We have all asked the question at one time or another – “Where did the time go?” When the instructor handed out the research paper assignment you had 10 weeks to turn it in – no problem! But the paper is due Wednesday and it is Monday afternoon. Where did time go?
When this situation occurs the problem is not the time but is in the lack of planning. Students – especially college students – do not enter into a class unaware of what they will be facing. Professors hand out a class syllabus outlining the whole semester so you know what is required to pass the class. Also there is talk on campus of the instructor who demands a ton of work. You also learn which teacher will pass you if you show up each day and act interested. So, to avoid plagiarism, learn what the requirements are before entering the class for the first time.
Steps to writing a research paper:
1. Investigate possible topics
Once you know there will be a required research paper to receive credit for the class, go to the campus library and investigate possible topics. See what sources are available. Talk with the librarian and ask which topics are popular for that class. Do not expect the librarian to perform all your research but the staff can offer great tips and point you in the right direction. Armed with this information will put you days ahead of your classmates.
2. Choose your topic
After the assignment has been given, immediately choose your topic and have the instructor approve it. Once approved it is time to outline your research strategy. This is where the previous time in the library is invaluable – you know what sources are immediately available – books, newspaper and magazine articles, documentaries, journals, etc. The most important part of this step is to once again plan ahead.
We’ve all heard the story about the race between the tortoise and the hare. The hare took off from the starting line in a flash and hopped way ahead of the tortoise. The hare got so far ahead he decided to take a lunch break. Meanwhile, the tortoise just kept plodding along. The hare made fun of how slow the tortoise was moving. The race was long so the hare knew he had plenty of time to beat the tortoise – so the hare goofed off some more. When the hare came bounding up to the finish line he was shocked to see the tortoise. The morale of the story is simple – plan ahead and keep moving towards your goal.
3. Write a thesis statement
Once you have outlined the sources you will be using then plan when you will have each portion of the research completed. Place a date beside each source. Then prior to beginning your research draw up a rough outline so you will stay focused. Once you have a firm grasp on your topic write a thesis statement.
A thesis statement is one or more sentences explaining the point of your academic paper. It tells what your paper is about, the point it will make, how it will reach this point, the methods used to prove this point, and the conclusion drawn once all the evidence is in. Your thesis statement should tell the reader what the paper is about, where it is going and how it will get there.
While writing a thesis statement, you may want to try the stream of consciousness technique. Let your ideas flow and write down everything that comes to your mind on the topic. You can then re-read all thoughts and format your thesis statement from a draft.
By planning ahead and being armed you will not waste a lot of time investigating information that pertains to your topic but is not the focus of your research project.
4. Keep notes on your source’s information
The larger the research project the more notes you will have to keep everything organized either by source, by your paper’s outline, or some other method that allows you to find information when it is needed. Also keep extensive notes on your source’s information – author, publication date, publisher, etc., — cite information that will be needed for your reference list at the end of your academic paper.
5. Set a date to start writing your paper
This brings up the final two parts to planning ahead. Set a date when you will start writing your paper and begin that day – no procrastination. This date must be firm, fixed, and adhered to. Put the first words down on your rough draft document. Try and write your overall intro in one sitting. This gives you a short working draft of your whole paper in one complete thought – a good visual. This intro is like an early warning signal that will inform you of any holes you might have in your outline or research material. The earlier the holes are caught the easier it will be to complete your research project on time and avoid the temptation of copying and pasting information that could potentially lead you to plagiarize.
6. Set a date for your final edits
Finally, set a date for your final edits – ideally a few days before the project is due.