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Guidelines for Developing a Research Paper

  • Within the parameters provided by your professor, choose a subject and area of interest to you. You may also want to browse through relevant source materials to get a perspective of your subject and possibly a topic idea. Discussing it with a classmate or a professor also helps.
  • Use prewriting techniques to narrow focus: Ask questions about your topic such as who, what, when, where, why, how; try listening, freewriting, etc.
  • Browse through relevant materials: Books, periodicals, etc. in the library to make sure there are adequate resources available. Based on what you have read, formulate a working thesis.
  • Develop a research strategy, that is, decide what materials you plan to look through and in what order. You might want to start with general sources and move to specific. For example, depending on your preference, you might begin with the reference section, move to books (see the computerized book catalogue), periodicals, etc. Some indexes for periodicals and online journals can be found at these computer sites: Academic Universe, Expanded Academic Index ASAP, and FirstSearch.
  • HINT: don't stop searching until you see repetition in the areas or facts you are finding. If you are unsure about what is available, please ask a librarian.
  • CAUTION: Make sure you consult a wide range of materials so that you don't miss relevant information. For example, while computers are easiest to use, limiting yourself to computer sources may leave out whole blocks of information, certain perspectives on an issue, etc.
  • Choose sources that are reliable, valid, diverse, and unbiased if possible. Choose authors, researchers and instituions with appropriate credentials. Use common sense to determine if studies are reliable or valid. Be particularly wary of websites of individuals and profit-making corporations. Ask the librarian if you are not familiar with the publication.
  • Prepare a working bibliography for your Works Cited or Reference list. First, evaluate the source for its usefulness by checking table of contents and subject headings, skimming relevant sections. If you think the source might be useful, copy down (on an index card) or print off the computer the relevant bibliographical information and immediately prepare a bibliography card.
  • Make bibliographical entries on 3x5 index cards, using a separate card for each source. Write or staple (if it's on a printed computer slip) on the card all necessary information: author's or editor's name, title, name of publisher, place and date of publication, and relevant page numbers. Write down the call number so you can find the resource again easily. If it's a computer source, make sure to include information about the database, the server, the medium, and the date of access. Include the URL (or http://) address. HINT: If you choose not to staple printed slips onto an index card, you might store them in a business letter envelope so you do not lose them.
  • Make photocopies of articles you read or materials on the computer or take notes from your sources on large index cards. Some sources such as FirstSearch and Expanded Academic Index can be e-printing. Highlight the material you want to quote directly; summarize that material e-mailed to your room for wich you only need the main ideas by making notes on index cards or in the margins. Be sure to copy quotes precisely into your paper. DOCUMENT all sources, whether quoted, paraphrase or summarized.
  • Prepare a working outline This is an excellent way to assure clear, logical organization and coherence. Use a topic or sentence outline. Major or primary supports provide direct support to your thesis statement. Secondary supports provide evidence, information, facts, etc., that prove your major support.
  • Use this format:

    I. Primary (major) Support

    A. Supporting Idea

    1. Detail or Example

    a. Supporting Detail

  • Organize your source information to conform with ideas in your outline. Mark note card or printed sheets in pencil (so you can alter it, if needed) according to the place in your outline where the information will be most useful. For example, if material can be used to supply evidence for item I.A.2. in your outline, write IA2 on the corner of your note card or your printed sheet.
  • Prepare a first draft according to your outline. Assemble your note cards or printed sheets in appropriate order. Remember to write in your own words. Do not just string quotations or summaries from your sources together. Always lead smoothly into quotations; don't just drop them in. Remember: don't use quotations to do your explaining for you; use them only to support what you have already explained. Include internal documentation on your draft to save yourself time later.
  • Revise, revise, and proofread. Bring to the Writing Center, if possible.
  • Type final copy with appropriate internal documentation and Works Cited or References list numbered as your last page. Prepare the list by arranging your index cards into alphabetical order before typing. See guidelines for MLA or APA documenation on this web site or, for better choices, use manuals at ARC or library.
  • NOTE: To avoid last-minute stress and an essay that is poorly or sloppily developed, it is a good idea to set a timetable for yourself designating each stage of the process: thesis, research, outline, rough draft, and when you should complete it.