Writing a Research Paper
by Owen Fourie
~ Part Two ~
In Part One of this article, we noted points about the choice of topic, narrowing down the topic, the thesis statement, a working outline and its revision after preliminary research.
Once you have revised your outline and gathered your research materials or know precisely where to find them, you are ready to enter into the in-depth research phase. You do need to have access to a college, school, or public library where you can gather relevant information using your laptop computer or index cards. Your outline must be your closest companion in this phase as you systematically research each of its points
- looking for what others have written about the matter;
- formulating your notes;
- taking down quotes accurately;
- cross-referencing your notes and quotes to the points of your outline (use the numbers and letters on the outline to do this);
- being careful to identify each note and quote with its bibliographical details. This is something you do not want to forget. It will save you from wasting time having to hunt for those details later for your bibliography.
It is important to know your instructor’s required style for bibliographical notes and to use only that style. Find out if you must use MLA, APA, or CMS. If you search for any of these styles on the Internet, they are readily available. For example, if you search for “cms style,” you will see a clear and helpful style list at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html.
Draft … draft … draft … not as in the military, banking, or beer
On completing your research, you are ready to write your first draft. You will undoubtedly be doing this on a computer, so you should have all your quotes (accurately copied, cross-referenced to your outline, and supported with bibliographical data) in a separate folder. This makes it easy to copy and paste from there into whatever draft you are doing.
Apart from the inclusion of your quotes in the first draft, you should simply write without being troubled too much by the mechanical aspects of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Get your thinking about the subject down in the first draft, as you follow your outline, and then, from the second draft onwards, edit and proofread to eliminate your errors.
In “How Do I Organize an Essay?” there is the basic form that applies also to non-scientific and non-technical research reports. You will have the introduction containing your thesis statement and an indication of the major points that will follow.
In the body, you will develop the support for your thesis with your quotes, examples, case studies, facts, statistics, and so on. This needs to be done in a well-organized flow moving logically from one step to the next, moving through many good points to the strongest point at the end. Your conclusion will draw the whole argument together in a brief summation before you restate your thesis.
Leave the door open
Although you are obviously asserting a position, a standpoint, on the subject in terms of your thesis statement, your report must never come across as the final word in the matter. To do so would be to show disrespect for the world of scholarly studies, which will continue long after you have departed from this life.
Always write in such a way that you leave the door open for further study of the matter and for findings that may even contradict your thesis. Regardless of approval or rejection by later researchers, your report can serve as a stepping stone along the way for others.
Meet the standard
Before you type your final copy, ask yourself various questions as a test to see if you have written a paper that meets the required standard:
- Have I covered every detail in my outline in the intended order?
- Have I kept to my thesis statement and supported it adequately?
- Is my support for my thesis presented clearly and in a logical order?
- Do I feel that I have proved my thesis?
- Do I have complete paragraphs for each major point (and supporting points where necessary)?
- Does each paragraph begin with its major point as its topic and proceed through its supporting points in logical order?
- Is there proper transitioning and flow from one paragraph to the next?
- Are all my quotations accurate, word-for-word, right down to the punctuation?
- Within each paragraph, do I have complete sentences, no fragments, no run-ons, no comma splices?
- Do I have a good mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences of varied length?
- Have I written formally and avoided colloquialisms and contractions (using “are not” instead of “aren’t”)?
- Have I avoided self-reporting: “I think,” “I feel”?
- Have I replaced any words repeated too often or too close together with good synonyms?
- Have I corrected all grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors?
- Have I credited all my sources and avoided plagiarism like the plague?
If you have covered all these aspects, you are ready to type your final copy. Ideally, complete this task at least two or three days before the submission deadline in order to leave a space of twenty-four hours before the final proofreading and correction. The final copy, of course, includes everything that will be required for submission:
- Title page
- Works cited (listing only the items you have actually cited)
- Bibliography (listing all the works you have consulted to prepare your paper)
If you follow this procedure, you should handle your assignment with a fair degree of confidence. Take the challenge. You can do it, and you can do it in a masterly way.
What is your experience with writing research reports? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? Are there any points not mentioned here that have helped you in your research? Are there any other questions that ought to be added to the bulleted list for meeting the standard? Do you find that you run out of time to do more than one draft? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
The item at the following link deals with the scientific or technical research report:
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