This is the beginning of November, usually the time when we, students soon realize we have the daunting task of writing several research papers for the courses we are taking (specially for students in Arts or Humanities courses) and we cannot procrastinate anymore as the deadlines lurk nearby. First and foremost, it is always good to start planning and then writing the research papers with some time in hand, so that we have enough time to properly research, consult professor and Teaching Assistants (TAs), write, revise and submit. For people who keep it for the last moment to start working on their papers, panicking the night before is common and a terrible experience (trust me on this) and usually they end up submitting below standard papers which result in sub-par grades. So in order to help myself and you, who are reading this post, a head start; I went through several pages of Reddit and collected the best tips for writing good research papers shared by other people. This is crowd-sourcing knowledge at it’s best!
I have written another post before specifically about strategies to write a good introduction.
10 tips for Paper writing from Reddit:
1. Outlines are annoying, but it’ll cut the time it takes you to write a paper in half. It lets you see how your ideas fit together, so you can move them around and organize them without having to re-write entire paragraphs or pages. If you write without outlines you probably find that you often get stuck on a certain point and can’t move forward. The outline will let you progressively flesh out the whole paper without hitting a writer’s block. Use the outline to strategically place your quotes and make sure they’re all well-supported. Once you have an outline, all you should need to do is fill it in with transition and topic sentences.
2. The word you should always be keeping in mind is “Because.” Every claim you make should be “because of” several examples from your sources. Every quote should have a “he says this because…” If you can’t think of any “because” for a certain idea, it should not be in your paper.
3. The introduction and conclusion paragraphs should be last things you write. In the course of writing a paper you will almost definitely reach conclusions or think of new ideas that didn’t occur to you when you set out. If you get too attached to your original introduction and thesis statement, you risk fudging your results to fit your hypothesis, when you should really make your thesis fit your findings.
4. Your introduction should be written like you’re trying to explain the paper to a friend who doesn’t know anything about the topic.
5. Your conclusion should be written like you’re trying to explain to your professor why your paper is important.
6. Topic sentences: It should be possible to read only the first and last sentences of each paragraph and still understand what your paper is saying. Not only should they capture the point of the paragraph, they should indicate how one paragraph leads to the other.
7. For each paragraph, to fill in, follow the PIE formula:
P: Point/topic of paragraph. You should be able to read this sentence and know what the paragraph is about.
I: Illustration. This should be your quote or your sources information.
E: Explain. Explain how the quote relates to your topic and expand on it. This part should be a couple sentences.
It really helps with organizing ideas. Take this from your outline and just buff it up for the paper so that it flows and is long enough.
The SEER method also works.
S: State the main point.
E: Example that backs it up.
E: Explain how it backs it up/why it matters.
R: Restate the main point, considering all the EE points you covered.
8. Never assume your reader knows what you are implying. Just pretending the audience are middle school students keeps ideas=clear, words=simple, and papers=persuasive
9. Definitely address the counter evidence and counter arguments. It strengthens the arguments.
10. Proof-read your paper prior to submission. This is especially important for humanities papers. Do not trust MS Word for this, read it again. Spelling and grammar mistakes make a good paper look bad which influences your grade. Some TA’s/professors give you leeway if they see that you have put effort in your paper.
How to research & organize:
Here is my personal technique for organizing my research. It’s time consuming, but I find it extremely useful. When doing your reading, keep a word document open and transcribe passages from the books or articles, with page numbers. Not just quotes you intend to use, but the key points in every source, so that you can review them easily without going back to the book every time. A good writer will stop occasionally to summarize succinctly what he’s just said. Collect these key sentences in your notes and you will always have an easy guide to each of your sources, not to mention that simply writing it all down will help it stick in your brain. 90% of what you’ve copied out won’t make it into your paper (I sometimes wind up with 80 pages of notes for a 15-page paper), but you will be able to easily copy-paste quotes into your paper, and remember how they fit into the original article, so you don’t risk misinterpreting. (Reminder: Don’t forget to cite.)
Start a new file for each source. Title it Author’s last Name — key title phrase. First thing you do, before anything else, is write out the bibliographic entry as it will go in your bibliography. Then take your notes under that. It’s now searchable on your computer by author and title phrase and your bibliography is plug-and-chug. And don’t delete it when the paper is done. You may need those notes again.
This is actually a good tip for any procrastination. If you ever don’t want to do something that you really have to do, just do it (as cliché as it sounds). Do it sarcastically, half-heartedly, without even thinking about it and before you know it you’ll actually start engaging with the task much sooner than you would if you spent the next hour reading about it on internet.
Start early and put due diligence in it. TA’s can easily understand if you put an all-nighter the night before the due date.
I hope this will help you to plan and write better research papers. This post will also be a reminder for myself, so that I can come back here and remind me the tips before I start writing my papers every year. Cheers!