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Preparing a Research Paper

Jan 9, 2008
A research paper isn't something you can write overnight, nor is it something that can even be left until the last minute. It requires you to have some kind of specialist knowledge that you will probably have to investigate and learn for days or even weeks before the research paper is due.

At first look, the research paper assignment may seem impossible. You may not even have any idea about how to go about it. What you shouldn't do is just approach it like an essay and write out a narrative type report with little or no further knowledge on the subject. Remember this is a "research" project and by definition you will be required to show that you have done some background study of the subject of your own in order to complete the paper.

No matter how daunting you think the research paper assignment looks, there's a simple formula that you can follow that will ensure that you come up with the material that the teacher is looking for. Follow the points below and you'll be off to a good start:

1. Choose your topic wisely. You should be given some choice in what your research paper will be about. The main subject area may be set out, but there ought to be some degree of flexibility. Use this to focus on the part of the subject area that best suits your interests and current knowledge base. Even though this knowledge won't be enough, it's a good foundation upon which to build.

2. Find where the relevant information is. This could be in your local library, the school library; it could be magazines, reports, professional journals, and even oral recordings if you are using real life case studies. The Internet is a great resource for researchers these days but make sure that any information you find is on reputable sites and is backed up by other reputed sites. Some sites just copy information from other sites without checking the source, and this could adversely affect your grade so make sure that you fact check as much as possible when researching via the Web.

3. For each source that you are going to use, create an index card, or put them into an Excel spreadsheet. This means when you come to compile the bibliography section of your paper, you'll be able to easily access these. It also means that if you have to recheck a section of your material after you've returned it to the library or wherever you borrowed it, you'll be able to locate it quickly.

4. Start with an outline of what your report will contain. It should always have an introduction, a main section that addresses the research question you've been assigned, a conclusion that you come to based upon the research that you did, and a bibliography of the sources you use. In the outline make sure that the main section of the paper has headings that correspond with the headings you are going to use in the main report and bullet point the information that will appear under each heading in the final report.

5. Once you have an outline, write a rough draft. This will help you see any gaps or inconsistencies in your work. At the point you should insert footnotes that identify any reference sources, and/or quotations on each page.

6. Tidy up your rough draft by addressing any problems you found with additional information, and then check for spelling, grammar and format (if you were given a format to follow for the assignment make sure you follow it or you'll lose unnecessary pints). Check that your bibliography is complete and that all of your sources are listed in it.

7. Finally, if you haven't already done so, create the title and contents pages, and then insert the right page numbers on the contents page.

8. Read it through carefully to ensure that all diagrams are properly labeled, you can't see any spelling errors, and most importantly, your research findings lead logically to the conclusion that you've come to.

That's it. You're done! See when you approach the research paper in a logical manner; it's not half as difficult as it first appears.
About the Author
Jane Saeman runs an In-Home Tutoring service called Aim High Tutors. Find out about how to help your student reach their full potential at http://www.aimhightutors.com/blog
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