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How to Write an A+ Research Paper

research101 /  
Nov 15, 2008   #1
Dear students,

I have read many of the posts in this forum and there seems to be some consistency in the nature of your questions.

Often the hardest part about writing research papers is coming up with a topic or beginning your research. Here is my first tip. (Be sure to check back in, as I will write a new tip each day to help you all wrap up your writing assignments by the end of the term.)

Choosing a topic:

You may have been given a topic already by an instructor or perhaps you have a list of options. Look for one that you are interested in, or simply one that you remember being mentioned in class. (Remember, attending class lectures is where 80% of your work is done. If you miss classes between now and the end of the term, you can guarantee that your grades will lower accordingly. There is much to be said for simply being present and behaving like a sponge for 50 minutes.)

From here use that topic to find your keywords. I recommend looking in the index of your main textbook for the course. Do you see your topic listed? If so, mark the pages where it is mentioned and then browse those pages. While you are reading you may find that there is a sentence, paragraph, or even chapter that deals with your topic. If this is the case, then begin by noting any nouns or ideas that come up again and again (persons, places, events, circumstances) in those sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. These are the keywords for your topic.

With these keywords in mind now look to the bibliography of your textbook. (Often in the far back, sometimes separated into chapters.) Browsing your bibliography for titles that contain your keywords is one of the best tools to use when beginning research. After all, these are the resources the author(s) used to write their text, and chances are there will be plenty of information in them for your paper as well. Once you have identified about 3-5 sources for every 5 pages you will be writing it is time to go to your university library homepage. If you haven't a list as long as you'd like, don't worry there are other ways to build your list of resources.

Once you have the library homepage up, then begin looking up the call numbers for the items in your bibliography by author and title. Notice how these call numbers begin with certain letters? Those letters designate the nature of the material you will be reading. "L" for example denotes texts that are concerned with education, "P" denotes texts concerned with language and literature. My point here is that the call number of a given text is the same no matter which library you are in, wherever you may be. Organize your trip to the library by call number and bring a bag: it will save you time.

One final note on beginning research: don't dismiss journal articles! They are often the most current resources you will find, and they tend to be short and to the point. Journals only permit their authors so much space to write, so you can be sure that you will have less to read to get the information you need. Oh, and by the way, be sure you bring change or credit to copy these articles: the bound journals are really heavy and they also have heavy fines if you return them late! When you are looking for your article pay attention to how the journal is bound to be sure you copy the entire article.

After you have gathered your materials at the library bring them home and begin reading with the most relevant and shortest resources first. Most likely these will be your journal articles. If you find one that is spot on, look at its bibliography. Do you see any resources listed that have your exact topic in the title? Or perhaps some of your keywords in the title? If so, you know that these are important and if you need more information this is where you will go to find it. Continue reading your other sources, but stop if you know it is not giving you the information you need.

The first read you do through these materials should be pleasurable and not so concerned with note-taking or highlighting. It is best to read them with a pencil, mark passages that are especially important and move on. Once you have completed your cursory reads, then sit down with the most important and begin taking notes. Check in tomorrow to see how I recommend taking useful and efficient notes quickly.

Again, this is just the brief introduction to a system I developed while in school and then teaching myself. So I know it works and it can really streamline the process for yourself and make it easy to write more than one A+ paper a term. Please email me for more information right away.

Have a wonderful day and write well,

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