Helpful Hints for Starting Research Papers

So, you have to sit down and conquer a research paper, a daunting task for almost any student, regardless of age or focus of study.

Here are some helpful hints to keep you on the right track, saving time and aggravation along the way.  I use these tips with even my grammar school students to develop good writing and research habits, right from the start:

  • Spend time crafting a well-written, to-the-point thesis statement, as this will guide your research and writing.  It should be one sentence that states your specific purpose in writing the paper, and it should be in line with the assignment for which you are writing.  Keep in mind, as you do your research, you may change your mind or position, and your thesis may change.  That is okay!  When doing your research, stay focused on your thesis, keep re-reading it.  Only concern yourself with jotting down information that supports your thesis.  Keep your focus and prove your point.
  • Before starting your research, buy index cards.  You will have two piles: One will be a card for each research source you use (a working bibliography) with a number in the top right corner.  The second pile will be for any facts or direct quotations you pull from your sources (one fact or quotation maximum per card, and be sure to put the corresponding research source number in the top right corner–this number comes from a card in pile one).  This way, you will find your source when doing your citations and won’t have to hunt around for the information. Using index cards works well because once you have completed your research, you can arrange the cards to form an outline or even write the first draft of your paper.  Put the cards in the order in which your paper should flow, then number them (in pencil to allow changes).  You can later set aside any cards with information you decide not to use.