The fool-proof guide to writing research papers

Ola Haj Hassan
Contributing Writer

No matter how good of a writer you are, a research paper can be one of the most dreadful tasks of your semester, especially when you have to juggle with other assignments and exams.

There is no trick to writing a research paper; you need to accept that the paper is not going to write itself, and that you need to sit down and write it, despite how hard that can be. So, how do you get started?

Reading

Once you know the topic of your paper, and long before you feel the pressure of writing it, start looking for relevant articles and bookmark them in a folder. Skim through these articles at your own pace.

Reading helps you approach the topic with knowledge and confidence, and it changes your perspective on the paper. Instead of seeing it as another useless assignment with your grade at its mercy, reading reminds you that the paper you are going to write is part of a bigger conversation on the topic.

Writing That First Draft

After reading a good number of articles and highlighting quotes and passages, you need to pluck up the courage to write your first draft; it might be terrible, but that is no good reason to let your inner perfectionist prevent you from writing it.

First drafts are important because the writing process itself helps you realize what you really have to say. When you scribble down or type in a few things, you become thought-provoked and aware of your position on the topic.

At this stage, familiarize yourself with the citation method you want to use and start working on your bibliography; seeing a list of your sources can be rather motivating.

Putting It All Together

So far you’ve read and you’ve drafted, but a good paper is a bit more than the sum of those two parts. Rather than just displaying your research findings, try to argue about them. Develop a clear, simple thesis and state it in your introduction to remind yourself and your reader of the purpose of your writing.

Don’t be afraid of making your own original argument and coming up with a creative way to convey it. Always aim for depth instead of breadth; exploring a few points well enough is better than touching upon many very vaguely.

Be realistic and accept that some of your sources are better left unused, and that some ideas in your first draft will not make it to the final version of your paper. Only include what is necessary of all that you’ve read or written.

Editing

Return to your paper the next day and see whether it is easy to identify and follow your argument, or get a second pair of eyes to do that for you; it can be a friend, sibling, or roommate, they just need to check on the coherence of your work.

Finally, make minor adjustments, and give yourself a pat on the back for writing yet another paper!

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