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How To Write a Research Paper

October 27, 2016

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In writing a top-notch research paper, there are two important elements to keep in mind. One is the actual research that goes into the paper, combined with the relentless fact-checking that’s required to make sure everything is accurate. Another is the actual storytelling narrative – the way that you choose to present those facts to your audience to support a specific thesis.


The details matter


When writing a research paper, too many people assume that doing a quick Google search or jotting down a few notes from Wikipedia is all that’s required to create a research paper. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the lazy 21st century equivalent of earlier generations relying on the Encyclopedia Britannica for information on subjects or topics.


But remember – this is a research paper, and that means going one step further. Perhaps the best way to figure out what to read and how to find information is by checking out the references and endnotes in important books or papers that have already been published.


For example, let’s say you’ve been asked to prepare a research paper on the Founding Fathers of America. Well, you might want to check out one of the two bestselling works by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough – “John Adams” or “1776.” Within those two works, check out the sources he used in writing each of his chapters. That will give you some useful leads.


When it comes to putting together a research paper, there are two types of sources – “primary sources” and “secondary sources.” In the case of the Founding Fathers research paper, the primary sources would include original historical works, such as the Declaration of Independence, and first-hand accounts of the era; the secondary sources would include all the scholarly works that have been written about them.


Coming up with the narrative when writing a research paper


A research paper is more than just a collection of facts and figures. You should be able to present a unique thesis or viewpoint that shows mastery of the material.


For example, a young grade school student might put together a thesis statement like “George Washington was the greatest American president” – and then assemble all the facts and figures to prove this point. A high school student might create a more sophisticated thesis statement, along the lines of: “How George Washington paved the way for modern American democracy.” And, finally, a university student might come up with an even more sophisticated thesis statement that takes into account specific aspects of Washington’s life – as a diplomat, politician or military commander.


The goal of any storytelling narrative is to make it as simple as possible for the reader to understand. However, simple does not mean simplistic – it means clear and logical. Your goal should be to educate, enlighten and inspire a reader – not to cloak your knowledge with a lot of obscure facts and long-winded phrases. The longer your research paper is, the more you’ll need to organize it into parts, or even chapters.


Putting it all together


During the process of writing the research paper, you’ll need to develop a methodology for keeping everything organized and disciplined. For example, some people jot down notes on index cards. Other people prefer to use apps on their smartphones to organize images, notes or even full documents.


By the time you’re finished your research paper, you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment. In some cases, a research paper that you complete at a relatively young age can become the basis for an entire career spent in pursuit of an academic passion.


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