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Writing Research Papers: The Five Things You Need to Know

Research Paper Know-How

A common assignment in many colleges and universities is the research paper. This is usually a project assigned early in the term with a lot of time to complete. This means that it is expected that the product will be exact and in-depth. The student will choose from a wide-range of topics related to the course of study. After some initial research, the student will narrow the field until finally isolating a definite research question. Having pinpointed the precise question, the student then gathers primary and subordinate references to answer the question. The case is then presented in a well-defined, original paper with supporting quotes. Sure, it sounds easy when you put it that way, but how do you actually do it? Below are listed some guidelines to assist in the creation of a proper research paper.

Life-Long Learning

Once you have written a research paper or two you will have learned the skills that will take you through the rest of your life. The process of learning continues well past college. The formula for writing a research paper is the same formula you will need to answer deep questions about every aspect of your life. Taking a broad topic and narrowing it down to a single focus until you find the real question you want answered. Then finding out, through study, where to get those answers. The presentation of your paper will prepare you for the work world as you have to convince people, through evidence, that your theory is correct. You will provide arguments for the naysayers. And you will learn the skill of standing up for what you found to be true.

Research Papers: The Five Things You Need to Know

If you are interested in writingan excellent research paper there are a few things you need to know. Do not expect to do a half-assed job and get a good mark. If you want top marks you have to put in a little extra effort and do a few straightforward things. You would be surprised how many people don’t do half of these steps and expect good results.

1. Do some related research on your topic, Refer to the instructor for clarification and to narrow down a focus. 

A great way to find a general topic is to search your life. What are the things that are important to you? Do you have a condition that makes you different from other people that not too many know about? Are you from a place that not everyone has heard of, even in this day and age? Finding a topic that is close to your heart is a great way to start your research. Now you are interested and you will be more invested in your work. See what other people have written about your topic. You are starting to get a focus. Now is a good time to speak to the instructor about your topic idea. She may be able to send you in a specific direction. Don’t assume that just because you know about something that everyone else knows about it too. Stay away from the rehashed topics of students past. Find your own path.

2. Define your research question.

The main thing you want your question to contain is the word “How” or “Why.” In a social sciences course you will have plenty to choose from. If you are relating this to something in your own life, you can look at it from a macro point of view. If the thing you are writing about is alcoholism, you may ask “Why is alcohol so prevalent in First Nation Communities?” or “How did alcohol come to North America?” You could ask a question about prohibition, or smuggling of alcohol. The topics are endless. If you are interested in politics and you are particularly upset about a recent election you could ask “How did the democratic government lose the last election?” or “Why is America providing relief to other countries when it is in a deficit.” The topics are endless. It is a matter of identifying something that matters to you. Think about what you are talking about with your friends. Think about what you are reading in the newspapers. Think of a problem you had as a child and the children who still have that problem. Put a “Who” or a “How” in front of those thoughts and you have a research question. People working in the social sciences ask these questions every day. They demand an argument. You won’t find an argument in a “What” question, but you may find a “When” or a “What” in the introduction of a “How” or “Why” research paper.

3. Doing primary research.

Remember that reading a reference book is a secondary or subordinate resource. If you want to get to a primary resource you are going to have to talk to people, read newspapers and make some phone calls. Maybe it won’t be as exciting as in the movies, but it is pretty good. It is a different kind of writing than paraphrasing an encyclopedia. In our alcohol in the First Nation communities’ example, above, you could easily go to a band office and talk to a counselor there who deals with the effects of alcoholism in their community every day. Find out which states were the first to introduce prohibition and find the archives of their newspapers. If government is your topic call your representative and set up an interview. The definition of primary source is the actual source of the information. You want to get as close as you can. Ask people, read periodicals, get names, send e-mails and make phone calls. You want to make your argument using actual data from actual sources.

4. Make an argument.

As discussed earlier, regurgitating stuff from the encyclopedia is not acceptable. You have to use the information you get from all your sources to make your argument. The facts have to answer the question. You want to make your argument as close as you can to absolute, based on your evidence. Your paper, and thus, your evidence, must be clear and logical, using the most convincing points with the most reliable resources. Your progression will lead the reader through your findings to come to the inevitable conclusion you did, given the support of your resources. An exceptional paper might include the counter arguments. You may want to introduce popular thought and why it is flawed. Use your evidence to disprove their conclusions.

5. Always write well. 

After all the time and energy you put into your research paper you will want to write it well. It would be a shame to invest so much of yourself into such a creative endeavor, only to waste it on a bunch of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Use proper citing in footnotes, endnotes or in-text notes using anaccepted citation style. This is a formal and serious paper and must be presented as such. Correctly prepared tables, graphs and illustrations will be included if they support your argument. If you are unfamiliar with the protocol for writing formal research papers and haven’t found the answers you seek in these guidelines, then begin your research with searching for “How to write a research paper.”

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