Several fantastically useful tricks: how do I write a research paper?

  1. Follow Guidelines – It’s unlikely your educational institution will have asked you to write a research paper, without giving you some guidelines as to what is expected of you. You may find the guidelines in a handbook, on a hand-out, or online on a Virtual Learning Environment. If you don’t have them – then ask. You need to follow these to the letter to be sure of getting all the marks available to you. Look at how long/or how many words the research paper needs to be. Look at what needs to be covered in your research paper – what sections do you need to include? Your research paper, depending on your subject area, may need to have some, or all of the following (or additional sections): A title page, contents, abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, conclusion, bibliography/works cited, and appendices containing all the raw data. It’s important to find out as soon as possible exactly what is expected of you, so that you can plan, prepare, and order your research early on. Find out what referencing style you need to use. Ideally ask to see the mark criteria so that you can see exactly what you need to do to achieve the highest marks. Ensure you’re aware of how it should be formatted, i.e., font size, type, margins etc.

  2. Previous Feedback - Unless this is your first ‘research paper’ it’s a really good idea to look back at your previous lecturer feedback on other papers. Can you see a theme emerging? Is there an area that seems to get picked up on a lot, and common mistakes you repeatedly seem to make? i.e., do you need to work on using apostrophes? Do you need to tighten up your referencing? Is your work too descriptive and needs to be more analytical.

  3. Make Good use of Quotations – Any point you make in your research paper you need to support with evidence, to back this up and lend validity and strength to your argument. Electronic journal articles tend to be the best academic sources to use. You can ensure they’re current and up to date (last 3-5 yrs) and they’re easy to search. The more research you can show you’ve used the better, and it’s a really good idea to compare and contrast viewpoints. It’s not enough however to simply throw in a quote and expect it to speak for itself, that’s not going to get you the high marks. You need to do something with the quote. So, ask yourself: ‘So what?’ after every quote you use. Then unpack the terms within the quote, answer the questions of why you chose it, why it’s significant, why it adds weight to your argument? This will make your interaction with it much more analytical and critical and make the quotes you use pertinent and relevant. Do check that you can’t say the quote as well yourself in your own words. If you can, you probably shouldn’t be using it. If your quote is overly lengthy, look at shortening it to just the key bit that is relevant to your research. You can use ellipsis (…) to show where you’ve taken words out of a long quote.

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