Writing a college paper can be a challenging task, especially given the many academic tasks a student has to accomplish within an often limited time. Following the ten easy steps below will not only help reduce the amount of time students spend in writing a research paper but will also increase the quality of research.
Step 1: Select a topic
Carefully choose a topic, and have the amount of time available, the length of the paper, and the limits of the resources in mind. Search the library to make sure you have enough material to use for the topic you chose. It will be easier to write a college paper on topics that interest you and those that you can think and add a viewpoint about. It will also be easier to narrow down the topic later if the subject is on what you already have a good idea about. Nevertheless, you will have to avoid non-controversial and sensational subjects – that are not scholarly, or those that will only restate the research material.
Step 2: Narrow the topic
What you want to write about is the subject of the paper, and should have been set at this point. Now, you will need to understand some background articles about your subject in encyclopedias and other references to narrow the topic. Questions like – Who are the important people involved? What are the significant issues? What are my opinions on the topic? Why is this an important subject? How has the problem developed? When? Where? – should come into your mind.
Step 3: State the tentative objective of the paper
Before starting anything about your paper, you need to compose a thesis statement that describes the perspective you are going to express and support in your paper. Since your purpose in the rest of the paper is to prove the validity of your thesis, the statement of your thesis will provide a controlling idea which will help you find resource materials to use.
Step 4: Form a preliminary bibliography
A list of potential sources of information is a preliminary bibliography. You can find articles and books that are relevant to your topic, and not just the reference books guide or card catalogue. Some of the sources you may check include Guides to Indexes and Abstracts; Humanities Index, (1974- ); Business Periodicals Index Social Sciences and Humanities Index (1965-1974); Social Sciences Index, (1974- ); Bibliographies (available on many subjects); Indexes Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, (1900- ); and Bibliographic Index.
Step 5: Prepare a working outline
This is very important as it gives an order to your notetaking. As your research continues, you may find that you need to review your plan if you have conflicting information. Nevertheless, it paves the way for a good starting point and is essential to take notes before you start. First is to start by listing the topics you want to discuss in your paper. Later, you divide the items on the list into major topics and subtopics.
Step 6: Start taking notes
After all the needed materials have been gathered and you have prepared a working outline, you can start to take note. Look for index cards (either 3×5″ or 4×6″) to write your notes on and make sure you include only one note on each card. Not just notes but notes that are related in some way to one of the topics on your working outline. Each card should be labelled with the appropriate topic; this will make it easier for you to organize your note cards later when you begin to prepare the final outline of your paper.
Step 7: Outline the paper
This appears similar to the working outline but is more complicated – each topic will, however, be broken down into many subtopics. To achieve this, sort your note cards into separate piles according to the issues at the top of each them. Then, create subtopics for each of the cards.
Step 8: Write a rough draft
Now, you can begin your rough draft after you have completed your final outline. You don’t have to pay more attention to spelling and punctuation here as this rough draft will be revised. You should instead pay more attention to the content you already have in the paper, following your outline and expanding the points in it with information from your notes.
Step 9: Edit your paper
When you are through with the rough draft, read through it again and revise it paying more attention to the content and organization of the paper. You should ask yourself some of these questions: Does each paragraph have a topic sentence that relates to the thesis? Are the ideas backed up by evidence? Are there visible transitions from one section to another? Are there clear transitions to indicate to the reader when one idea is ending, and another one is beginning? When revising, you will have to read more.
Step 10: Write the final draft
You should type the final draft of your paper and include citations, as well a bibliography; there may be the need for a title page in some papers, depending on the formatting pattern and the professor. If the title page is needed, then it should have the paper title, your name, the course name, the instructor’s name, and the date the paper is due.
American University, Academic Support Center, Writing Lab, updated 2009
Odegaard Writing & Research Center