Because high school students rarely have any experience writing one, planning and composing a research paper can be a daunting proposition. Students also know that research reports are the most common type of essay assigned in college, so it is an important skill to master if they plan on continuing their education. But before we talk about how to write one, it is important to understand what a research paper
is and what it is not.
A formidable friend or foe
Until the time they are assigned a research report, often in their junior year of high school, most students have penned dozens, perhaps even hundreds of book reports and personal essays
that ask them to proffer their own opinions on a subject or text or sometimes to simply summarize what they read. A research paper is far more intellectually and emotionally arduous. It also requires careful planning and an awful lot of research, obviously. So, what is it exactly?
The purpose of a research paper is not tell readers what other writers have said about an issue, but rather to examine those sources in order to put forward a unique perspective on the choose topic. There are two main types of research papers that students may be asked to write. Let us take a moment to discuss them individually.
Argumentative or persuasive research paper
Defending a position or point is an important aspect of academic life. The argumentative research paper requires the writer to briefly introduce his topic and then clearly state where he stands on the issue in his thesis statement, which typically appears at the end of the introduction. Because persuasion is the purpose of these papers, you must select a topic over which there is fervid debate and controversy. For example, you could not write a successful paper stating that obesity is a health hazard, since everybody already knows that. There's no argument over that issue.
Analytical research paper
This type of paper generally begins with a question on which the writer has taken a clear stance. Unlike the persuasive essay
, the analytical focuses on exegesis and evaluation. For example, a writer who is interested in the Great Depression and American literature might pen his paper on John Steinbeck's famous novel The Grapes of Wrath
. He can begin his paper with a quite simple, straightforward question such as, "How should one interpret the novel The Grapes of Wrath
?" The writer can then draw his own conclusions based on literary criticism and personal opinion.
How to write a research paper in 11 steps
Step One - Organize your materials
Far too many student writers put off the research project until the very last minute...but as we mentioned, these are not personal essays or book reports; they can take weeks, even months to complete. A simple tip to get the ball rolling is to organize all the materials you will need in one place, either in a binder or a large manila envelope. This should include your school's style manual and a list of sources that may have been provided by your teacher.
Step Two - Make a list and set deadlines for all major steps
The way most high school teachers instruct their student to write a research paper
is to meet target dates for each stage of the process. This includes choosing a topic, writing an outline, composing a rough draft, completing the final draft, and final proofreading.
Step Three - Select your topic
The most common mistake students who are new to research papers make is that they choose a topic that is far too broad. To solve this issue, start with a subject that interests you and narrow it down. For example, if you like sports, you might start with that enormous subject and narrow it down several times, from sports to baseball to baseball pitchers to how scientific advances have helped pitchers throw harder than ever.
Step Four - Write your thesis or purpose statement
As we mentioned, a thesis statement is used in an argumentative research paper and it makes a debatable claim which you must then either prove or disprove the veracity of. A purpose statement, on the other hand, asks a question that will be explored and answered in the paper.
Step Five - Research, research, research
Believe it or not, it often takes much longer to look for information than it does to actually write the paper, even in the Information Era. Why is this? Because you must make certain that all facts you gather and intend to include in your paper are correct. After all, there's a lot of false, unsubstantiated information on the internet. We strongly recommend that you use books, periodicals, and general encyclopedias, whether in print or electronic form, as your primary sources for research papers.
Step Six - Create an outline
After you have gathered all of the information you need to write your research paper, it is important to write an outline, which will serve as a simple guide to help you organize your thoughts and compose a cohesive and persuasive paper. Do not skip this step! Sample outlines should be included in your school's style manual.
Step Seven - Organize your information
Reread your research notes and separate them into groups according to the different sections of your outline.
Step Eight - Start writing
Use your notes to begin work on the first sections of your paper. Remember, this is only a first draft and it needn't be perfect. At this point, you simply want to get all of your thoughts out and move through the paper on schedule. If you stay on track, there should be plenty of time for rewrites before your research report is due.
Step Nine - Edit your rough draft
Once again, use your outline as a guide to examine each individual section. Start with the thesis. Is it clear? Move on to each supporting point and ask yourself if they comport with your thesis statement. If not, you must revise them. Finally, you want to make certain that each of your supporting points is arranged in the right order.
Step Ten - Complete your final draft
After the editing is done, your paper should be more or less how you want it. All that is left to do is make sure that your citations are accurate and that you include them in your bibliography or Works Cited Page.
Step Eleven - Proofread your final draft
For longer research papers, it is important to take your time and carefully peruse your work. Always remember that spell check and other computer editing tools will not catch every error. That is why you should read over your paper at least twice, but preferably three times to be safe.