Writing a research paper may not be your favorite way to pass the time, but there are ways to make it more enjoyable.
- Don’t procrastinate.
A research paper, like any piece of writing, is a process. But if you’re a student, then you’re probably on a deadline, and you definitely shouldn’t wait until the 11th hour to get started. As soon as you receive the assignment guidelines, start brainstorming. Think of possible topics, then run them through a quick Google search (we’re big fans of Google Scholar) to see what you find. Make a quick outline to give yourself a sense of direction: will you be writing a persuasive paper? An informative one? Your position matters, as does your paper’s purpose. Sketching out a road map will help to keep you on track.
- Pick a topic you can live with.
Research papers generally aren’t short, and you’ll likely need to find (and read) several resources, many of which may or may not make their way into your paper. So choose your topic wisely: it should be neither too broad nor too narrow, and ideally, you’ll have the flexibility to research a topic in which you’re interested. Additionally, try to select a subject that’s current (i.e., something scholars are actively studying). You’ll be kicking yourself if you choose a topic so esoteric there isn’t much research about it.
- Search smartly, vet your sources, and keep track of your references.
A research paper tends to be formal, which means you’ll need reputable sources to back up your points. Open-source platforms are notoriously unreliable. Stay away from Wikipedia and similar sites—that is, unless you’re using reputable sources cited within a Wikipedia article (check the References section at the bottom of an article). Be sure to check Google Scholar and your university’s library databases (e.g., EBSCOhost, Elsevier, Opposing Viewpoints, etc.). And don’t wait to create your reference page! Maintain a list of URLs, DOIs, and other links and PDFs as you go along. That way, you won’t spend unnecessary time searching for your sources all over again once you’ve finished your paper.
- Work in chunks.
Rare is the student who can sit down and complete an entire research paper in one sitting. Break your working time down into smaller tasks: choose a topic, look through some sources, make an outline, and maybe draft your introduction. Then take a break. Later, you can flesh out some body paragraphs, transition effectively between them, and tie things together in your conclusion. Your reference page and overall formatting can be saved for last. Most importantly, don’t try to do everything all at once; tackle one or two tasks at a time over the course of days (or weeks!) to ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- Allow time for revisions.
You’ll likely breathe a huge sigh of relief once your paper is written and formatted. You may feel so relieved, in fact, that you’ll be tempted to pass in your paper without a second look. Stop! Step away and then review it at least once more, after you’ve gotten some distance from it, to see your writing through fresh eyes. You’ll likely catch errors or inconsistencies that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Your turn: what works for you when writing a research paper?