So you want to get really good at writing research papers? Maybe you already know the ins and outs of finding research, reading and analyzing it, and understanding what you’ve read, but need a little extra help when it comes to crafting the paper itself. Here are some tips that can help you be an expert writer in no time:
Your paper may be the best written paper ever, but that won’t help you out if your paper doesn’t say anything important or useful. Think of your research paper as being the answer to a question. For example, you might wonder:
What’s the most important issue in American ecology?
What where Hamlet’s motivations?
Once you think up a good question, start doing research. See if other people have asked the same question, and what sort of conclusions have already been made. Maybe you have a different answer than the one you are finding most often; this can be great, as it gives your paper originality. When you think you have a pretty good answer to your question, summarize that answer in one sentence and you have a thesis!
The type of research paper you are supposed to write will make a big difference once you start working. Decide if the paper is meant to be argumentative, in which you would try to persuade someone to join your side of an issue, or analytic, which is more like exploring an idea, without taking a stance. Here is an example of a thesis that might belong in an argumentative research paper:
Acid rain is the most pressing, preventable issue in American ecology right now.
You would have to prove to someone that acid rain is more important than global warming or deforestation. You would need to persuade your reader that they should be most concerned with acid rain. Here is an example of a thesis that would fit an analytic research paper:
Hamlet is motivated only by his fear of alienation and abandonment.
You will still be spending the whole essay proving this, but it’s not something that you are trying to convince your reader of as much as you are exploring the validity of the idea.
Presumably, when you are writing a research paper, it is for your teacher or professor. You’re not writing it for a group of high school freshman, or your parents, or a stranger on the street. The bulk of your paper should come from your research and your original analysis of it, not excessive background information about the subject. A little background information is perfectly fine, and if you are in a situation where you are writing a paper on a topic that your instructor probably doesn’t know much about, it’s perfectly fine to give enough information to help the paper make sense. Just don’t use excess details; for example, if you are writing a history research paper on the role of Southern slaves in the Civil War, you should not spend two pages explaining how the Civil War began and what caused it.
Your topic sentence is like a mini-thesis for each paragraph in your paper. It says what the paragraph will be about, and how it relates back to the major point you are trying to make. It should always be the first sentence in your paper. Here are some examples of good topic sentences:
Acid rain causes more damage to natural wildlife and delicate ecosystems than global warming.
Hamlet’s feeling of betrayal by Ophelia furthered his paranoia about being abandoned.
In both of these papers, you would continue to go on and prove whatever you said in the topic statement.
A good formula to use when writing your paper is “SCC”: it means Statement, Commentary, Commentary. A “statement” is just that: it’s where you quote someone else’s research, or include a statistic or piece of provable data. The “commentary” is your original, thoughtful analysis of that statement. What does the data prove? What does the quote mean? Why does it matter in your paper? Answer these questions in your commentary.