After you have determined the type of research design you will use, but before you sit down and begin to organize your paper, there are few things you should consider doing that will help make the process of writing go much smoother.
Make a Schedule
Drafting a schedule and noting deadlines on your personal calendar should be your first step to writing a research paper. Create a schedule based on your own sense of how much time you think you will need to contemplate, research, organize, and write a paper based on its length and your familiarity with the general topic. A helpful strategy is to work backwards from when the final paper is due.
Choose specific dates of important steps along the way, but focus on setting realistic goals, and then stick to them! Make sure to give yourself enough time to find out what resources are available to you [including meeting with a librarian, if needed!], to identify a research problem to investigate, to select and read relevant research literature, to outline your paper, to organize the information you are going to cite in your paper, and to write your first and final drafts [as well as any necessary steps in between]. Developing a personal assignment calendar will also help you manage your time in relation to work assigned in other classes.
Analyze the Assignment
Carefully analyze the assignment to determine what you are specifically being asked to do. Look for key terms, topics, subject areas, and/or issues that can help you develop a research problem that interests you. Be sure that you understand the type of paper you are being asked to write. Research papers discuss a topic in depth and cite to credible sources that contain evidence that supports your particular perspective. However, there are many different ways this can be achieved.
The way in which your professor may ask you to frame your analysis can include any of the following approaches:
NOTE: If for any reason you are unclear or confused about any aspect of the assignment, request clarification from your professor as soon as possible. Faculty are required to hold office hours to meet with students. Take advantage of this. Professors will not accept the excuse that, "I didn't understand the assignment" if you end up being upset about the grade you receive.
Ballenger, Bruce P. The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. 7th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2012. Composing Processes: Planning and Organizing. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Invention: Starting the Writing Process. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Invention: Overview of the Writing Process. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide. 15th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2015; Rosenblatt, Paul C. Restarting Stalled Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Williams, Joseph M. and Lawrence McEnerney. Writing in College 2: Preparing to Write and Drafting the Paper, Writing Program, The University of Chicago; Prewriting Strategies. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Prewriting Techniques. Hawley Academic Resource and Advising Center. Simpson College.
Below are general rules outlined in most writing assignments in social and behavioral sciences classes, however, keep in mind that the style and format of a research paper may vary depending on the preferences of your professor.
To make a paper readable:
General mistakes to avoid:
General stylistic and grammatical mistakes to avoid:
In all sections of your paper:
NOTE: These are general guidelines that apply to almost every paper you write in college. However, the specific format of your paper--how you arrange the title page, headings, subheadings, non-textual elements, citations, appendices, etc.--will be dictated by the writing style manual you are asked to use [e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA, or other]. If your professor has not stated which style to use, be sure to ask. If your professor does not state a preference, choose the writing style used within your major or that you have the most experience using.
The Guide to Grammar and Writing. Capital Community College Foundation; Grammar. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Tips. Writers Workshop. University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign; Handouts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.