Writing a research paper is difficult, but it’s important. Writing a solid, effective paper tells instructors that a student knows how to use sources to write, but it also tells instructors that a student can gather the information he needs to learn new ideas on a topic or support ideas he already has. Learning to conduct research and write an essay about it is an important skill that most students will continue to use after finishing school, even if not in a formal sense.
The Starting Point of a Research Essay: Choosing the Topic
Obviously, research is pointless without a topic. If an instructor gives a topic, the essay writer should find out if it’s a broad topic that she’ll have to narrow down or if it’s focused enough to begin. If it’s a broad topic (for example, “write an essay about World War I”), the student should conduct a little research to find an angle she’s interested in or at least look back over her studies to find a focused idea. If the instructor doesn’t give a topic, the student will want to discover her own.
How? Well, obviously the student will want to direct her essay toward something relevant to the class. For example, if it’s a paper for a psychology class, writing about depression is likely an acceptable topic. But if the student has no idea, it’s best to engage in some forms of prewriting to develop topic ideas, such as freewriting.
Why? For research to be effective, searching for information should be focused. That’s not to say that once in a while a student can’t do a broader search, but the more focused the search is, the more likely the student will be to find relevant information for his paper in a shorter amount of time.
Asking Questions of One’s Topic Can Help Focus the Search for Information
Once a student has decided on her topic, she should ask questions to help her focus her research. For instance, if she has decided to write about ancient Egypt and embalming, she may still want to find more focus. She could ask herself if she wants to explore the actual method or if she’d rather look at social or religious reasons for embalming or what steps led up to the practice. By choosing an angle for her research, she has limited the searching she needs to do.
With any topic, students can ask these questions of themselves to help them decide where they want to take their topic:
- What do I already know about my topic?
- What about my topic interests me?
- What about this topic do I want to learn more about?
These kinds of questions will drive a student’s interest, which in turn will help drive his research. If he still doesn’t know how to focus his essay (because, for instance, the Renaissance itself is too huge a topic for a research paper), he should then ask more focused questions, such as these:
- Is there a particular time period in my topic that I can focus on?
- Is there a particular person / famous figure in my topic that I can examine?
- Are there certain essay ideas or questions I can answer regarding my topic?
Questions like these will help the student narrow the topic of “the Renaissance” to “Origins of the Renaissance,” “Leonardo da Vinci’s Early Art,” or “The Plague and the Renaissance.” If these topics are still too broad, the student can continue asking questions of himself to “drill down” to deeper, more focused topics.
Conducting Research for an Essay
Once the student has narrowed her topic, she will want to begin research. If she doesn’t know much about her topic, she might decide to read an encyclopedia entry first (such as one found on Wikipedia) so that she learns the background of her topic. She can then begin to conduct research, looking in several key places:
- The library (whether it’s the local library, a college or university library, or a high school library)
- Search engines (online general research can be conducted by simply typing one’s questions or names of topics into a search engine)
- Databases (most often a college library will allow students to access hundreds of relevant databases that in turn allow students access to journals, magazines, and newspapers)
In the beginning stages of research, it’s best to conduct too much rather than too little research, because some sources will not give a student relevant information.
When a student settles on her sources, she will then want to read them and take notes. There are many ways to do so as well as things to keep in mind:
- Sticky notes can indicate relevant pages with ideas she wants to refer to or quotein her essay.
- Index cards are another way to write or take notes.
- When a student decides she wants to use a particular source, she can begin formatting it in MLA style for her Works Cited page, or she can simply jot down important information on an index card for later.
- It is important that the student differentiates her ideas from ones found in her sources, so she can avoid being accused of plagiarism.
Writing a Research Paper Is Challenging but Can Be Enjoyable
The best way for students to go about writing research papers is to look at these essays as an opportunity to learn something more about a subject they are interested in. Sometimes, a student will sit in class and wish that he could learn more about a particular subject; term papers and research essays usually afford a student the opportunity to do so. So while a research paper can be a lot of work, it can be an enjoyable experience as well. The tips here will help a student conduct research effectively.
About the author: John J. Gregg is an experienced writer on essaywriter.nyc where he provides students with an opportunity to get high grades. Besides, He is fond of reading and playing the guitar. By the way, John dreams of traveling a lot and visiting as many countries as possible.