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How to Write a Research Paper

8 Tips That'll Help You Write the Perfect Paper

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Need help writing a research paper that's just been assigned to you?  (Or maybe it was assigned to you weeks ago, and you're staring the deadline in the face?  Whoops.)  Never fear:  research papers aren't as scary as they sound.  Follow these tips on how to write a research paper and you'll be well on your way before you can even say "thesis statement."

1. Learn a Little About Your Topic

The most important step to writing your research paper is creating a good thesis statement, and that can't be done until you know a little about your topic.  Once you've decided on your topic (if your teacher hasn't assigned one to you), do some light research to figure out what makes it unique and interesting.  A good place to start is the related Wikipedia page.

2. Find Your Thesis Statement

As mentioned in Step #1, finding your thesis statement is the most important step, because what you pick can make or break your research paper.  Your paper shouldn't just be a string of facts - it should end up proving something. Pick a statement that you actually believe, and one that you personally find interesting. For more on how to pick your thesis statement, go here

3. Find the Facts that Prove Your Thesis

Find some (reliable) sources on your topic and dig in. To organize your notes, buy a stack of index cards and write down one interesting fact or quote, along with its source and page number, on each card.  If you find something that you're not sure is important, make a card for it anyway - you can always trash it during Step #4.

4. Make an Outline

Now that you've got your index cards, lay them all out and figure out the best order to insert them into your research paper.  Then use that basic order to create your outline. Don't forget to start your outline with an "introduction" section and end it with a "conclusion" section. If you're a visual person, it might help to build your outline with text boxes.  Text boxes let you jot down the most important sections of your paper, then click and drag them to find the best order.

5. Add Meat to Your Outline

Think of your outline as a skeleton:  it's just the bare bones of your research paper.  Now it's time to add some meat to those bones.  Next to each bullet point on your outline, add a couple of facts and sentences (being careful to include your sources) until it looks something like this.  The more thorough your outline is, the easier Step #6 will be.

6. Write Your First Draft

Now that you've got your outline, it's time to flesh out each of those bullet points into actual sentences and paragraphs.  Writer's block is pretty common during this step, but don't let it stop you in your tracks.  If you're having trouble with a paragraph, skip it (or throw in some notes) and move onto the next one.  You'll probably find that coming back to it later will help you shape your thoughts into sentences.

7. Get Some Feedback

Your first draft won't be perfect, and it shouldn't be!  After all, it's only a draft.  Sometimes teachers provide feedback on first drafts, so students will know exactly what stands between them and a finished product.  If your teacher isn't one of those, have a parent or older sibling read your research paper and give you some feedback.  Listen to their advice!  A second set of eyes is important for finding holes in your paper's argument.

8. Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Take the feedback you've gotten from Step #7, along with your index cards (to look for new facts and quotes you can add), and polish up your research paper.  And then work on it some more.  Every draft you write will be a little bit better than the last one, so the more times you get through it, the greater your chances will be of scoring an A.

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