How to Write a Research Paper Part 3: Writing and Editing

How to Write a Research Paper Part 3: Writing and Editing

The final portion is actually writing the research paper and it requires thorough attention and patience.  Once the outline is written, it should be easy to put together ideas and examples in order to convey an idea.  Here are some ideas to keep in mind while writing the research paper:

How to Write the Introduction: The introduction presents the topic and educates the reader on it.  The kind of audience receiving the information is important.  More information may be provided if the audience is less familiar with the topic. An introduction needs to be proportional to the entire paper.  Short research papers should have a paragraph of 3-5 sentences with a thesis at the end.  Longer papers can have introductions with a few paragraphs taking up 1-2 pages and a thesis at the end again. There are many ways to open an introduction including a quotation relevant to the topic, a statistic, a historical background, or a thought-provoking idea.  Asking a question is another engaging mechanism to use and the body of the essay or the conclusion should answer the question.

The introduction can be imagined either as an upside down or right side up pyramid.  One may begin the introduction with a general concept and gradually become more specific.  Or, the topic can be introduced in a focused manner and give way to a more general idea.  In any case, the topic of the research paper needs to be stated briefly so the reader is educated and ultimately guided towards the thesis.

How to Compose a Thesis: A thesis comes at the end of the introduction right after the topic is discussed.  One way of looking at a thesis of a research paper is that is a plan for the rest of the paper.  For example, if the thesis lists a few ideas in a certain order, the body paragraphs of the paper should follow the same order as stated in the thesis.  Consistency and clarity are very important.  One can think of the thesis as an argument because after doing research, the author forms his own opinions and thoughts and tries to argue or persuade the reader in agreeing with him.  Of course, there will always be readers who disagree, so the next goal is to inform the reader more than they already are about the topic. Basically, the thesis presents the goals of the author and what he or she is determined to accomplish about this topic.  While the thesis should be written formally, it is important to make the thesis very clear as it will highlight the major points of the argument.  For example, one can begin the thesis or state its purpose with the following sentences:
·    “Now that we have established (the main topic idea goes here), we can see that (list in proper format point 1, point 2, etc)…”
·    “The purpose of this discussion is to…”
·    “The purpose of this article is to…”
·    “This article will argue that…”

The thesis can be used to frame the body of the research paper.

How to Write the Body Paragraphs: The body of the research paper allows the author more freedom to express his or her points and discuss them.  The author can make as many points necessary to support his or her thesis, but each point needs to be fully addressed and backed by information gathered from the research.  Concrete details can be used in the form of quotations or paraphrasing.

Using Quotations: Quotations are very useful but should be used minimally.  If every sentence is a quote, the research paper is unoriginal and only presents other peoples’ points.  No one wants to read an article that just has quotes. Parts of quotations are better to use rather than quotes that are 5 lines unless the quote is highly significant. Whenever quotes are used, they are most effective when they are embedded in a sentence.  A sentence can present an idea or argument using parts of a quotation.

Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is another option when using concrete examples from resources.  It is a good idea to use an equal amount of quotes and paraphrased sentences. This keeps the research paper alive.  Paraphrasing, however, should be done carefully in order to prevent changing the original meaning of someone else’s idea.  Every single word does not need to change, but if 3 words in a row are used directly from a source, they should be quoted.  Using concrete examples directly from sources has a precaution because of Plagiarism. Plagiarism is a big deal and has its consequences.  Do not use someone else’s ideas as your own.  It is good to comment on other peoples’ work and agree with them, but it is very important to give them credit.

Citations: The way to give credit to another author is to cite the examples, quotations, and ideas being used for the research paper.  Citing is a technical component of research paper writing and there are different formats for doing it.  Some of the most widely used citation styles include APA, MLA, CBE and Chicago Style.  For example, humanities subjects will use APA usually, while science papers will use MLA. Each format will have its own way of paginating (numbering pages), creating headers and footers, including page numbers and author names from sources, creating works cited and bibliographies.  There are many references available online to make sure the correct format is being used accurately.

Commentary: With every concrete example and citation from another source comes commentary from the author.  The author should argue his or her points by giving opinions, thoughts, and argumentative sentences.  It is acceptable to present a point to contradict the authors’ own point because it shows the other side of the story, but it is very important to reinforce the author’s argument.  The argument should be compelling while at the same time insightful.  Commentary is where direct examples are supported or disputed.  One pitfall is rambling on and on, there is always a time stop.  It is important to stay focused on what the research paper intends to do.  Going off topic will distract the reader.  In fact, each point being expressed should refer back to the thesis to remind the reader what the purpose of the essay is.  It is also a good idea to conclude body paragraphs with brief concluding sentences about each point to send out a reminder of why a certain point is being used for the argument and transitions into the next point.

How to Use Transitions: Going over board with transition words is common for most people because it is difficult to connect ideas together.  However, transitioning is important to keep the reader engaged.  An essay goes bad when one point just jumps to the other without any connections.  When it is time to move on to another point, a new paragraph should begin.  The first sentence of the new paragraph may want to refer back to the last point and then present the new point.  This is a good transition format as opposed to constantly using words such as: however, furthermore, first, second, finally, etc.  Even within a paragraph words such as although, nonetheless, or regardless should be used sparingly.  Otherwise, the paper becomes redundant.

Conclusion: Once the body is written out, it comes time to connect everything together and sum it all up on a concluding paragraph.  First mistake is to actually use the phrase “in conclusion.”  A more mature research paper will present the final words in a more effective way.  A conclusion should refer back to the ideas presented in the introduction or answer questions from the introduction.  A Conclusion should restate the thesis in a different way to remind the reader why they have just read the entire article.  In the last sentences, all the major points should be reinforced in order to express the author’s ideas and concerns again.  Some good tactics for a conclusion include relating to the reader’s present condition using real-world situations or providing a call for action sentence.  This keeps the reader thinking about the research paper and perhaps acting upon what he or she has just learned.  A compelling quotation, with a citation, is also effective.

Editing the Research Paper: A research paper is a multi-step project and one of the steps is a rough draft.  The first copy of the paper is the rough draft and needs editing.  A useful tactic is to walk away from the first draft and to even sleep on it.  Having a fresh mind and rested eyes are best for catching mistakes and rewording sentences.  Spell check is always a necessity.  Sometimes reading paragraph sentences from end to beginning is an effective way of editing.  People tend to be afraid of changing an idea last minute, especially if they are short of time but a new idea may be better than a previous one.  Another good idea is to have peers read the essay.  Someone who is unfamiliar with the topic is beneficial because he or she can point out confusing parts or areas that need further clarification.  One person who should help revise is someone who is familiar with the topic, such as a professor or mentor, and they will offer valuable and honest advice.

Time should be devoted to the editing process and once the paper is covered with red pen marks, it is time to actually revise the rough drafts and write the final paper.  Technical components such as footnotes, works cited, and bibliographies should be finalized with the proper format.  A good finishing touch is to create a cover page for the research paper with a clever or interesting title.

Clearly, writing a good research paper is a time-consuming project, therefore, one should be aware of deadlines.  If deadlines are not provided, it may be useful to create a project plan with various check points.  Procrastinating is not a good option but many people express themselves more effectively under pressure.  Each person is different and the research paper writing process should accommodate to the person’s schedule and needs.  Determination, patience, and goal-orientation are qualities of a good writer.  With these tips, anyone should be able to research a topic they are interested in or are assigned and produce the perfect research paper!

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