere are ten steps involved in writing a research paper:Step 1: Select a subjectStep 2: Narrow the topicStep 3: State the tentative objective (or thesis)Step 4: Form a preliminary bibliographyStep 5: Prepare a working outlineStep 6: Start taking notesStep 7: Outline the paperStep 8: Write a rough draftStep 9: Edit your paperStep 10: Write the final draftStep 1: Select a subjectChoose your subject carefully, keeping in mind the amount of time you have to write thepaper, the length of the paper, your intended audience and the limits of theresources. Check in the library to make sure a reasonable amount of information isavailable on the subject you choose.Writing the paper will be much easier if you select a subject that interests you and thatyou can form an opinion or viewpoint about.
In fact, it will be easier later on to narrowthe topic if you choose a subject you already know something about. However, avoidcontroversial and sensational subjects that are not scholarly, or too technical, or will onlyrestate the research material.Step 2: Narrow the topicThe topic of the paper is what you want to say about the subject. To narrow the topic, youneed to read background articles about your subject in encyclopedias and other generalreferences. Do not take notes at this time other than to jot down possible main ideas. Asyou read, ask questions like the following:Who are the important people involved?What are the major issues?What are my opinions regarding the topic?Why is this an important (controversial, interesting) subject?How has the problem (or issue) developed? When? Where?The answers will help you narrow your topic. Remember to keep in mind the length ofyour paper. American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Example of a topic for a five page paper:Too broad: Sports are enjoyable.
Better, but still too broad: Swimming is enjoyable. (Answers thequestion, what sport is enjoyable?)Narrowed topic: Swimming is enjoyable because _______. (Answersthe question, why is swimming enjoyable?)Narrowing the topic is a more complicated process for extensive research.
Generalencyclopedias (like World Book) do not give enough information to get a broad overviewof a subject, so instead you need to read specialized encyclopedias, abstracts, etc. At thereference desk in the Bender Library, there are reference guides in business andeconomics, humanities, history, politics and area studies, and language andliterature. Ask the librarian about these and other sources that might be useful toyou. When you find the reference books that are available, read only to get an overviewof the subject.
Step 3: State your objective or thesisBefore you begin your research for your paper, you need to compose a thesis statementthat describes the viewpoint you are going to express and support in your paper. Sinceyour purpose in the rest of the paper is to prove the validity of your thesis, your thesisstatement provides a controlling idea which will help you choose the resource materialsyou will use and will limit your note taking.Example:Thesis statement: Ancient Greek culture is reflected in the lives ofpresent day Greeks.
Controlling idea: “reflected in.” The writer will look for materials thatdescribe characteristics of ancient Grecian culture and characteristics ofmodern Grecian culture, and for any similarities between the two.A thesis statement must not be an indisputable fact or an opinion that cannot be proven.For example, it would be difficult to write a research paper to prove the following thesisstatements:o The United States was the first nation to land on themoon. indisputable facto J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the most fascinating novelever written. insupportable opinionAmerican University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Compose your thesis statement carefully, for it is the key to a good paper.
As a matter offact, a good thesis statement can outline your paper for you. For example, the followingthesis can be divided into three parts that, in effect, provide a rough outline.Much of Martin Luther King’s success resulted from the passive resistancetechniques proposed by Mahatma Gandhi.1.
Martin Luther King’s success.2. The passive resistance techniques of Gandhi.3. The role of Gandhi’s passive resistance techniques in Martin LutherKing’s success.There are several common errors that students make when composing thesis statements.Some of these are listed below, with examples.1.
A thesis cannot be a fragment; it must be expressed in a sentence.Poor: How life is in a racial ghetto.Better: Residents of a racial ghetto tend to have a higher death rate,higher disease rates, and higher psychosis rates than do any other residentsof American cities in general.2. A thesis must not be in the form of a question. (Usually the answer to thequestion could be the thesis.
)Poor: Should eighteen-year-old males have the right to vote?Better: Anyone who is old enough to fight in a war is old enough to vote.3. A thesis must not contain phrases such as “I think.” (They merely weakenthe statement.)Poor: In my opinion most men wear beards because they are trying to findthemselves.Better: The current beard fad may be an attempt on the part of men toemphasize their male identity.4. A thesis must not contain elements that are not clearly related.
Poor: All novelists seek the truth; therefore some novelists are goodpsychologists.Better: In their attempt to probe human nature, many novelists appear tobe good psychologists.5. A thesis must not be expressed in vague language. American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Poor: Bad things have resulted from religion being taught in theclassroom.Better: Religion as part of the school curriculum should be avoidedbecause it is a highly personal and individual commitment.6. A thesis must not be expressed in muddled or incoherent language.
Poor: In Act One of Othello, to cause them to feel fury against Othello,Iago fuels Brabantio, Othello, Roderigo, and Cassio with deceit by tellingthem lies.Better: In Act One of Othello, Iago deceives several characters in order tofurther his plot to destroy Othello’s life.7. A thesis should not be written in figurative language.Poor: Religion is the phoenix bird of civilization.
Better: As long as man can conceive the idea of a god, religion will riseto give man a spiritual reason for existence.Step 4: Form a Preliminary BibliographyA preliminary bibliography is a list of potential sources of information. In addition to thecard catalog and the guides to reference books already mentioned in Step 2, there areother sources which will help you locate articles and books relevant to your topic. Someof these are listed below:Reference Guides to Indexes and Abstracts IndexesReader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, (1900- )Business Periodicals IndexSocial Sciences and Humanities Index, (1965-1974)Humanities Index, ( 1974- )Social Sciences Index, (1974- )Bibliographies (available on many subjects)Bibliographic Index: A Cumulative Bibliography of BibliographiesEvaluate the potential sources as you go along, keeping in mind how well they relate toyour topic, how up-to-date they are and how available they are. Watch for well-knownauthors and try to determine the point of view presented in the articles and whether theysound too technical or too simplistic. The following books can help you evaluate sources:Book Review Digest, (1905 – ) American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Book Review Index, (1965 – )Index to Book Reviews in the Humanities (1960 – )As you select articles and books, record information regarding them just as you want it toappear in your bibliography.
Using 3×5 index cards is a good method. Later, when youcomplete your final bibliography, you will just arrange this information in alphabeticalorder. The form for bibliographic entries varies from school to school. If you areuncertain about which form to use, refer to a writer’s handbook, such as A Manual forWriters of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate Turabian, which is availablein the university bookstore.Also include the call number for each book and a personal note with each entry.An example of what a bibliographic note card might look like:Tillich, Paul.
Systematic Technology. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1951-63.(esp. vol.
1, chp. 2) bibliographic information; also see chp. 4 for dissenting opinionsNext, gather your materials. Evaluate them again, using the criteria mentionedabove.
Do this by previewing each source, checking the table of contents and index,finding relevant chapters and skimming them.Step 5: Prepare a Working OutlineA working outline is important because it gives order to your notetaking. As you do yourresearch, you may find that you need to review your plan if you lack information about atopic or have conflicting information. Nevertheless, it provides a good starting point andis essential before you start to take notes.Begin by listing the topics you want to discuss in your paper. (You should have a generalidea of these from the reading you have already done.
) Then, divide the items on the listinto major topics and subtopics. An example of a working outline is presented below:Thesis statement: Ancient Grecian culture is reflected in the present day Greeks.Working outline:Ancient Greeks Modern Greeksreligious beliefs religious beliefsfamily structure family structureartistic pursuits artistic pursuits American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Step 6: Start Taking NotesAfter you have gathered your materials and prepare a working outline, you can start totake notes. Write your notes on index cards (either 3×5″ or 4×6″) being sure to includeonly one note on each card. Each note should relate in some way to one of the topics onyour working outline.
Label each card with the appropriate topic; then you can easilyorganize your note cards later when you begin to prepare the final outline of your paper.Each note card should also include the title of the source of information and the pagenumber to use later for footnoting. This is very important because you must cite allmaterial even if you have not used the exact words of the text.
Be sure to write the notein your own words; use direct quotes only when the information is worded in aparticularly unusual way. To avoid overlooking any material, write on only one side ofeach card–if the note requires more space, use another card and label it accordingly.Read the passage below and the sample note card that follows it. Pay particular attentionto the paraphrasing that summarizes the content of the passage and the other itemsincluded on the card.
Thesis: Man’s attempts to create a healthier and more prosperous life often haveunforeseen detrimental effects upon the very environment he hopes to improve.Ecology and Its ImplicationsIn Malaysia recently, in an effort to kill off mosquitoes, American technologists sprayedwoods and swamplands with DDT. Result? Cockroaches, which ate poisoned mosquitoeswere slowed in their reactions that they could be eaten by a variety of tree-climbinglizards, which in turn could be eaten by cats, which promptly died of insecticidepoisoning. The cats having died, the rat population began to increase; as rats multiplied,so did fleas: hence the rapid spread of bubonic plague in Malaysia. But that is not all. Thetree-climbing lizards, having died, could no longer eat an insect that consumed the strawthatching of the natives’ huts.
So, as Malaysians died of the plague, their roofs literallycaved in above their heads.Peter A. Gunter. The Living Wilderness. Spring 1970Sample notecard:title of referencenote in your own words: unforeseen detrimental effects”Ecol. & Its Implications”Living Wilderness.
Spr. ’70, p. 31Recently the use of DDT in Malaysia, originally intended to kill mosquitoes, started achain reaction of events leading to bubonic plaque and the actual collapse of Malaysian’shuts.
topic from working outlinepage number American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009Step 7: Outline the PaperThe final outline is similar to the working outline, but is more complex, with each topicbeing further divided into several subtopics. To accomplish this, sort your note cards intoseparate piles according to the topics at the top of each them. Then, sort each pile intoseparate subtopics. For example, one of the topics from our sample working outlinemight be subdivided like this:Religious beliefs of the ancient Greeksceremoniesfeelings about deathdeitiesYour final outline also should reflect the organizational format you have chosen for yourpaper. This will depend on the topic of your paper and your thesis statement.
For example,if the topic of your paper is the artistic development of a famous painter, you wouldprobably want to use a chronological organization. However, if your paper is a discussionof the family life of baboons and humans, a comparison-contrast format would be moreappropriate.Step 8: Write the Rough DraftAfter you have completed your final outline, you can begin to write your rough draft. Itis important to remember that this rough draft will be revised. Therefore, at this time, youdo not need to worry too much about spelling or punctuation.
Instead, you shouldconcentrate on the content of the paper, following your outline and expanding the ideas init with information from your notes.Your paper should consist of three parts: the introduction, the body of the paper and theconclusion. The introduction should state the thesis, summarize the main ideas of thepaper and capture the reader’s interest.
The body of the paper should develop each sectionof the outline. This is not difficult to do if you follow your outline and work through yournote cards (which should be arranged to correspond with your outline) using theinformation from them to support the points you are making. Whenever you useinformation from a note card, remember to put a number at the end of the sentence. Atthe same time, write the footnote as it should appear in the paper at the bottom of thepage you are working on or in list form on a separate sheet of paper. Number your notesconsecutively throughout the paper.
The conclusion should summarize your findings andrestate the thesis.Step 9: Edit Your PaperWhen you have finished the rough draft, read through it again and revise it. Pay particularattention to the content and organization of the paper. Does each paragraph have a topic American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009sentence that relates to the thesis? Is each idea supported by evidence? Are there cleartransitions from one section to another, from your words to quotations? Are there cleartransitions to indicate to the reader when one idea is ending and another one isbeginning? Revision often requires many readings, each with its own purpose.Step 10: Write the Final DraftThe final draft of your paper should be typed and must include citations and abibliography; some paper might require a title page, depending on the formatting styleand/or the professor. The title page should include the title of the paper, your name, thename of the course, the instructor’s name, and the date the paper is due.
Footnotes are a matter of style and you can check with your instructor on the formathe/she prefers. In general, though, a footnote is indicated by an Arabic numeral raised ahalf space above the line, placed after the sentence or passage to which itrefers. Footnotes may be arranged in numerical order at the bottom of the page on whichthey appear or a separate page (labeled Endnotes) placed at the end of the paper justbefore the bibliography.The bibliography is simply a list of your sources; how it is arranged depends again on theformatting style (MLA/APA/etc).Before handing in your paper, be sure to proofread it for any mechanical errors