Writing a research paper is often the most complex writing task you’ll engage in during your college career. The process of locating sources, note-taking, drafting, and editing offers you the opportunity to delve into a specific question on a topic. The result can be deeply rewarding; when you finish a well-researched and well-crafted paper, you’ll feel as though you truly own your material and your assessment of the topic as an expert.
In some classes, your professor will assign a topic. In other classes, you may be asked to choose among selected topics. And, sometimes, your professor may leave the topic entirely up to you.
Whichever strategy your professor uses, you’ll need to know how to get started and how to ultimately create a polished piece of writing. For your paper to be successful, you need to think through the steps of the research process and make sure that you allow yourself enough time for all the stages of research and writing that will be explained in detail in the pages that follow.
It’s important to remember that a good research and writing process is recursive. This means the steps are not always linear. For example, when you revise, you may realize you need to go back a few steps and add more research to your paper. Or, perhaps, as you edit, you realize you need to go back to the beginning, to the analysis stage, and reconsider your audience, as you think about the language choices you make. These steps are signs of a thoughtful research process.
Writing a research paper isn’t hard if you’re considerate of the process, plan carefully, and keep yourself on task.