Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Research Papers 101

One (of the many) things I was clueless about prior to college: Research papers. APA Citations; Literature Reviews; Peer Reviewed Articles; In-text citations. All of the things that haunt my dreams during the semester. I will tell you right now as a disclaimer: I am by NO means a research paper expert. Reading research in fields of interest may be growing on me but it is not yet a hobby of mine, nor will it ever be. After a few semesters of nonstop Literature Reviews and research papers, I developed a bit of a system that helped me not want to murder my professors.

Preparation and research 
  1. Start Early. As soon as possible after I get a research paper or assignment I will begin to brainstorm and gather research. Maybe this is my ADHD- but the sooner I start and the more work I have in the beginning, the less likely I am to be scrambling the night before it's due (although I am almost ALWAYS scrambling the night before it's due)
  2. Give yourself a timeline. I will be honest, I am AWFUL at keeping self-imposed deadlines. When the fake dead line creeps around on my planner, the procrastinator in me laughs at the organizer in me. When it comes research papers though, I stick to these deadlines as though they were the law. If there is an article amount, I break it up into small chunks and vow to have those articles read, cited in the reference sheet and color coded (more on that next). 
  3. Develop a system. For me, I color code. I make a key of what I need to look for in my research articles and color code as I read. That way, as I am referencing back it is easy to find what I am looking for in a given article faster instead of re-skimming the entire article. I also have a large note card for each article and write on the front the key points in the article I find pertinent to my paper. 

Writing the paper
  1. Start with an outline. I know, I know this gives flashbacks to middle school English class. I HATED outlines. I used to find joy in being a rebel by writing a paper without an outline. I use my outline to conceptualize how each article will fit into the paper and the general flow of the article. It will help you to develop the theme of your article prior to writing so you do not spend time writing paragraphs and reading articles you end up not needing later. 
  2. Start with your thesis statement. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this one out. Having a clear statement of what your paper will be about really helps you write your paper, go figure. Frame your introduction around your thesis (basically fluffy language that helps your meet your page count) 
  3. Have a timeline for this too. After my research and outline is done I set a new timeline. I normally vow to write a page a day. Sometimes it's less, occasionally it's more depending on whether I get inspired. I pull out an article I determined was useful and bang out a page based on this information.
  4. Edit as you go. After each page I go over the whole paper and do some light editing. I look for grammatical errors, run-on sentences and other minor details. I try to keep the restructuring of paragraphs and bigger edits for the end, as I tend to change these pretty frequently. 
Editing and submitting the paper
  1. Major edit. Once the paper is written, conclusion and all, do one major edit. Read it aloud many times. Most grammatical errors should be taken care of at this point. The point of this edit is to check the flow and structure of the paper. Does the order of the paragraphs make sense? Do you address all of the points in your thesis? Are all of the points addressed in your paper talked about in your thesis? Is the page length met? 
  2. Edit your formatting. I try to keep up with this as much as possible throughout the paper, especially in-text citations, but I wait until the end to make sure the entire paper fits the requirements. I believe for most people this will be APA but I know some majors that use MLA and Chicago style. I do a sweep through and make sure the title page, headers, headings, and in-text citations meet the expectations.
  3. Have a friend or tutor look over your paper. If your college has a writing center like mine, that would be a great resource to utilize. I always have a roommate, tutor or my mom read over my paper to make sure I didn't miss anything. 
  4. Turn it in and breath a sigh of relief. 
What are your methods and tips for keeping sane while writing research papers?


  1. I have read so many blog posts on 'How to write a paper in college' but none of them were as helpful as yours! Setting the two timeslines, color coding and not skipping using an outline are really things that I should stick to in order to be more productive and write a better paper. Thanks a lot for the post! xx

    1. So glad you find my tips so helpful! Good luck in all of your paper writing :)