11 Tips for Doing Research Papers Like a Pro
The need for good research papers — and more importantly, the skills to put them together — is greater than it ever has been. In these days of fake news and confirmation bias, the stakes are as high as they can get!
A society without the ability to think and to test its own beliefs is one well on its way for the history books. In the following article, we are going to tackle this challenge head-on. And we’re going to do it by delving deep into the 11 tips for doing a research paper like a pro.
Mastering these skills will put you ahead of most of your peers. It will make you a more valuable employee. And it could even turn the tide of our doomed civilization. Let our fight begin!
1. Choose a Topic with Legs
The make-or-break of any research paper is subject matter. We’ve seen good papers written on seemingly dull subjects and exciting topics turned into a mass of bad writing and incompetent research.
No topic is inherently bad, nor is it a slam dunk. What’s important is the topic has legs. So, what do we mean when we say “legs”? We mean there needs to be enough meat on the bone when you deliver the finished product.
Most papers must follow specific, if not strict, length standards. The only way you get there is by thoroughly knowing your topic. To know your topic, you have to be interested in your topic.
You’d be surprised how many students choose something they have no interest in because they think it’ll be the “popular” topic. That’s a recipe for disaster. Great research papers are written from within. But, as you’re about to see, that doesn’t mean you just BS your way through it.
2. Wait to Choose a Specific Angle
Topics and angles are two different things. Think of a topic as a general discussion you’re having on something like abortion. Now, within this topic area, you can take numerous “angles,” or specific items to focus on within it.
An example of an angle on the abortion topic would be, “Life begins at conception versus life begins at birth.” Which of those two options is correct? Are they the only two viable options? Perhaps you think life begins before birth but several weeks into the pregnancy rather than immediately.
You can see how each of these angles offer fertile ground for discovery and theses. So choose wisely. And yes, we’re about to discuss how you can do that.
3. Explore What Is Already There
At the angling stage, you’re still taking an overview. That means you are exploring. And you need to stay in exploration mode for quite some time. At least until you’ve had a chance to see what’s out there.
Look at websites. See what’s selling through the Amazon bookstore. Snatch up in-depth newspaper articles. Watch documentaries. Listen to podcast interviews. Any other source of information you can think of, dig in!
4. Be Voracious
Once you have a good handle on the credible sources of information for your topic, start the consumption process. And when consuming, don’t hold back. Be voracious. Read multiple books, even if you have to skim their main points rather than read every word. Cast a wide net.
Listen to podcasts or watch videos at 1.25 or 1.5 speed. You can get through them quicker that way without missing key points or insights. Consider installing a speed-reading app like Outread on your phone so you can speed through those dense Internet articles that are all the rage as far as Google’s concerned.
Tackling as much material as possible will ensure you know everything that’s being said on your topic. It’ll also give you some insight for forming your own opinion. More on that in a moment.
5. Take Sides
Yes, it sounds a little adversarial. But our intentions are pure. In every topic, you’re going to find things you agree with and things you don’t. It’s important to make judgments.
Read opposing views as well as the ones that you agree with. Be able to point clearly to the reasons you feel the way you do, even if you’re just largely agreeing with what is already out there. The act of taking sides will give you the ability to strengthen your points. It’ll also give you the chance to do some original thinking and make new discoveries along the way.
6. Document Your Key Sources
Everyone likes getting credit for the work they do. Don’t you? Well, authors and filmmakers and interviewers and journalists are no different. They pour their lives into the works they create. And those works build a bridge of understanding for you as you work to understand a given topic.
So give credit where it’s due. Identify the titles and the people behind them. But don’t stop with them. Take special note of the sources they used to arrive at their conclusions.
7. Dig Deeper
Inevitably, deconstructing each source that you use will lead you to other sources. Explore the primary source material as much as you can. Don’t be lazy by just taking another author’s word for it.
A good example of how to get into the practice of this is to head over to Wikipedia. Note any time there’s a clickable number at the end of a sentence. Click it and see where it takes you. It will navigate you to the end of the page where you’ll either be able to click on a source article or see the bibliographical information for a book or film.
You’ve just found a deeper source. But don’t stop there. Watch the documentary. Note the sources they cite. Click the link to the article and see which links are included in the text of that piece. Dig for those original ideas. Dig, dig, dig!
8. Organize Your Thoughts
Thus far, you’ve simply been on a fact-finding mission. You’re gathering information with no real sense of the chronology of how it will be presented or the weight of it in the paper itself. It’s time to shift gears.
Use what you’ve gathered to construct the key points of your paper. Identify the heaviest points and distinguish it from the supporting evidence. Last but not least, make sure one point flows into the next with sensible transitions connecting each.
9. Put It Into a Narrative
Now’s the time to take your raw (organized) data and put it into narrative form. After all, we’re talking about a research paper. That means packaging what you’ve found (the research) into a communication that makes sense and works to win the understanding if not the approval of your audience.
How good your final research paper ends up depends on how fearless and “bad” you’re willing to make it in the beginning. Just get it out there, bad sentences, mistakes, and all. You can only make pottery if you first mold the clay into a distinguishable shape. This is the stage where you do that.
10. Embrace the Rewriting
Good writing is rewriting. And rewriting isn’t just about making sure you’ve got all completed sentences and perfect spelling. You also want to stringently judge the content – your points, your conclusions – to see if they hold up.
That’s “real” rewriting. Anything else is just a spelling-and-grammar check. On that topic…
11. Polish It Up
Use software and editing programs to your advantage. There are free ones as well as paid. And while they differ to varying degrees, each one will improve the readability of your writing and could be the difference between a letter grade. Some suggestions:
You may be able to think of a few more. Use one, but don’t rely solely on it. After you’ve ran it through, read it aloud, noting any points where you stumble or say something different from what you meant.
Last but not least, read your final work backwards. This helps you realize whether your transitions from one sentence and point to the next are making sense.
Research Papers Teach Valuable Life Skills
You’ve probably grasped the point by now. Research papers are not just about stupid grades or boring you to tears. They’re about the underlying skills necessary for a civilized society. Without them, we’re doomed. So now it’s your turn, readers. What has working on research papers and projects taught you about life? Sound off in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by EKP Creative Commons]