his handout lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper. Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.
- DISCOVERING, NARROWING, AND FOCUSING A RESEARCHABLE TOPIC
- try to find a topic that truly interests you
- try writing your way to a topic
- talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
- pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved
- FINDING, SELECTING, AND READING SOURCES
- GROUPING, SEQUENCING, AND DOCUMENTING INFORMATION
- a system for noting sources on bibliography cards
- a system for organizing material according to its relative importance
- a system for taking notes
- WRITING AN OUTLINE AND A PROPOSAL FOR YOURSELF
- What is the topic?
- Why is it significant?
- What background material is relevant?
- What is my thesis or purpose statement?
- What organizational plan will best support my purpose?
- WRITING THE INTRODUCTION
- present relevant background or contextual material
- define terms or concepts when necessary
- explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
- reveal your plan of organization
- WRITING THE BODY
- use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
- build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don't let your sources organize your paper)
- integrate your sources into your discussion
- summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
- move up and down the "ladder of abstraction" from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization
- WRITING THE CONCLUSION
- if the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader
- if prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance
- move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction
- perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research
- REVISING THE FINAL DRAFT
- check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion
- paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs
- sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling
- documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited
hen writing any course paper, be sure to follow the assignment in your syllabus, and, if you have any questions about what's expected of you, be sure to ask me for clarification.
The first step in the research process is to identify a topic.
A topic is the subject you will be writing about. You may be assigned a topic by the instructor, or you may be given a list of topics to choose from, or you may be asked to write an essay on a topic of your choice. The last choice is often the most difficult for students. If you are stumped and don't know what to write about, the sources on the left may help you choose a topic.
Guidelines for choosing a topic:
1. Find a topic that interests you.
2. Find a topic that is just the right size, just the right scope. You may have to do some initial research on your topic to see how much information is available. Reading what has already been written about your topic may generate some ideas that you may want to explore. To find background information on your topic consult the sources on the left under "Background Information".
3. Your topic should not be too broad or general as there may be too much information.
Examples of broad topics: computers, 2012 elections, homelessness, drug abuse
4. Your topic should not be too narrow as there may not be enough information.
Example of a a narrow topic: homelessness and drug abuse in the town of West Haven, Connecticut.
If you are writing about computers think of what interests you about computers.
Ask yourself questions about the topic to arrive at a reasonable thesis statement about your stand on the topic. Sometimes asking the questions how, when, what, where, and why might help you narrow your topic. If you choose to write about social networks, here are some questions to ponder: Are social network sites good or bad? Does social networking improve the quality of our lives? What are the psychological and sociological effects of social networking? Is social networking affecting the labor market?
Once you decide on your topic, write down as many related words and ideas that come to mind such as "social networking" "online networking", "social tools", "online communication tools" or you could search by specific social networking tools such as MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Twitter, Bebo, Linkedin, etc.
For more help on choosing a topic, consult Purdue's Online Writing Lab site: