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Researching and Writing a Paper: Starting your writing assignment

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

On this page:

Note: I have divided the research and writing tasks into as many small steps as possible so that accomplishing each step is 'not too much of a big thing'. Procrastination is not your friend, but doing a little bit almost every day is your very good friend. The more that you mostly 'do a little bit nearly every day' the more that you'll end up enjoying the research and writing process!

On adjacent pages there are four different approaches to studying and preparing to write your paper. Use the approach, or combination of approaches, that enables you to do your best work:

Starting to Write!

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Finding a topic and planning your paper.

When writing a paper, you should always take a little time to plan what you write – whether the paper is a few short paragraphs or something you work on all Quarter.

First: What are the guidelines for the assignment? Read all the assignment description. Know the due dates, the possible topics, the required format, the citation style, the length, and the kind of writing required. *Ask your teacher about anything unclear*.

Second: How long is the paper supposed to be? A longer paper contains more information and analysis, but can be easier to write because it gives you an opportunity to discuss your topic more fully.

Third: How many sources do you need? Set a goal of finding twice as many sources as the assignment says you need. You do not have to use every source you find, and you do not want to find you need one more source when your paper is ‘almost done’. (You can always use more sources than the assignment asks for if it makes your paper better.)
[List of Databases and Resources]

Fourth: What types of sources do you need? Are they scholarly sources? Technical/Trade sources? Popular media?
[Popular, Professional, Technical/Trade, and Scholarly Publications]

Fifth: Choosing a topic. Most assignments have choices in them, which choices interest you? People usually do better research and writing when they are interested in the topic. Make sure your topic is specific enough for the assigned length of the paper (the more specific your topic the shorter your paper might be, the more general your topic the longer your paper will likely be). Do a little research on a few possible topics to see if you can expect to find enough sources. Consult a librarian if you feel that you might not find enough sources for your topic.
[Ideas and Contexts: a list of sources for finding topics and getting ideas.]

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Creating a schedule, what will you do when?

Dividing your paper writing into separate steps makes a big task into a number of smaller - and more fun - tasks. This will have you wondering what will you do when? Read through the 'Eight' steps below and then:

  • Separate your planning, research, and writing activities into their smallest parts - activities you can do in a few minutes, in an hour, a few hours, a day, etc. - and estimate how much time you have or need for each task (be generous with yourself).
  • Schedule these tasks on your Canvas Calendar (or your RTC email calendar, or personal calendar), so that you can easily see when you need to complete each task (and their due dates).
  • Include the due dates of all of your other assignments in this course and your other courses so you know what you need to accomplish each week in each course. The more clearly you know what needs to be accomplished each day, week, month, or Quarter, the more successful you will be at getting it done without too much stress.

Step One: Research. Gather information about your chosen topic. Use online databases, academic journals, trade or technical journals, books, and reliable websites to research. Take notes on key points, ideas, and supporting evidence (everybody remembers things better if they write notes). Also make a separate note of every question you have.
[Databases and Other Resources, the Library Catalog, How to Search a Database.]

Step Two: Organize your notes. Use your note-taking to create an outline or a mind map for each resource you use. This helps you to see how the ideas and facts are connected and helps you to understand the source. It also helps you identify any gaps in your research. Additionally, briefly summarize your sources and note why you plan to use each source.
[Outline Note Taking, Mind Map, Summarizing, Annotated Bibliography, ]

Step Three: Cite sources. Use the assigned citation style to give credit to the sources you plan to use in your paper. Create/copy the citation into your bibliography before you write the paraphrase or use the quote, and use an in-text citation for everything you quote or paraphrase  – this will help you avoid accidental plagiarism. (Make sure to delete any sources you do not use from your bibliography.)
[NoodleTools , APA information, MLA information. Annotated Bibliography]

Step Four: Write a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a one or two-sentence summary of the main point of your paper. A clear and concise thesis statement that summarizes both your topic and the argument you use in the paper will make that paper easier to write.
[Writing a Thesis Statement.]

Step Five: Format your document according to the assignment guidelines. Doing this when all you have in the document is the title, your thesis statement, and your writing-outline, is a lot easier than doing it when your paper is almost done.
[APA Paper Formatting, MLA Paper Formatting]

Step Six A: Use the information your have gathered from your source to create an outline or mind map to help you plan what to write and enable you to make each of your points in an orderly and logical way. (Always write for someone who knows a little bit less than you, what does your reader need to learn first, what do they need to learn second, and so on.)

Step Six B: Write a first draft. Start writing your paper by expanding on your thesis statement and following your outline or mind map (transcribe your mind map into being an outline for your paper). Place the quotes and paraphrases you have selected in their appropriate places in the writing-outline - make sure each quote or paraphrase is appropriately cited. Then fill in the outline or mind map by writing sentences and/or paragraphs that explain how the references fit together to support your thesis statement.

Step Six C: Write your rough draft without worrying too much about grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, or whether you think your writing is 'good'. Try to write a longer first draft than the paper is supposed to be, editing out the words and sentences that you don't need is always easier than trying to expand the paper by one more paragraph or one more page.
[Organizing and Writing your paper, more discussion of tools for identifying and organizing the ideas of your paper: Outline Note TakingMind MapSummarizingAnnotated bibliography, Writing Outline]

Step Seven: Edit and revise. After you have completed a first draft, read it over and edit it for clarity, coherence, and relevance. Ideally you should do this more than once. Make sure your arguments are supported by evidence (your citations) and that your ideas flow logically. A paper is a way of telling a very specific story, when your ideas flow logically the story ‘makes sense’ because you first told your reader what they need to know first, then what they need to know next, and so on.

Step Eight: Proofread. After you have edited and revised your paper, proofread it for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Then repeat Step Seven one more time 'just to be sure' (if you don't look for errors 'one more time' there probably is an embarrassing error, but if you do check one more time there is a good chance that there are no errors to find - always check again).
[Word and Google Docs both include spelling, grammar, and punctuation checkers.  There are also a variety of free Grammar Checkers, Spelling Checkers, and Punctuation Checkers available online. These tools are very good and very useful, but they are not perfect. If the checker is suggesting a change that does not seem correct to you first consider if you could write that sentence differently. Then, if the checker is still suggesting something that does not seem correct go with what seems correct to you.]

Note: the 'Eight' steps do not need to be accomplished in exactly this order, use the steps in the ways that help you to do your best work - but each step is important. (Particularly Step Three: Cite your sources!)

*** Questions or confusions about anything on this page, in this LibGuide, or anything else? You can Ask Us Questions! ***