Thursday, January 31, 2013

Research Papers: the When and How


By Meridian Ganz-Ratzat

Many spring semester classes culminate in a final research paper. While it's tempting to put off starting for another few months, beginning now can keep you stress free later. To help you (and myself!) budget your time and handle those papers with ease, I've broken down a timeline for brainstorming, research, outline, drafting, and editing:

2-3 Months Away (Now): Start brainstorming on your topic. If you have a prompt, read it through a couple times. Even if you don't, start writing down anything about the class (or related topics) that interest you. The best place to start is with something that you're passionate about. Once you've located an area you're interested in, start doing some casual research and thinking about what your research question will be.

1 Month Away: Now's the time to delve into your research. At this point you should have a topic and a solid idea of your research question. The library's catalog and databases are the best places to start researching. If you're having trouble finding a good research question, come to the Writing Center! Or if you're struggling to find good sources, try looking at the databases by subject or talking to one of the librarians at the research desk.

3 Weeks Away: After you've got a good handle on your research, start thinking about how to organize your essay. Remember that every essay is an argument. Develop your argument step-by-step by thinking about what information your reader needs to know first and building from there.

2 Weeks Away: Write the first draft of your essay. By making yourself sit down and write a draft, you can get your ideas out of your head. Don't worry if it doesn't sound perfect! You've given yourself somewhere to start. If you're having trouble with writer's block, check out our blog archive. A lot of our consultants have written blogs about how to get started on papers.

1 Week Away: This is the perfect time for big picture edits. Before you start worrying about grammar and other small errors, address the big picture issues: your thesis, organization, flow, and clarity. These larger issues can be hard to fix on your own. Ask a friend you trust to give you feedback or bring your draft into the Writing Center!

2 Days Away: Read through your essay for a last polish. Now you can relax, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, and let everyone else stress out.

Remember, this is just one way of writing a research paper. Everyone has their own process. If this structure isn't working for you, come into the Writing Center and we'll help you find what does work!

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