How to Write a Research Paper Part 1: Topic Choice and Conducting Research

How to Write a Research Paper Part 1: Topic Choice and Conducting Research

People conduct research on a daily basis and this may include researching capitalism, learning about environmental sustainability, or even a music genre.  With the internet, information is more accessible and research becomes easier.  The task of researching provides one with a load of information and one of the ways to put everything into perspective is reflecting back on the research through writing.  It’s almost like mapping out a plan or thought process and at the end coming up with a solution.  A research paper is a production that allows one to explore an idea or concept and come up with an opinion about it that is supported by others who may be experts.  A research paper also allows one to become an expert for that given topic because one must understand so much surrounding just one topic.

Now that we’ve established that it might be helpful to write a research paper for everyday use or for academic purposes, we can move on to some tips on how to write a research paper.

Topic Choice: The topic is the most important part that can evolve depending on one’s thoughts or stay the same throughout the entire process.  Some may be given a topic and others may have a concept in mind that they wish to further explore through research.  It is quite normal to change the topic around while reading sources or changing one’s perspective on a given topic.  This part is helpful for the thesis of the actual research paper because a thesis often states the topic and provides a viewpoint on it in the form of an argument usually.  The topic can be general but it is better to focus on a central idea or theme because it will allow one to narrow down the research component and know what to look for.

How to do Research: Conducting research can be broken down in two parts: the first part is finding sources and keeping track of them; the second part is reading through the material and documenting relevant parts.  Looking for sources is a crucial and time-consuming task.  It is helpful to keep in mind that the best sources do the following: help clarify ideas and issues about a topic, point towards a viewpoint that one wishes to agree with, and help refute the viewpoint one wishes to agree with.  The latter is important because it provides the other side of the equation and is important when raising other ideas about a topic in the actual research paper. When it comes to searching for sources, many people feel lost and do not know where to begin.  The internet is a very useful tool to begin researching these days but should be used cautiously.  One mistake is that people may try to use a scholar’s idea as their own and this is plagiarism.

There are many individuals posting inaccurate, outdated, and extremely biased information.  Sources from the internet themselves should expose the research that was done for that particular internet source.  If someone is posting their daily thoughts on a topic in a blog, this is not always reliable information for the research paper.  The key is to use reliable references. Google Scholar is free, accessible, and often qualified for doing sufficient research.  For those who attend a university, JSTOR is a great database for finding sources for research.  Of course, a local library or a University library are other great places that not only offer books but also magazines, periodicals, newspaper articles, scholarly journals, etc.  When looking for sources, it is helpful to keep track of them and even more useful if hard copies are available.  Sources for research should be saved for a bibliography. It may also be difficult to decide what sources are most relevant, but the person writing the paper is the judge.  If something seems a bit off about the article, it may be unnecessary to use.

How to Analyze Sources: Reading through sources is the next part of conducting research.  This can be done after all the relevant sources have been gathered or while looking through individual sources one by one. While sifting through and reading information from the sources, it is important to understand the goal of each source.  What is the author trying to portray or argue? Do they back up their arguments and ideas with other reliable sources?  It is helpful to write out a brief summary or make an annotated bibliography for each source in order to grasp the idea or to come back to the source knowing what it is about.  This will also help organize an outline and the actual essay. While reading, it may be useful to highlight points and quotes, write down page numbers that the quotes exist on (page numbers are important for citations), use post-its or note cards to mark the relevant points of a source.  Basically, this part should be very organized and thorough in order to gather all the tangible information in one place and to organize it in an outline for commentary and concrete examples in the research paper.

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