Every college student must face it sometime. It, of course, is the notorious research paper.
Before starting your next paper, realize that the things you shouldn’t do might be the best guide for achieving your next “A.”
1. Don’t Procrastinate. Putting off the research paper because it intimidates you is like not buying concert tickets right away because you resent the ticket price and then finding it sold out just as you find the perfect date. (It is going to bite you in the end.) Regardless of your subject, the research paper requires planning and process—and the writing comes last. Allow yourself enough time to do the actual research: poring through websites, scouring books and periodicals, and setting up first-person interviews if possible. And don’t forget to allot time for reading. You can’t write about what you haven’t learned.
2. Don’t Do the Same Old-Same Old. As much as you dread the research paper, take pity on your poor instructor who has to read 15-30 of them for each class. Don’t be boring! Choose a topic that is truly of interest to you and then ask a question of it that makes you curious. Or look at the topic in sharp contrast to another idea and form your thesis from there. Don’t look up the topic on a research site and pick a thesis that has been published over and over again. Remember, your instructor is the subject matter expert here. He/she is going to know the research that is current. You need to be creating something new and worth reading.
3. Don’t Forget the Thesis Statement. Oh, yeah. That. A good thesis statement is your GPS to an effective essay. Forget to write a clear, tight thesis statement and you may drive your topic off into the woods and into a forgotten swamp—where it will sink. (Your instructor will notice the detour, by the way.) Once you’ve asked that curious question of your topic, the thesis should provide the answer or conclusion. Your paper then will lay out the proof. Don’t be afraid of a thesis statement that is slightly controversial or sassy. Getting your reader’s attention is the other reason you write a thesis, remember?
4. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Words. Choosing the right words, arranging words in the right order and spelling them correctly are essential elements to the success of your paper. A research paper is an academic document. It implies that you have thoroughly studied your topic and created a comprehensive analysis of the thesis, using all resources at your disposal. Remember, you are asking the reader to accept your conclusions. It is not an exaggeration to say that misplaced apostrophes or awkward sentence structure can undo all the hard work you’ve put into your research. Instead of appearing like an expert on the topic, you leave the reader to wonder at your meaning. Always have a skilled reader for your first and last drafts. Read your text aloud to someone before you submit the paper. (Refer back to Tip #1: another reason not to procrastinate.)
5. Don’t Blow Off Your Citations. Document all your sources as you go along. In your drafts, the citations don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to be accurate so that when you are finishing up the paper you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time chasing down that website address or page number. When documenting for the final copy, use the appropriate resource for your assignment (APA, MLA, Chicago Style, etc.) and follow the most current rules. Form matters. Often students don’t realize that the reference page is not simply a device of torture but actually serves a genuine purpose. Understand that if you have done your research correctly, others can benefit from it. However, in order to access that research, they need your references cited correctly. Best advice: get an expert (like a librarian or editor) to proof your citation page before you submit your paper. Best online tip for citations: the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
In addition to her role as Community Manager for Minnesota School of Business-St. Cloud, Tami DeLand has a master’s degree in English Composition and has taught writing for nearly 20 years.