As you well know, writing a research paper teaches you all the skills that a university wants to instill in you. It teaches you to think critically, how to research your position and how to keep one idea central in your head while you work out all the quirks and problems associated with working it out. Of course, that doesn’t make writing an essay easy. Quite the opposite. Doing all those things is difficult – especially when you’re just starting out.
Difficult – but not impossible. Particularly not if you use these tricks to get yourself ahead and make the best of your paper.
Writing a research paper means doing research. There are no two ways about it. But where do you start? Despite what all your professors and your university will say, Wikipedia is a great place to start (I think it’s because they’re elitist and they think Wikipedia is too common to be useful – but they’re wrong. On most points it’s surprisingly accurate).
The reason Wikipedia is a good place to start is because it covers most points broadly and clearly (unlike most academic texts). Of course, you can’t claim the Wikipedia page as one of your references, but fortunately they often provide plenty of those at the end. Check those out and see what papers they reference. If they’re all papers then put them into Google scholar and see what other papers reference these in turn. And there you suddenly have a huge number of papers you can read!
Maybe one day you can write your research paper from start to finish without working out all the details first. But that won’t be how things start. There are just far too many moving parts for you to keep it all in your head. It’s like driving a car in the beginning. There are just too many things you’re supposed to do for you to remember them all. That takes time.
That’s why you’ve got to write an outline. This is where you start out writing out what thesis you’re trying to defend and how you’re going to defend it.
For the best results, start with a really rough outline that consists of introduction, body and conclusion with a few points filled in. Then, as you do your research and learn more, fill in more of the points such as the arguments you will use to defend your position and the sub-arguments you’ll need to build those on.
Keep making adjustments as your ideas grow and then when you get to the writing part you just have to fill in the blanks as the hard work will already be done. And that’s how you’ll write a research paper that impresses.
Use citation software
There are tons of free citation software applications out there, so use them! Even better, from day one put every paper you read into it. It will only take you a few minutes per paper and then you can reference each of these in future essays you write. Even better, they citation software will serve as a library that you can use to recall papers you read a while ago.
Then, when you’re writing a paper, all you do is select the paper you want to use and the software will use the rest. You’ll be left with a perfectly formatted bibliography in the blink of an eye. And that’s vitally important if you want to write a high-quality paper.
Broaden your audience
Don’t write only to your professor. The reason? You’ll write an incredibly stuffy and boring article that will make even your professor yawn. That’s because we think of our professors as authority figure and therefore will often freeze up when we write to them. We’ll use sentences that are way too long and complicated – because that’s what you think will impress them.
It won’t. Professors are tired of essays they can barely understand. What they want is a well written essay where it isn’t the language but the ideas that are complicated and complex. The best essays make you feel smart, while the worst ones make you feel stupid.
For that reason, learn to write for a broader audience. Write to your friends and your family. Write as if you’re writing for a magazine. Because if you keep those people in the back of your mind, you’ll write something that’s exciting and fun to read. And if your professor enjoys reading what you wrote, then they’re far more likely to give you a good grade.
The truth is that most people only think about the writing of their essays. They don’t think about all the stuff that goes on around it – even though all that other stuff, like the research, the outline, the editing and the target audience, are just as important.
The result is a mediocre essay that wanders, is flabby and doesn’t really do whatever you’re trying to do justice.
“But if I focus on all that other stuff,” you say, “Writing that essay will take me forever!” Far from it. You see, when you’ve correctly done all those things I’ve listed, the writing will become far easier to do. It will be like coloring in one of those children’s drawings (as you’ve already drawn all those lines).
And then you can focus on what is really important when you’re writing. And that is finding the right words to make your point, instead of everything else that you were supposed to have done before. In that way, you’ll be able to write a really high-quality research essay.