Worried about an upcoming writing assignment? Here, Tampa, FL tutor Anna M. reviews the steps to writing a research paper that will help you earn an “A”…
Starting as early as middle school, students are writing research papers. The first time your teacher asks you to write a research paper, you might have no clue where to start. This article will give you systematic instructions for writing a research paper.
1. The Topic
The first, and arguably most important, step to writing a research paper is deciding on the topic. Of course, if your professor gives you your topic, that makes things much easier, but usually you will not be that lucky.
A good topic will:
• Be interesting to you
• Be relevant to your class
• Have several legitimate sources related to it
Most people do not write research papers for fun. So, in order to make this assignment easier on you, select a topic that you enjoy. For example, if the paper is for an English class and your favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, write it on that. If your favorite animal is giraffes and the paper is for a biology class, write it on the behaviors of giraffes.
If you are in a class that requires a research paper on something you’re not interested in, then at least write the paper on something that will benefit you in the future. For example, if you are in an economics class and have to write a paper, but find economics incredible boring, try writing the paper on how to make a budget, or current economic events in your country.
Another important thing to consider when you choose your topic is the amount of related sources that exist. For example, writing a research paper on water quality would be a good idea because there are hundreds of research papers published on this topic from established universities around the world. However, writing a paper on how your astrological sign affects your life would not be a good idea because there are few research papers published on this topic.
2. The Question
When you write a research paper, you are basing it off an initial question, which will be the title of your paper. This question should give the reader a general idea of what the focus of the paper will be. For example, instead of writing your paper on “Flavors of ice cream,” write it on “What are the preferred flavors of ice cream among a focus group?” Instead of “Elephant behaviors,” write it on “What are the normal behaviors of African elephants during the African dry season?”
3. The Research
Before you write a single word of your paper, you need to educate yourself on the topic. A good place to start your research is online. Avoid websites that can be easily edited by the public, as well as any social media sites. The best online sources have references for all of the information. The websites of established research journals will also have good information, as well as websites run by professors. Another good place to do your research is university or college libraries. Most schools offer temporary library cards to high school students. These libraries offer much more information than your local public libraries, so take advantage of this if possible.
4. Writing the Paper
At this point, you have your question and are educated on the topic. The rest of the process should be easy. All you have to do now is show your professor that you know what you are talking about in an organized fashion.
A good general outline of your paper should be:
- Introduction: State your question, introduce your argument (if you have one), mention some of your sources, and give the reader a general idea of what the paper will be about
- Background: Explain all of the general knowledge you gained about this topic (this should be multiple paragraphs)
- Method: Only include this if you performed an experiment in order to gain information for your paper — list all of the steps you took in your experiment
- Results/analysis: Same as above, only include this if you performed an experiment — include data or charts and any statistical analysis
- Argument: Only include this if your paper is argumentative — present your standpoint on the topic and explain why you think you are correct
- Discussion: If your paper is based off an experiment, explain your results; if it is an argumentative paper, introduce some counterarguments and show why you think you are more correct in your beliefs
- Conclusion: Tie all of the other parts together
- References: MLA or APA formatting
Of course, not all research papers are the same. You may feel the need to combine your discussion and conclusion, or have the topic of your paper not be formatted as a question. Always look to your teacher if you have a specific question about the format of your paper, and if your topic is acceptable. Other than that, these steps to writing a research paper will get you on the right track!
Anna M. tutors in Chemistry, Algebra, Calculus, and more in Tampa, FL. She is a Chemistry major at the University of South Florida, and has experience tutoring elementary up to high school students. Learn more about Anna here!
Photo by catherinecronin
How to Write a Political Science Research Paper
Click here to access Scott Schaffer's page on information resources at Bailey/Howe Library for POLS 174.
I.Choose a paper topic
- Find an event or topic related to this course that interests you.
- Investigate the librarys resources and other available resources. If you choose to investigate a topic for which you must rely heavily on inter-library loans, you may not receive enough material in time to complete your research. You need to find an area in which there is available material. If you find there is not enough material on your topic, choose a different topic and begin a new search to see if you can successfully complete the research for your paper on your new topic.
- Read generally in the topic area of your choice.
- Fashion a precise question that you wish to research. The question that you ask is your research question. The goal of your research paper is to provide an answer to your research question. NOTE: To be a question, your research question must end with a question mark.
Your question might be something like:Under what conditions will x occur?What are the causes of x?What are the consequences of x and y?How did x alter the outcome of y?You want to avoid asking self evident questions such as, Will war in country x distort development?Obviously war affects a countrys development and you do not need to do research to persuade the reader of this.Also, such a question is too broad for a focused research paper.Development is too encompassing a concept.You could not in a single paper analyze all of the effects of war on the development of an entire country.
II.Develop a research design
- To do this you must think through what you need to know in order to answer your research question. What specific data would be helpful in answering your question? Which actors are involved? What external and/or domestic events might affect the topic you are studying? Where will you get the data you need?
III.Develop a thesis
- You must offer a thesis in the introduction of your paper. After researching your material, you will answer your research question. The answer to your research question will form the basis of your thesis. The thesis is the argument that you will make in your paper. Presenting your answer to the research question is the reason why you write the paper. You write the paper to convince your reader that your answer is correct. You must provide the reader with evidence you discovered in your research to persuade the reader that your answer is correct. You must anticipate alternative answers to your question and refute them. You must explain why your answer is better.
- Note that if you announce to your reader in your introduction that you propose to explore your topic, you admit that you have not thought long and hard enough about your topic to make a statement or offer an argument about some aspect of the topic. If you are still exploring your topic when you are writing your paper and you cannot even form a question and offer and answer you will be graded accordingly.
IV.Make proper citations for all data used in the paper.All papers must have references
and a bibliography.
- Follow the citation style used in the American Political Science Review. (The APSR is the preeminent journal for political scientists.) You can find hard copies of the APSR in the periodicals section of the Bailey-Howe library (on the second floor). You can find electronic copies of the journal by going to the library webpage http://sageunix.uvm.edu/Collections/ then select General Reference then select Journals and Magazines then select JSTOR then enter JSTOR and select browse the journal then select political science then select American Political Science Review then choose a volume and an issue and finally select view article. Alternatively, you can follow the style of footnotes presented in the Chicago Manual of Stylehttp://www.wisc.edu/writetest/Handbook/DocChicago.html .
- You will see that the APSR uses parenthetical references to the author and the date in the body of the text. Then the complete citation for each reference is listed in alphabetical order in the bibliography.
- Plagiarized papers will be reported to the Committee on Academic Honesty. Below you will find an example of plagiarism that you must not repeat.
- General X believed that (no footnote or parenthetical reference).
- If you have interviewed General X, you must footnote the date and place of your interview. If you have not personally interviewed General X, then the only way that you can know what he believed is from reading someone elses work. You may not take credit for the work someone else did. You must cite your source.
- If, however, you think General X should have thought that, or most likely thought that, but you have no evidence and no sources, you may not write such a statement in a scholarly paper. In this case, no one cares what you think General X should have thought. Your assertion that the General thought something without offering any evidence is merely a figment of your imagination. Do not try to suggest that figments of your imagination are the result of scholarly research.
- You cannot submit a paper that is merely a string of quotes from various sources. When you write a paper, your thesis (the argument you make to answer your research question) should reflect your own (original) thinking. You should arrive at your thesis as a result of piecing together the evidence/data you have compiled. You must do the work for your paper. You must evaluate, analyze, and offer judgments on the evidence you offer and your evaluations must be based on the accumulated evidence, not wishful thinking.
- Your sources must be varied. Reading several Internet pages does not constitute careful, scholarly research. Your research sources should include scholarly, journalistic, and primary materials.
- Scholarly sources include books and journal articles. You can search for books related to your topic on Voyager at http://voyager.uvm.edu/. Only reading books, however, is not good enough. Books often take much longer than journal articles to publish and therefore the information found in books is frequently less current than the information found in journal articles. The best way to find journal articles is through ArticleFirst. To access ArticleFirst go to the library webpage http://sageunix.uvm.edu/Collections/ then select General Reference then select Journals and Magazines then select ArticleFirst. Then search for journal articles related to your research question.
- Journalistic sources include the LADB, newspapers, and magazines. Newspapers such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist are all good sources for international news. If you can read the language of the country you are studying, then consult the major newspapers from that country on the Internet.
- Primary materials include official documents, government hearings, treaties, State Department bulletins, speeches, memoirs, interviews, World Bank and International Monetary Fund statistics, government statistics. A good source for Statisctical data on Latin America is The Statistical Abstract of Latin America available in the reference section of the Bailey/Howe Library call number HA935.S79. Also check out the World Development Indicators (available on Sage under "Find Articles and More" then "Alphabetical List of Databases" *NOTE: you must be in the library to access this database).
- The reference librarians are a good resource and you should consult them for questions about sources.
V.Write the paper
- Proofread the paper. Rewrite the paper. Ask your roommate to proofread the paper. Rewrite the paper again. Ask your mom to proofread the paper. Rewrite it again. The more times you proofread and rewrite the paper, the better the paper will be and the higher your grade will be.
- Remember, for your paper, you need to add something to the work of other authors, you should not just repeat someone elses thesis.
- Organize your paper in the following way:
- Introduction: Begin the paper by identifying your research question. Then explain why your question is important. Offer your thesis a quick version of your answer to the research question (one or two sentences).
- Literature Review: Discuss the existing scholarly literature that relates to your question and explain why the existing literature does not sufficiently address the question you pose, thus telling the reader why your research had to be conducted and why your paper must be read if the reader is interested in the answer to your important question.
- Data: Present your evidence so that it supports your thesis (that is the answer to your research question)
- Conclusion: Summarize your findings and restate your thesis, which answers your research question. Do not add new information in the conclusion all evidence should be in the Data section.
- You may not write this year or this week You must specify particular dates. A reader should understand your time frame whatever date they happen to read your paper.
* To write a sophisticated paper, you should conduct your research in light of the important theories of political science.You might ask a question and offer an answer that either confirms or disconfirms a theory in the discipline.You might research a question and discover that there does not exist any good theory in the field to offer insight into your research question.In this case, you might analyze the existing literature and explain how your research offers a hypothesis to explain why some phenomena occur.