I am going to admit something very nerdy: I LOVE TO RESEARCH. It’s what I do at home all day on the computer. Give me a topic and I will find everything I can on the subject. I realized this when I was asked in class to provide some initial items on the final research paper and only after 3 hours I was able to have the required amount of resources (articles, reviews, online sources and books), a temporary thesis, a pseudo outline. And the only reason I stopped looking into the topic is because the coffee shop was closing.
So out of all of this–I decided since I enjoy researching things for papers I would teach a seminar/class on the topic. So…here it goes! FYI the Chicago/Turabian has this section in the beginning– i HIGHLY recommend reading it. It is absolutely useful and where I got several of my methods from.
1. choosing a topic. — This is probably the worst feeling in the world. When you get the syllabus at the beginning of the class and you see “research paper” on topic of your choosing. People generally freak out. And (Surprise!) I don’t like this part either. WAY TOO VAGUE in my mind. However, here’s how I approach. First, read over the syllabus VERY carefully. Check for any guidelines or instructions. Currently one of my professors handed out with the syllabus a guideline for both critical reviews & the final research paper along with an well written paper. Utilize anything like this to your advantage because it will help with your grade. Second–choose something you like. Something that keeps your interest. Because if you do not like “the history of the fly” and you choose this topic, you may be stuck with it. I learned this the hard way in biology class in high school. 2 term papers. First term I chose the black panther. I learned very quickly that there were problems with the term & I didn’t get a good grade. However, second term when I chose to study & write about my mom’s stem cell translate, because the topic personally interested me, I got a far better grade. And in high is not the only time this has happened to me. Third, TALK to your professor. It does not help to sit in silence wondering what you could or would do. Your prof will be the one grading & red marking, so its best to make sure he/she is on page with you. And many times, the good profs will give you direction on where to go with your topic. Remember, usually when you’re choosing a topic or just presenting the initial findings, you do not need to have a thesis statement or something already planned out. It’s the point of research.
2. Finding material— this is probably my favorite part of research papers. Finding all the information. In today’s age, you can look for all kinds of things–from eBooks, articles online (especially in a university database) and even blogs & discussions about the topic if you’re doing something contemporary. And don’t just take everything at first site. Keep track of what you look at, take some notes if you need. Get creative of topics to look under. If you’re doing a research on someone’s viewpoint on a topic, consider learning about the person as well. The history of someone can definitely help you write better about their topic.
3. Some other helpful points: WRITE AN OUTLINE. Trust me. I don’t care how silly it sounds. But when you have writer’s block the entire week before the paper is due, an outline can truly save you. And it helps you stay focused. Also, I would write a thesis first then the outline. Again helps with structure & focus. I know from my perspective, its much easier to judge how much I need to write with an outline instead of keeping it inside my head. Most of my grad professors have a word minimum–so it doesn’t matter what margins or font I use–so an outline helps extremely with judging word length.
4. Make some drafts. and then some more…and then more. 🙂
I hope this helps someone. I know if I had known about writing research papers in this extensive amount of detail and emphasis early on I think I would have learned to write better papers.