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Research Paper Help: Citations, Structure and Guidelines

Sep 29, 2012 - Posted to  Research Paper Writing
Just hearing the words "research paper" is enough to send many students into panic mode. But it need not be such a daunting task if you take the time to follow the correct formula. The research paper should contain a clear structure, standard formatting, and proper use of citations for the sources that you use for your research.

Before You Begin

Choosing the topic is perhaps the most important aspect of any well-written research paper. Consider the research resources at your disposal: Will you have access to the library, the Internet, interviews with authorities? Before you become too attached to a particular subject, confirm that the resources you need to do a solid job will in fact be available. Nothing sabotages a research paper like a lack of available information.

Sources and Information Gathering

Before the advent of the Internet, typical sources would be your research paper help including historical documents, articles, books, etc. Nowadays, much of this information can be found online. Use caution! Use online sources judiciously. It's very easy to find less-than-accurate information on the Internet. And many instructors expect you to utilize traditional, hard-copy resources for your research.
Be sure to accurately report the information you gather, as well as record how you found the information. Whether it's a direct quotation, summarization, or a paraphrase, you must eventually document all of the "borrowed" information you present in your final research paper. Failure to acknowledge any work that isn't your own is plagiarism.

In-paper Citations

When you mention a source within your research paper, you also must mention the author's name as well as the relevant page numbers either within the sentence or in parentheses at the end of the sentence:
Jack Holder, the author of Secrets of Sierra Fishing, writes about the perfect setup for Merced River anglers. In his words, "Baits are best worked with small split shot or free-drifted. [...] Bubbles with six to ten feet of leader work well" (322).
In the above example, note that the page number in parentheses comes directly after the quotation but before the end punctuation. If you were to also include the author's name in the parentheses, only use the last name, followed by the page number (with no punctuation separating the two).

End-of-paper Citations

Your research paper's final page (or pages) is known as the "Works Cited" and is where you list all of the sources you quoted, summarized, or paraphrased in your paper. Use these guidelines as your research paper help for creating an MLA-style works cited list:
All entries should be double-spaced. After the first line of each entry, indent each additional line in that entry. Separate all of the main parts of an entry with periods.
Sources are listed alphabetically by author's last name. (If more than one author is listed, use the first author's last name. If you can't determine an author, alphabetize the entry according the work's title.) For two or more entries by the same author, the citation should start with three hyphens followed by a period (---.) with the rest of the entry listed normally.
Use the source's full title, capitalizing appropriate words, and underline the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, TV programs, films, and Websites. Place quotation marks (" ") around the title of an article.
Following the title comes the publication information: for a book, list the place of publication, publisher name, and date (year only); for magazines and newspapers, list the volume or issue number, date (day, month, and year) followed by a colon, and then list the page numbers from which you cited the information.
For an online source (such as an Internet website), after the author (if available) and title information, give the date the online source was posted. Next, give the source's complete URL (website address) enclosed in angle brackets (for example, ). Then give the date you visited the website.
An example of how to cite two books by the same author is as follows:
Schroeder, Patricia R. The Feminist Possibilities of Dramatic Realism. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1996.
---. The Presence of the Past in Modern American Drama. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1989.

Paper Format

Your research paper may or may not need a title page. If you do require a title page, the title should begin about one third of the way down from the top of the paper. All type should be centered and double-spaced. Also include your name, the name of the class as well as the name of the professor (if applicable), and the date:
If your paper does not require a formal title page, your last name and the page number (numbers begin on the first page and continue through the end, including the works cited) go on the upper right-hand side of the paper, half an inch from the top of the page. Left, right, and bottom margins should be at least one inch. Double-spacing is standard throughout the entire paper, with a half-inch indent for each paragraph. One inch from the top of the page on the upper left-hand side, include your name, professor's name, title of the course, and the date (double spaced). Next comes the title (centered), and then you begin with the body of your research paper.
In general, a 10- or 12-point font is standard, and you'll want to use a common font (such as Courier or Times Roman).
If you include a long direct quotation (five or more typed lines), be sure to indent it all ten spaces from the left margin, and do not set it off with quotation marks.

Final Notes and Purpose of the Paper

Make sure the paper will be about something you genuinely are interested in. Be sure to establish early on the purpose of your paper. That may be to simply present information about a topic, or it may be to defend a point of some kind. Being able to clearly express your purpose is often a matter of limiting your topic. It's better to commit yourself to a limited topic that's thoroughly developed. To some extent, the old adage "Write what you know" also applies to research papers, though by the time you're through, what you know will be considerably more profound. Get ready for the wiring in advance, use academic writing manuals are your research paper help.
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