Research papers are designed to display your level of expertise in a subject and your ability to transmit information in a compelling way. While it’s essential that you do extensive research before writing your paper, the tricky part actually lies in the writing process. There are many common mistakes to avoid and even great writers have areas where they can improve.
Here’s a breakdown of areas to focus on while writing your research paper:
Sometimes a teacher or professor will give you a specific topic they want you to write on. In that case, you should read with that topic in mind and highlight or write down examples that support the topic you’ve been assigned. Other times, it’s up to you to decide what to write about. In that case, you have more leisure to explore what arguments interest you most as you read.
Make a list of possible thesis
As you do more research, you can start to narrow down the list. Eventually, you’ll end up with one or two options that have the strongest evidence and from there you can choose which topic to write about.
The introduction is your opportunity to hook your reader. Get them interested in your topic so that they want to read more. There are several approaches you can take to the introduction:
Tell an anecdote – an interesting story humanizes the issue and helps the reader identify with the topic on a personal level.
Use a quotation – sometimes there’s a perfect quote for your topic that gets right to the essence of your thesis. If you have that quote in stock, use it.
Use a statistic or fact – they add credibility to your claims and also show you’ve done your research.
A good thesis statement presents a strong opinion about something. It’s usually presented in a way that could be argued for or against. For example: Parents should monitor their children’s social media accounts. This is a strong statement that someone could very well argue for or against.
A weak example of a thesis statement: Some parents find it worrying that they have no control over their children’s social media activities. This statement is useful to the argument and can find its way into another section of your research paper. However it’s not strong enough to qualify as a thesis statement. Its use of the qualifier “some” makes it difficult to argue against.
Your thesis statement should be made in the opening paragraph of your research paper. It should be the last sentence of your first paragraph.
Show the evidence
After you’ve presented the thesis statement, you’re ready to get into the meat of your paper with supporting paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence in which you present a statement. After the statement you’ll present evidence as to why that statement is true based on the research you’ve done. You’ll also explain why you believe the research supports your thesis statement which is the analytical part of your essay. Example:
Many children have no adult supervision over their social media accounts (topic sentence). A study by XYZ in 2014 revealed that less than x% of parents monitor their children’s social media accounts (supporting evidence). This can pose a threat to children’s safety and parents should make more efforts to be aware of their children’s social media interactions (analysis).
In order for your research paper to flow logically, it’s important to pay attention to transitions. Transitions are what bring the reader from one idea to the next. The analytical statement in the example paragraph above can lead to a new topic sentence.
Ex: The number of children who are lured by strangers through social media is increasing. This is a new topic sentence, but it’s related to the analysis presented in the last paragraph and it helps support the thesis statement.
A weak transition would be: Many children use the internet to play video games with their friends and do not need to be monitored. This is an unrelated topic and does not support the thesis statement or offer a strong transition.
Keep it interesting. In order to maintain your reader’s interest, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re presenting these ideas:
- Vary your sentence length and structure.
- Check for overused words. Use a thesaurus to help you find new ways to express the same idea.
- Steer clear of cliches, stereotyping and generalizations.
- Keep the language simple – avoid over-reaching with sophisticated vocabulary.
- Write clean sentences – avoid run-on sentences or overly complicated explanations.
The conclusion is where you wrap up your research. It’s a good place for you to pose questions or to suggest further steps or research for your topic. Leave the reader pondering about the future of this issue.
Leave time to edit
There is no substitute for time in the editing process. I don’t mean the amount of time you spend editing, but the amount of time you spend between the moment you write the last sentence and the moment you begin your editing process. Your thoughts need time to settle. The longer you give yourself to rest, the easier it will be for you to spot holes in your argument, weak topic sentences or flaws in your analysis. You’ll also have an easier time recognizing grammar and punctuation problems.
How to edit
The best way to edit is to read your paper out loud. Reading aloud turns off the auto-correct that your brain does when reading. You’ll pick up on more grammar mistakes and also have a better sense of the rhythm of your paper. Have you varied sentence length and structure or does it read as one long mono-sentence? Are some of your sentences difficult to read out loud? That probably means you can go back and simplify the language. If spelling and grammar are not your strong points, have a friend read it for you or use an editing app.