How to Start Writing a Research Paper
Use the reference sources below to:
- help define a topic
- place a topic in context
- get an overview of scholarly thought on a topic
- help you focus and develop a thesis for your paper
Articles in reference sources often list articles, books, and websites for further reading, in sections entitled Bibliography, Suggested Reading, Further Information, etc.
Develop a research strategy
Some considerations before beginning your research:
Pick a topic that interests you. If your instructor supplied a topic or a prompt for your paper, figure out an angle of that subject that interests you. Failure to do so will make your research more difficult, and will likely make your paper harder to write and less enjoyable to read.
Understand the topic and terminology. If you choose a topic that is laden with jargon or technical language that is unfamiliar to you, it will be difficult to understand the material you need to read in order to write your paper.
Availability of information. If you choose a topic that is erudite or obscure, factor in additional time for locating resources or research in the field. Likewise, if you choose a broad topic it may be impossible to narrow down to a manageable length. "Sports", for example, is a vast topic--one that could quickly overwhelm you.
Ho hum. Some topics have been written about extensively and should be avoided. You may want to check with your instructor to see if he or she feels that your topic is "tired" and overdone, or if it has potential.
Consider your audience. Who will be reading your paper ? Will it be peers or teachers or someone who is already an expert in the field? Knowing who your readers are will help you determine the extent of the background information needed as well as how detailed your paper could or should be.
Length of paper. How long is the paper? Read your syllabus or ask your teacher how long the paper is. It is unlikely, for example, that you will be able to write about the differences between the religion of Islam and Christianity in a 5 page paper.
Due date/deadline. It is imperative to look ahead to the deadline in order to prioritize and complete the steps of locating sources; reading the material you have chosen; evaluating chosen material; taking notes on your reading; and writing, paraphrasing, quoting and citing. See the assignment calculator to the right for help in determining the scope and timing of your research paper.
What does this allow us to talk about? Underlying the story you tell in your paper is the "so what?" or "who cares?" factor. Your paper is more than a report on a subject; you are staking a claim and using your research and writing to back up that claim.