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Top 10 Research Paper Tips

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Contributed by Lindsay Shugerman, Top 10 Guru

Yup, it’s that time again. You have to write a research paper and you have no idea where to start.

You have a couple of ideas, but you’re not sure any of them will work. Maybe you remember the last time, when you put it off until the last minute, hoping inspiration would strike. Or maybe this is your first term paper in high school or college.

No matter why you’re searching for research paper tips, I have some ideas that can help take the pain out of term papers.

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10. Think about the guidelines

Before you check out a single book, run a Google search or write down a single work, make sure you know the guidelines for your research paper. In addition to the due date (which should go onto your calendar right away), pay attention to the length, style and content guidelines.

Many teachers provide details about sources and documentation, so look for that information, too.

9. Think about the professor’s biases

Every teacher has their biases…subjects they love, subjects they hate. Most are pretty clear about their attitudes towards their subject.

Before you start your research paper, make sure you’re aware of how the topic you’ve chosen is likely to be viewed by your instructor. A good teacher will welcome opposing opinions, but you need to make sure you’ve backed up your unique perspective with good data.

8. Are you excited about the topic?

It’s very difficult to write a great paper if you have no interest in the topic, so try to pick one that appeals to you.

That being said there will be times, especially in required classes, when you really have no interest in the subject. Do your best to find some aspect of the subject that interests you. Even if it’s just about the way you approach the topic, finding that point of interest will make your research paper easier and better.

7. Is the material available to you?

You may have a great idea for a research paper, but if the materials you need are not reasonably available to you, you need to pick a different topic. Check for availability before you turn in your topic, and don’t depend on inter-library loans or materials that will require you to travel.

6. Is there enough to say?

Some research paper topics sound great upfront. But once the research begins, you may find that there’s just not enough to say.

One way to avoid this problem is with an outline. If you find yourself running short of line items in your outline, pick a new topic.

5. Keep it narrow

This is the opposite of the previous tip, but it’s another common pitfall in term papers.

It’s easy to pick a topic that’s too broad – one that’s better suited to a book than a class paper. And that will prevent you from getting into the subject in any detail.

Make sure your topic is narrow enough to be covered well in the number of pages you have to work with.

4. Do you have something new to say?

One surefire way to get a poor grade on a research paper by regurgitating the same old information everyone knows.

Make sure your topic lets you say something new and original. And while we’re on the topic, make sure it’s 100% your own work. Cutting and pasting is not writing a paper. It’s plagiarism.

3. Do you have the time?

Before you select a super-challenging topic, make sure you have the time to do the research and writing it will require.

If you have a full load of classes and several papers to do, make sure you select topics you can do well in the time you have available.

2. Do you have a clear thesis statement?

If you’re not clear on exactly what question you’re trying to answer with your research, your paper will lack focus and wander. That will not get you the “A” you want.

After you pick your topic, write it into a clear, focused question form. Then focus your research on answering that question. Use resources like style manuals and tutorials to help you keep your writing succinct, focused and clear. The easiest way to get frustrated with a research paper is to get lost in bad grammar and poor sentence structure.

1. Can you learn something from your topic?

It’s amazing how many students never stop to think about this one. A research paper is more than just an assignment to be exchanged for a grade. It’s a chance for you to learn something new.

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While it may be simpler, avoid picking a topic that you already know well. Take a chance and learn something new.


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