Writing help: Planning a research paper (i Citations)

Posted on April 23, 2013 by Ginny Gaylor


The odds are pretty slim that you will make it through four years of college without having to write a research paper. But don’t be frightened by the prospect. Planning a research paper doesn’t have to be scary; in fact, we often make it more difficult than it needs to be. Questia, the Internet’s top research and paper-writing tool for students, is a great place to find writing help.

Research can be rewarding

When you first learned about a research paper requirement for a class, you probably felt anxious. Maybe you haven’t had a lot of experience planning a research paper. But don’t let yourself be derailed by inexperience and anxiety. According to the post on February 21, 2013 by Jack Raymond Baker and Allen Brizee titled “Writing a Research Paper” for Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), “the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics.”

But like anything new, planning and writing a research paper takes practice. As the OWL post says, “There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally.” They suggest starting the process by thinking about:

  • Genre: Learning the difference between the two types of research papers—analytical and argumentative.
  • Choosing a Topic: A guide on how to pick the best topic.

Planning makes a difference

Questia’s tutorial on Planning a Paper offers five steps to get you on the right track to creating a research paper that will not only impress your professor but earn you the best grade. The tutorial takes you through each step with help from quizzes and videos.

Step 1—Selecting a topic

You want to pick something you will enjoy writing about, which will help you put the necessary time into the work.
Step 2—Considering what your readers know about the topic

After you’ve picked your topic, it’s time to think about who your reader is going to be. Who your reader is and what they expect will influence what sources and evidence you need to use to persuade them of your argument or give them clear information on the topic.

Step 3—Developing an objective stance

Part of the purpose of a research paper is thinking critically. When planning a research paper, be sure to be aware of how you use your sources so that they strengthen your paper’s purpose.

Step 4—Composing a thesis

Now you’re ready to write your thesis statement—the representation and summation of your paper’s purpose. What do you think your research will show in the end? Your thesis statement should focus on that idea.

Step 5—Organizing your ideas

During this final stage of the planning process, determine how you want to structure your research to prove your thesis statement. This outline will provide the framework for your research paper.

Start now and stay focused

While you might be tempted to procrastinate, it’s easy to see why getting started on a research paper as soon as possible can be a big help in the end. The Writing Center at the American University advises students that beginning in advance can reduce stress, in their blog post from January 31, 2013, “Research Papers: the When and How” by Meridian Ganz-Ratzat.

The structure Ganz-Ratzat suggests starts several months out:

  • 2-3 months away—Think about what your topic is going to be
  • 1 month away—Start researching your chosen topic
  • 3 weeks away—Begin organizing your essay
  • 2 weeks away—Write a first draft
  • 1 week away—Edit for big problems with your thesis or organization
  • 2 days away—Read through for a final proofreading and polish

Even if you develop your own schedule for planning a research paper, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. Writing a research paper is a new thing for many college students, putting it off won’t make it any easier. In fact, procrastinating is likely to make the challenge of a paper that much more difficult.


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