How to Write a Research Paper
There is no great mystery involved in producing a successful paper. It is basically a question of learning to organize your time and materials effectively. The steps outlined below can serve as a guide in preparing your essay. For more detailed information on researching and writing term papers, consult the sources listed in section 13.
Help in writing is offered also through the web site such as http://cdev.concordia.ca and http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/index2.html
1. Start Early
Begin working on your essay as soon as the assignment is given. Profit from the time at your disposal to do your research and writing to meet the due date. If you wait until the last minute, you may have difficulty finding library materials, particularly if other students are researching the same topic, and you may be pressured by other assignments.
2. Select a Topic
Keeping in mind the guidelines your instructor has set down for the assignment in terms of length, subject matter, types of sources, etc., choose a topic you would be interested in pursuing. Your next step is to verify at the library that there is sufficient material to support your choice. If not, discard your topic and adopt a more realistic one.
3. Narrow the Topic
Do not fall into the trap of selecting a topic that is so broad you would have to write a book to do it justice. Limit your topic to one particular aspect that you will be able to treat thoroughly within the prescribed limits of your essay. Background reading in a general or specialized encyclopedia will give you a clue as to the subject's natural limits and divisions. The reference librarian can direct you to the encyclopedia that will be appropriate to your particular needs; you can also consult the Selected Reference Sources guides available in the Reference area of the Libraries for a list of subject encyclopedias.
4. Compose a Tentative Outline
Roughly organize your thoughts to produce an outline that will give direction to your reading and note-taking.
5. Gather Supporting Material
Take advantage of the library's varied resources.
- Check the library databases and the online catalogues for books (including government publications) on your topic.
- Consult the periodical indexes (print indexes or database indexes) to locate articles.
- Request the advice of reference librarians who may be able to direct you to other sources pertinent to your subject area.
6. Read and Review your Documentation
For each source that you have consulted, be sure you have all the information necessary to cite it in your bibliography. Accuracy at this stage will save you the trouble of having to re-trace your steps when you are writing your final draft. For a book, mark down the author, title, place of publication, publisher and copyright date. For an article from a journal, take note of the author, title of the article, title of the journal, volume and issue number, date and inclusive page numbers. For a WWW document, take down the author, title, date, URL (web address) and date consulted.
7. Draft a Final Outline
Map out your approach to the essay by composing a detailed sentence outline. First, compose a thesis sentence. This one sentence is the most important one of your entire essay so be sure to phrase it carefully. A thesis sentence clearly communicates the subject of your essay and the approach you are going to take to it. It is the controlling factor of your essay to which all information that follows must relate. Secondly, group and regroup your notes according to the various aspects of your topic until you find a sequence that seems logical for your essay. This can serve as the basis for your outline.
8. Write a Rough Draft
In writing a rough draft you are striving for a flow of ideas. Write non-stop, using your final outline and organized notes as guides. Do not worry about correct spelling or punctuation at this stage. Remember that the purpose of a rough draft is to see if you have a logical progression of arguments and sufficient supporting material.
9. Revise the Rough Draft
Make the necessary adjustments until you are satisfied your statements flow logically and your ideas have been fully presented in clear, concise prose. You may need to review your documentation if some sections of your text need further development.
10. Compile your Bibliography
A bibliography is a listing in alphabetical order according to the author's last name of all the sources you consulted in preparing your separate page at the end of your term paper. It is set up according to a standard format that you will find described in most style manuals. Citation style sheets for the most commonly used citation styles (APA, MLA, Turabian) are available from the Reference Desk or can be consulted on Library websites such as http://library.concordia.ca/help/howto/citations.html.
You are now ready to focus primarily on the style of your essay rather than the content. Make use of:
- a dictionary or spellchecker for spelling problems
- a thesaurus for synonyms
- a grammar book
- a style manual for the mechanics of footnotes and bibliography
Representing another person's ideas as your own within the context of your essay is plagiarism. Serious penalties are exercised against students who plagiarize, not the least of which can include failure of the course for which the essay was submitted. Play it safe - acknowledge in a footnote any use of another person's ideas, whether the information is quoted directly, paraphrased, or summarized. The correct procedure for footnoting is described in most style manuals.
13. Books on Researching and Writing Term Papers
For additional titles, search databases by subject using the subject headings “Report Writing” or "Research Handbooks, Manuals".
Baugh, L. Sue. How to write term papers and reports. 1992
Buckley, Joanne. Fit to print: the Canadian student's guide to essay writing. 4th ed., 1998
Coyle, William. Research Papers. 11th edition., 1999.
Dees, Robert. Writing the modern research paper. 1993.
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA handbook for writers of research papers. 4th ed., 1995.
Joseph, Nancy L. Research writing using traditional and electronic sources. 1999.
Lester, James D. Writing research peers a complete guide. 8th ed., 1996.
Northey, Margot E. Making sense: a student's guide to research, writing & style. 3rd ed., 1993.
Roth, Audrey J. The research paper: process, form and content. 8th ed., 1999.
Turabian, Kate L. A manual for writers of term papers theses, and dissertations. 6th ed., 1996.
This policy is from a paper prepared by Concordia University Libraries.
Policy 2004-08b; 2005-2012