1. Choose a Topic
When considering a topic, remember that the work you'll need to put in will seem less difficult if the topic interests you. Also, make your topic fairly specific so you don't get lost in a sea of general information, but not so specific that you can't find source materials.
You might need to do some background reading, perhaps a subject encyclopedia or handbook, to find the perfect topic for you — one that's both interesting and has enough good material to work with.
It's always a good idea to discuss your choice of topic with your teacher. They can help you set a focus and point you in the direction of good resources. Each professor or department at your college may have different requirements for the focus, purpose, format and structure of your paper. Be sure you understand these requirements before you begin.
2. Research the Topic
This is where you get to know yourcampus library. It's easy to find all kinds of general information on the internet, but finding scholarly material is a little different. Use your library's resources to get familiar with subject databases, journals (online and print), and to learn how to determine if an online site is reliable.
Most college libraries provide subject guides with lists of resources that make a good starting point — for example, Hocking College, a two-year degree college in Ohio, has a large collection of LibGuides. Also, reference librarians are available to help you get familiar with the available resources.
3. Prepare an Outline
Organize your notes from your research and group them into logical categories that flow from one to the other. At this stage, you will analyze, synthesize, sort and digest the information you've gathered. Using this logical structure, outline your paper. You can use this template to map out your outline.
4. Write a Rough Draft
Your research paper should have these essential parts:
Introduction: This is where you lay out your research paper's subject and the approach you are going to take. In simple terms, you discuss what the paper is about and what argument it makes, and all following information must relate to it.
Body Paragraphs: These are based on the logical categories you created when you made your outline. Each body paragraph presents an argument that supports your topic. You state what the argument is, what it means, why it's important and how it fits into the overall topic.
Conclusion: In the conclusion, you summarize the arguments and relate them back to the purpose you stated in the introduction. State your thoughts and what you have learned during your research.
Bibliography: All sources must be properly cited to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to follow your school's required format for citing sources.
5. Revise, Proofread, Submit
Step back for at least a couple of hours to help you synthesize your thoughts. Then, reread your research paper, checking the flow and looking for errors and gaps in logic. It's helpful to have someone else proofread for typos before you submit your final version.
Writing a research paper is a big undertaking, and it's natural for the process to be a bit of back and forth; where you research, start to write and then discover you need more information or to clarify a point. Start early, organize and manage your time and take advantage of the library resources provided by your college. Follow these tips for writing a research paper and you'll end up with a great finished product.