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Steps For Writing A Research Essay

Steps in Writing a Research Paper

A series of steps, starting with developing a research question and working thesis, will lead you through writing a research paper. As you move through these steps and actually create the research paper, you may find that you can't move through all of them in chronological order, and that's o.k. In fact, you may change the order of the steps depending on the subject, your knowledge of the subject, and your sources. For example, sometimes you need to do just a bit of background research and reading before you can develop a research question. Sometimes you need to go back and find additional sources to corroborate your viewpoint. The research writing steps that we offer represent a general, ideal, movement through the research writing process. In reality, writers often repeat or circle back as needed.

Hey, wait a minute. . . why did we say "ideal?" In our opinion, these steps represent the best way to move through the writing process because they ask you to think and develop a research question before you actually do a lot of research. The one big mess that you can get into, as a student, comes from doing too much unfocused research before identifying your own viewpoint, the one that you will eventually need to support. If you do too much unfocused research first, then the tendency is to try to include all of it in the paper. The result is a hodgepodge of information that's not focused, developed fully, or indicative of your own thoughts. It's also not efficient to do too much research before you really know what you're looking for. Try it our way--develop that research question first--to cut out a lot of research paper mess.

These steps will lead you through writing a research paper:

  1. One Big Mess...
  2. Developing a Research Question
  3. Developing a Research Thesis
  4. Finding Sources
  5. Evaluating Sources
  6. Taking Notes
  7. Working with Quotations
  8. Writing Summaries & Paraphrases
  9. Building the Essay Draft
  10. Documenting Sources
  11. Revising and Proofreading the Draft

Questions or feedback about ESC's Online Writing Center? Contact us at Learning.Support@esc.edu.

Step 1: Choose a topic

When choosing a topic, search for something that meets the following criteria:

ü Is the topic interesting to me?

If you are bored with the topic, you will probably bore your reader as well. Choose something that is new and exciting, not something overworked.

ü Is there sufficient information on this topic?

Is information on this subject available in various forms (i.e. magazines, newspapers, the Internet, videos, reference books, pamphlets, possible interviews, etc.)? Please note: if information is too abundant, you may have to narrow or limit your topic.

5. Access the materials. Read, hear, view, and touch.

6. Prepare preliminary Works Cited cards and/or page.

7. Finalize the thesis statement and prepare a working outline.

The outline should serve as a road map for your journey with your thesis as your navigator – it tells you where to go. When writing your outline, keep your destination in mind. Your information will help you get there, but how will you organize your journey?

The thesis should be placed at the beginning of the outline where you can refer to it often. Your teacher may require you to write one or both of the following types of outlines: a topic outline, in which the headings and subheadings are a series of words or phrases, not complete sentences; or a sentence outline, in which every heading and subheading is a complete sentence. Your teacher can help guide you through the outlining process. Keep in mind: the outline is not meant to hamper or restrict you. It can be changed and revised to allow you to prove your thesis more effectively.

ü Is it relevant and sophisticated enough to meet my teacher’s approval?

Select a topic that will allow you to compile, analyze, and interpret information from numerous sources so that your paper becomes a valuable source of information for the reader. Remember, a good research paper should help your teacher learn as well.

If you are truly interested in your topic, the research process should generate excitement. Think of yourself as an investigative reporter or a detective uncovering information that is as yet undiscovered. Think of your media center as a great starting point for your new adventure. Read as much as you can about your subject.

Step 2: Define the task and prepare a working thesis.

[Big6 #1-Task Definition]

A research paper is really a long answer or a series of answers to a questionthat a reader may have about

a given topic. What question do you want to answer about the topic you have chosen?

Sample questions like these will help you to define your tasks:

· Why was America isolationist after World War I?

· What role does anti-Semitism play in Shakespeare’s plays?

· Why are Japanese businesses so successful?

· What role does DNA analysis play in criminal investigations?

After you have asked your question, phrase it in the form of a focused statement that will allow you to use available information to prove or substantiate it. When formulating your thesis, use specific, concrete words. Your thesis does not need to be an absolute truth but something that will provoke thought and can be proven by your research. We can now make our research questions above into effective, focused thesis statements.

Sample thesis statements:

· America became isolationist after World War I because economic prosperity at home led to apathy

towards foreign policy.

· Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism is a reflection of the time period in which he wrote.

· Japanese businesses are very successful because of the family atmosphere within the business and

a strong work ethic within the Japanese culture.

· DNA analysis will revolutionize the use of evidence in criminal trials.

Step 3: Brainstorm all possible sources. [Big6 #2 – Information Seeking Strategies]

Think globally. Don’t limit yourself to books, magazines, and the Internet.

Step 4: Locate and evaluate sources for appropriateness for the assignment.

Look in the card catalog for books, videos, audiocassettes, the vertical file, etc. Check online paid subscription databasese.g. EBSCO, Newsbank, Literature Resources, etc.

Evaluate sources for authority, objectivity, accuracy, and content. Check copyright dates, materials older than five years may not be suitable for certain topics. Internet sources require special consideration.

Cautionary note:

Using the Internet as an Information Resource

In the process of doing research, one needs to access information efficiently and effectively. One must also identify a variety of potential sources of information, print as well as online. It is essential to evaluate critically and competently the information found. While most print resources found in the media center have been chosen for accuracy and quality before inclusion, the Internet presents the researcher with enormous quantities of information that may or may not be authentic, accurate, or objective. Therefore, when using the Internet as an information source, evaluating the information is essential.

Step 5: Access the materials

Access possible sources of information by reading, listening, viewing, or touching.

Step 6: Prepare preliminary Works Cited cards and/or page.

Step 7: Finalize the thesis statement and prepare a working outline.

The outline should serve as a road map for your journey with your thesis as your navigator – it tells you where to go. When writing your outline, keep your destination in mind. Your information will help you get there, but how will you organize your journey?

The thesis should be placed at the beginning of the outline where you can refer to it often. Your teacher may require you to write one or both of the following types of outlines: a topic outline, in which the headings and subheadings are a series of words or phrases, not complete sentences; or a sentence outline, in which every heading and subheading is a complete sentence. Your teacher can help guide you through the outlining process. Keep in mind: the outline is not meant to hamper or restrict you. It can be changed and revised to allow you to prove your thesis more effectively.

Step 8: Use information. Read source materials, view videos, listen to tapes or interviews and take notes.

Note taking will help you establish a way in which you can easily retrieve information that you have researched. There are many ways to take notes. The preferred method in this district is index cards. However, other methods include graphic organizers, legal pads or other types of paper with source summary information written in a manner that the researcher can understand. Whichever method you are required to use, be sure to include: subject heading, the note, and an identification of its source. The identification of source is particularly important in your attempts to avoid plagiarism.

REMEMBER: the better the note taking, the better your paper. If you avoid “padding” your paper with long quotes or extensive quoting, your paper becomes much more enjoyable and informative to the reader. Paraphrased notes take more time and effort, but they save time in the long run, since they can be incorporated, verbatim, into your final paper.

When paraphrasing, read your source at least once, digest it, look away from the source and write the main ideas in your own words, and then check it for accuracy.

REMEMBER: You can use these summaries in your actual paper with credit given where credit is due. Ask your teacher if you are experiencing difficulties taking notes.

Step 9: Synthesize.

Organize your notes according to the working outline.

Revise your thesis statement and outline.

Write the first draft with title, in-text citations, and Works Cited page.

Revise the first draft.

Write the final draft with title, in-text citations, and Works Cited page.

Step 10: Evaluate

As you prepare to submit your final paper, evaluate what you have learned. Judge the result of the work in conducting your research (effectiveness) and the research process (efficiency).

Is the final paper effective?

Was the information problem-solving process efficient?