By: Fiona Schneider.
With school comes the inevitable need to write research papers. They can be about any subject, much to the chagrin of every student on the planet, especially when the math teacher decides it’s cool to assign one on the history for a particular theorem. Who really wants to mix math with more letter variables than already exists, much less blend this further with history? Nobody, but if you don’t want to fail the assignment, here are some tips to writing a stellar research paper your teacher won’t cringe while reading.
Tip #1: Avoid First or Second Person
This tip has varying levels of importance depending on the subject you are writing about. A general rule of thumb, though, is to always avoid second person in research papers and be careful when using first person. For science research papers where hard facts are valued over opinions, it is best to stick to third person no matter what. However, if you are writing a research paper on a piece of literature where your interpretation needs to be included, first person can be applied as appropriate. If you are not sure whether you can use a particular tense in an essay, the safest bet is to simply ask your teacher. I can say from experience, though, that teachers find student papers that avoid first or second person to sound more refined, formal, and compelling since third person often gives a voice of omnipotent authority and thus sounds more convincing.
Tip #2: Properly Cite Your Sources
Perhaps the biggest mistake any student can make is not properly citing their sources. Not only is plagiarism simply illegal, but also it can be easily avoided with proper citations. The first step to properly citing sources is to know what type of style the essay is written for. Common essay formats are MLA, APA, and Chicago. Each style has unique requirements and different ways to cite sources whether they use footnotes or in-text citations. A properly cited essay also has a separate page at the very end of the paper reserved just for the “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page where the writer will list in alphabetical order every source of information used within the essay. If you find yourself struggling with how to properly cite a source, don’t worry, there are plenty of resources out there to make sure you don’t accidentally plagiarize someone else’s creative or intellectual property like the ones mentioned in the next tip!
Tip #3: Use a Style Guide or Help Reference
Many books are written just for the purpose of helping students learn and understand how to cite their sources in a research paper and to make the research paper be more noticeable/memorable as a finished product to the teacher. Atlantic Publishing has helpful resources for both high school and college students in the following: A High School Student’s Guide to Research Papers: 101 Ways To Make Your Work Stand Out and A College Student’s Guide to Research Papers: 101 Ways To Make Your Work Stand Out. These guides were designed to help you figure out how to correctly write a research paper. Without the next tip, though, formatting the paper correctly is irrelevant.
Tip #4: Avoid Noncredible Sources
We have all heard the speech about using Wikipedia as a source in a paper, and the same goes for many other sources that can be found on the internet as well. Even printed books can be noncredible sources if the information they contain is now outdated. It’s important to do your research (no pun intended, apologies) and determine whether or not a source material is actually providing you with true material. This is especially important for science papers, but even for English papers as well if the source writes about events that may never occur in the novel it describes. For web sources, typically cites that end with .gov/.edu/.org are considered credible as they are typically sponsored by credible organizations. However, online newspapers and other regular .com sources with real information can be found just as easily as long as you cross-reference information to make sure it really is the truth.
Tip #5: Write a Cyclical Paper
As a final tip on how to write the essay, write a cyclical paper. This may not make sense up front, so let me explain. A cyclical paper starts by introducing an idea, either supports or debates this idea in the body, and then affirms or negates the original idea in the conclusion from the evidence drawn from the body. An introduction paragraph should only explain the initial idea and give background, it should not begin the debate of evidence. This should be left in the body. And finally the conclusion should not feature any new ideas not discussed in the introduction or body, but rather give a summary of the findings from each. A successful conclusion paragraph also brings the introductory statements directly back into mind, thus creating a “circle” in the writing.
Hopefully, with these tips you feel more confident in tackling your next research paper and are eager to get the best experience out of it you can. After all, research papers are predominantly about learning new information and discussing it, so you may just surprise yourself with your findings.