Research Paper – Check!

18 Nov

Okay, so now’s about the time you’re receiving guidelines and instructions for your final papers. Got a big research paper that’s making you sweat?  Don’t worry! We’ve got your back!

For presumably most of your academic career, you’ve been hearing advice like start your paper early, use reputable sources, proofread…the list goes on. While these are incredibly valid suggestions, at this point, either you do those things or you don’t. Preferably, you do. And if you don’t, you should. End of that lecture.

I get it; you’re busy, so let’s just cut to the chase. You want to write a rocking paper, and I want you to, too. Here’s how:

1. Read your assignment sheet. Seriously. Go read it… I’ll wait.

You want to make sure you completely understand the assignment. Rewrite the assignment parameters (especially what your thesis needs to include) in your own words if it will help and ask your instructor for any clarification you might need. Make a list of any specific guidelines, such as number of sources and length. You need to know the assignment inside and out so that you don’t waste your time planning or writing something that isn’t what the assignment requires.

2. Hit the library.

Whether you physically go to the library (which is usually best) or just surf the library website in your pajamas, start pulling resources. The library can be a bit intimidating, but you can always refer back to Valeria’s blog about using the library from earlier this year. She’ll walk you through everything!

The library also has online databases where you can gain access to tons of journals for academic articles. Don’t be afraid to ask a librarian for help with anything from how to get started to finding books on the shelf. You can even chat with them online! (Is there anything you can’t do on the internet anymore?!)

It's so simple!

It’s so simple!

3. Get to work!

Gather your sources and start writing summaries about what you find in them, and if you have an idea of how you want to use that information, jot that down so you don’t forget. Make sure you locate quotes you want to use (you might use flags, highlighters, or just take note of the page number and first few words to look for when you’re ready to use it). At this point, I also like to gather my citations. Open up a document and have them ready to go… it’ll save you a headache later. I’ve found that when I wait until the end of writing a paper to type up my citations, I’m usually stressed out (because sometimes I procrastinate too). I start rushing and usually do a pretty poor job. If you have them done early, you can take your time to make sure they’re perfect. Make sure you’re using the correct citation format! Usually, science papers will use APA format, and the humanities may use MLA or Chicago. (Bonus – since you’re getting them done early, you can drop by office hours or ask your professor to look over them quickly after class to make sure they’re correct!)

*Note: I have heard about citation generators from manlazy students. Sure, this can be quicker, but are often incorrect. Usually, your professor will give you specific guidelines or models for the preferred citation style. If not, I like to use the Owl at Purdue for models. They have a lot of the common citation formats, and then I just copy and paste the model and replace it with the information from my materials. You can also use your Rules for Writers book from your English class.

4. Read your assignment sheet again. Yes, I really mean it. Again, I’ll wait.

I know this seems like a tedious step, but it’s really important. Keep the assignment sheet handy while you plan. You want to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to at all times. Nothing is worse than doing a bunch of work and having to throw it all out because it’s wrong. Actually – there is something that’s worse…doing a bunch of work that’s wrong but not having time to fix it, so you get a bad grade. Luckily, you can avoid both of those by making sure you’re following directions from the beginning.

Get your planning stages done. If you need to a make a concept web, outline, or just jot a few notes down, do it! By now, you should have a pretty standard pre-writing style that fits you. If yours isn’t working as well as you’d like, you can also try a different approach! Again, don’t be afraid to seek help from your professor!

5. Write your paper.

This one is pretty self explanatory… sit down and do it.

6. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

I know that this was something that I said I wouldn’t lecture you about, but I can’t help it! It’s something so simple that can make a HUGE difference. Nothing will annoy your professor more than a well-thought out paper that is unpolished. Have a friend look it over. If you like to be your own editor, fine! Just make sure you don’t do it as soon as you finish writing. Give yourself a bit of a break and then go back with fresh eyes.

Editing is more than looking for typos or rewording awkward sentences; you should also be comparing your work to the assignment sheet. It seems really basic, but you have no idea how far just following the directions can get you. Seriously. And a polished paper that follows the assignment parameters = A!

Bear Down, Cats! You’ve got this!

– Tori

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