Writing a Research Paper Regina Garson Writer, Editor and Web Publisher http://reginagarson.com/
Agenda • What is a research paper? • How to choose a topic • Where to find source materials • Narrow your subject • Collect your research • Make accurate reference citations • Take notes • Outline and organize your paper • Write your first draft • Polish your prose
What is a research paper? • Whether you call it a term paper, an academic paper or a research paper, these papers are generally completed as a part of your coursework. But they may just as well be a workplace assignment. • A research paper is a presentation of the research and what you have been able to learn on a given topic. • You are expected to strive toward the highest professional standards in the field. • You are expected to know where every piece of information originated. • You are expected to use professionally competent English, grammar, and writing skills.
I am studying for a professional career, what is the point? • This is an opportunity to explore an area of your field that may or may not be covered in your classes. • In many fields it is important to keep up with the latest information and research. This is an opportunity to do just that. • It is also an opportunity to develop your own areas of expertise. • Or, you can look at it as pure fun, an opportunity to explore an interest that you never really had the chance to explore before. • It is also the opportunity to polish your writing skills under professional direction.
Your completed paper may include: • Title • Thesis Statement • Abstract • Introduction • Body • Conclusion • Bibliography
Where do you start? • Choose a topic or maybe a few possibilities. • Do some initial background research: • Internet • Library • Talk to people in your field or area of interest • Look at what you got. • What would you like to know more about? • Are you finding enough information on your topic to write a good paper? • What are your time constraints? • How many pages do you have to work with?
The good idea • It has been said that the way to get a really good idea, is to have lots of ideas -- then throw out the bad ones. Now, given the time factor, the number of pages, your preliminary research and your topic options – what is realistic?
Thesis statement • Although your thesis statement may change as you write your paper, it is a good idea to write one very early in the process – like right after you zone in on your topic. • The thesis statement is a brief sentence or two that summarizes what the paper will be about. • It should give an idea of the angle or direction you will go in the paper. • It will also serve as a reminder, a directional guide (like a compass) as you collect your research and write your paper.
Begin Collecting Information • Librarians, teachers and other professionals may all be willing to assist you. • If you are having trouble finding what you need, ask for help. • If you are still having trouble finding information, you may need to refocus your topic.
Cite your references – all of them • Give credit where credit is due. • When in doubt cite the reference. It is better to over cite than to inadvertently plagiarize. • There are a number of different citation style guidelines (more on that later). Use the style required by your instructor, or your boss. • Citations within the text may read: • According to .... • ….explained….
Reference notes • Get the details first: • Get the title: • Article, book, magazine article, and web page titles. • The author. • Date of publication. • Page number or URL of the information you will be using. • Publishing company. • Address.
Hints for taking notes • Some people like to take notes on index cards • Put only one source and one subject on a card or page. • Write out your information on the topic (if you have quotes, check them for accuracy). • Quotations should be copied precisely and enclosed in quotation marks. Note the exact page number or URL where you found the quote. • Be accurate, be complete, and be brief. But be sure to get what you need. • If you must continue your notes on another page, list the source at the top in an abbreviated form so you can keep your information sorted as to what you got where.
Look at what you got and map your strategy. • Sort your notes by subject. • Are you finding enough on your topic to write a paper? • Think hard and be realistic. • This is the point where you may decide to either narrow or change the focus of your paper. • You may find that your subject could easily be a book and really does need to be narrowed down. • Or, you may find that you cannot find enough good information with which to write the paper. • Refine your thesis statement.
Outline • If the thesis statement is a compass, the outline is your roadmap. • Your teacher may or may not require a formal outline. At the least, you will probably want to do an informal outline. • An outline will allow you to map out where you are going with the paper: • What subtopics do you need to cover? • Put your topics and subtopics in order. • Look logically at the plan for your paper. • Will your plan work, or will you need to do some rearranging?
Draft your paper • Collect your research notes, your outline, and your thesis statement. • The first time through, do a quick draft to make sure you get everything in that you need to say. • Then go back and look at the paper for comprehensiveness and logical flow. • Have you covered everything that needs to be covered for the topic? • Do you need more information? • The first draft should be considered the foundation of your paper. Make it strong, but do not obsess. • The rough draft gives you structure and it gives you something to work with. You are on your way now. It allows you to really see what you got, to pinpoint weaknesses, and to refine your direction. • You may decide you need more research at this point. • You may further refine your topic and direction. • But once you got it, you are on the home stretch. It is time to roll up your sleeves, and polish your paper.
Polish your prose • Polish your grammar. • Check your spelling. • Get a thesaurus. • Eliminate verbal repetitiveness. If you use the same word over and over, find some new ones. • If your verbiage seems more simplistic than you would like, a thesaurus will help you overcome that. Be sure you are comfortable with any new words you use though. • Double check your facts and sources, make sure you got them correct. Also make sure you cited EVERYTHING that needed citation. • Get a second opinion to read your draft: • Have them look at your logic and for any grammatical or spelling errors you may have missed.
The basics of style • Your paper should be typed. • Left justified. • One to 1.25 inch margins. • Double spaced. • One space between sentences. • Times New Roman is a standard business and corporate font. • 12 point font is standard, although you may generally go a point larger or smaller. • You will likely have a designated style guide as well. Headers, title pages, indents, and the way your references are cited may vary. • If in doubt, ask your teacher or your boss exactly what they want on formatting. Some companies have very specific formats in which they want their written material presented.
Style guides • Beyond the basics, your instructor, boss, or even career field may require very specific style formatting. These are just a few. Most of these are available online or in book format. If you are in a work situation, do a quick search to get examples, but depending on your work, you may want a full book reference to keep at your desk. • APA Style Guide • Chicago Manual of Style • MLA Style (Modern Language Association) • The Associated Press Style and Libel Manual (The AP Style Book) • Turabian • IEEE Style Guide • US Government Standards • In House Style Sheets
Something to think about • Think of this as an opportunity to help move you into the career field of your choice. • As a student, whenever possible, focus your writing and research topics in your career field or an area in which you would like to specialize. • This gives you the chance to start building your area of expertise. • You can bring these along to job interviews to show what you can do. It also helps to prove that despite being a student you have already been gaining practical experience, an area of specialization, and expertise in your field.
References • GPC/Dunwoody ISS Writing Lab • Morguefile photo image archives • Purdue Online Writing Lab • The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White • The Little, Brown Handbook • Wikipedia General Reference