Many people admit that writing dreads them. The situation with students is even more complicated because they have low expectations about the outcome of their hard work. One can never know how high the grade will be since it does not depend on the amount of time spent on it. Indeed, the quality of writing assignments depends not on time and effort but on research and preparation. This article will teach you how to do research before writing a paper or essay.
Why research and preparation matter? 📋
Almost any type of paper requires research, and definitely, any requires preparation. These two aspects together make one’s writing good: research determines the depth of knowledge demonstrated and quality of argument, while preparation or planning ensures balance and consistency of the paper. Therefore, to achieve depth and balance of content as well as quality and consistency of argument one needs to study the topic, which is research while following several steps, which is preparation. Every student should know how to do research properly.
What is research and why it‘s necessary? 🔍
Any academic paper should have scientific rigor. It means that all claims presented in the paper need to have a solid scientific basis and be supported with previous studies. This is one of the reasons why research is needed. The research itself is the process of collection and analysis of reliable information to be used in the paper as the support to writer’s claims. The key here is that information found in the sources (journal articles, books, newspapers, websites, etc) is needed for a student to analyze and come up with some original claim on the topic.
So, how to do research for a paper?
Research is a systematic process that needs a good strategy. Once you try out following the steps below and understand the underlying principle, writing will become much easier and more thoughtful. Here are the 7 steps to make your research thorough and sophisticated:
1. Read the instructions carefully
Any question already contains half of the answer. Read the instructions of your professor carefully and make sure you understand all the requirements. If the specific topic for the paper is mentioned, you can skip steps 3 and 4 (however, it is better to read them to learn how to identify if the topic is specific enough).
2. Do preliminary research
Surprisingly, a good place to start with is Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, or any other similar general information source. They are succinct and written in plain language, which makes them easy and fast to read. However, these sources are only needed to get some bigger picture of the topic and they can never be used as sources.
3. Come up with a topic
After learning some basics about the subject, it is possible to come up with a broad topic. Let’s suppose we are to conduct some 5-page research paper in zoology about cats and dogs, then a possible broad topic would be “The relationships between cats and dogs”. This topic is too broad because it does not tell the reader about the content of the paper but rather outlines an area it will touch upon.
4. Narrow down your topic
An ideal topic is the one that gives not much space and focuses on one specific aspect of the subject. If you are not ready to narrow down your topic, then some more general research is needed. If our subject is relationships between cats and dogs, then the topic for the research paper needs to highlight only one aspect of it. For example, “The genetic determinants of relationships between cats and dogs”. From the topic, it will be clear what the paper is about – genetic features of cats and dogs that determine relationships between them.
5. Do thorough research
When the narrow topic is formulated it is time to conduct the research that will form the basis for the paper. It is better to go from looking through more general sources to more specialized ones. Applying it to our example, at first we need to read about cats and dogs, then look for the information about their relationships, then search for the information about the role of genetics in their relationships. The good places to look for the information are electronic or physical library of the college; for articles in humanities: JSTOR, Sage Journals, Project MUSE; for articles in healthcare, nursing, and biology: NCBI; sources for statistics: Census.gov, Gallup Institute; some general search systems: Google Scholar, Google Books.
While researching, it is important to highlight in the sources the important information that best suits the topic.
6. Make a claim/Ask a question
After research, one is ready to formulate a thesis statement or a research question. Grading or scoring rubric most often mention which one of them is necessary. Otherwise, a thesis statement should be present in the essays. It is a claim, the main idea, one makes in the paper regarding the topic. A research question is a question about what exactly will be studied in the paper. If you are not ready to come up with some specific claim or specific question, do some additional research. Try to find the aspect that you find the most interesting and focus on it.
7. Decide what to write about
For each of your sections or paragraphs decide specifically what it will be about. Make a plan of the paper, distribute the word count between sections and match information collected (the information highlighted in step 5) to the corresponding sections. The sections should approximately be the same length. If you see that one section contains much more material than another one, you need to come back to step 5 and collect some more evidence, to make sections balanced.
Now you have all the information to start writing. As one might notice, students do research at almost all the steps before writing and so the success of the paper mostly depends on it. Studying the topic can sometimes take hours, while the actual writing may be completed in 45 minutes. Another important aspect to take into consideration: research is only as good as the sources discovered in its process.
What sources to choose?
Not all sources are equally helpful and reliable. The sources that are totally safe to use are recent (up to 5-7 years) academic sources (journal articles, books). Other sources that are reliable are websites with .edu domain and quality papers such as The New Yorker or The Economist. Surely, these rules are not strict and in different situations, some exceptions can be made. For example, for history or art papers, sources older than 5-7 years can be used because history is unchangeable, whereas for psychology or nursing sources must be recent since these fields develop rapidly and what was true 15 years ago may not be considered so nowadays. Another example would be using a commercial website of a company when writing some business research. The key here is to analyze every source and decide whether the information it contains can be trusted.
Writing is never effortless but having a conscious strategy for research and writing eliminates the feeling of being lost and facilitates the entire process. Taking the steps for research as described will make sure that you don’t miss something important while writing the paper.