Research Paper Tips #1

Contrary to popular belief, your research paper should not be just pages and pages of facts.  Otherwise, we could just get that information from the internet on our own.  What we actually need is for you to interpret those facts for us.

Research Papers-More Than Just Data: Imagine you’re an actual research scientist doing cutting-edge research and the sources you’re using are actually bits of information you just discovered that no one has ever seen before.  You’re not going to focus on the boring stuff we all know; you’re going to look at all the new and exciting stuff that you’ve discovered and connect it all together to tell us what it means.  Tell us what’s important about the issue.  Focus on what is special.  Don’t just explain how something works.  Tell us why it matters, or how it is different, or how it can change the world. If it helps, think of your paper as an article in a science magazine; you want your paper to be interesting to your readers or they won’t want to read it.

Make It Easy On Yourself: If you choose a topic that you are actually interested in, the paper will be more enjoyable to research and write.  Look at the research first, and then make a thesis out of what you find most interesting about your topic.  Chances are, if it interests you, it will interest your reader too.  Don’t try to come up with your main points first and then look for research to support your ideas second; this is much harder to do than going the other way around.

Keep It Focused And Specific: A word about the scope of your paper:  don’t try to tackle an issue that is too big.  If you only have a few pages to work with, you don’t want to try to explain the entire history of the world or talk about every dinosaur that ever existed. Maybe focus on one dinosaur and what made it special.  The wider your scope, the greater the number of pages you will need to cover it!

Quick Tips #2: On Cutting Excess and Writing Research Papers

Whoa!  We just remembered a bunch of tips and suggestions, so here is a short list.  Write back if you have any questions.  If you do, then we’ll know what to explain in more detail.

–If 50% of writing is coming up with ideas and putting them down on the page, the other 50% is cutting things out.  What you take out of your writing is often just as important as what you put in.  Since we now have the magic of word processor programs, try saving your paper as a different version, and then experiment with taking things out.  That way you can see how your paper will change after cutting, all without losing any of the work that you like.  Often, after cutting sentences out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find your paper is actually a lot stronger.

–Write a lot, and then cut.  Many students spend a lot of their time trying to get sentences perfect in their heads before writing them down.  This eats up a lot of time because you end up with very little to work with and often can’t see what the ideas look like together until your paper is all done, and then it will take more drafts to refine your paper if it isn’t perfect.  Rather than trying to get things perfect before writing a sentence, try the opposite:  write down EVERYTHING that comes to mind, and don’t go back and edit any of it until all your ideas are out on the paper.  For many, it’s a lot easier to select the best ideas from a full brainstorming sheet than it is to start with the first draft first.  You might even find a better idea after brainstorming than you had to begin with.

–Not only is it helpful to have lots of ideas to choose from, but research papers are easier to write when you have a lot of information to work with.  If you’re researching a topic, try printing out anything that is even remotely related.  Once you have all of that information printed out, you can scan through the information and use a highlighter to select the best stuff.  That way, you can come back to the highlighted parts later instead of having to re-read the whole article.    And it’s always easier to have more information to analyze than you need rather than to try to wring more writing out of information you’ve already used up.  Trust me; teachers can tell when a student is trying to stretch their information to avoid more research.  It makes papers boring.  REALLY boring.  And no one likes that.

–With that being said, what do you do when you need more writing to reach a page limit, but you have used up all the information you’ve gathered and are having trouble finding more?  Try expanding the scope of your paper.  If you are writing about the foot, try switching to the leg.  If you’re writing about what makes a planet a planet, try writing about what makes something not a planet.  You can almost always look at the opposite of a scenario to compare and get more information.  Try asking, “What would happen if it wasn’t this way?”  Or look to the future.  “What will things be like in fifty years?  In 100?”  Or the past.  “How have things changed over the past few decades or centuries?”  And if you can’t find any information, perhaps it’s time to change topics (although, sometimes writing a paper on why there’s no information about a certain subject can reveal just as much about that subject–maybe even enough for a paper).

This is getting long, so we’ll end this post and continue this discussion with another one.

Quick Tip#1: You’re the Justice System-Research and Analysis

–Here’s a quick tip for research papers.  Think of research and analysis papers as court cases.  And you–the writer of the paper–are both the detective and the lawyer.  As a lawyer, you’ve got a point to prove.  That’s your thesis.  But how are you going to convince the jury (your reader)?  You’ve got to have evidence (quotes, facts, interviews), and you’ve got to explain in the easiest way possible how that evidence helps to prove your point–make it simple.  Where do you get the evidence?  That’s where the detective comes in.  As the detective, you’ve got to look at everything, put the pieces together, and figure out what happened and how it all went down, all before the lawyer can start trying to prove his or her case.  Your Works Cited page tells us where your evidence came from, such as who provided it and where and when you found it.  If you don’t do a good job investigating first, the lawyer is going to have a tough time  proving the case, no matter how slick or fancy or smooth talking that lawyer is.  If you lose, another bad paper is out on the streets, and you get a bad grade.  No pension or expensive sports car for you.