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Make a Plan First Then Write Your Research Paper


At first glance, writing a research paper may seem like an insurmountable task. It has a number of stages, such as researching, writing, revising and editing. It’s best to first choose a topic that you are interested in. This way you can efficiently maneuver through the stages and write a better research paper.

Here are some ways to help you plan writing your research paper:

  • Choose a topic. As mentioned above, it’s best to choose a topic that interests you. This will make your research a lot easier and will help you stay focused throughout the writing phase. Choosing a topic before starting your research also helps keep your readings in focus and on topic. Be sure to keep your topic small enough that you can cover it, but not small enough that you can’t find enough sources that discuss it.

  • Write a draft thesis. At this stage your thesis will only be a draft but it will provide limitations in your search. Try posing your draft thesis as a question which answer some aspect of your topic that can be argued for and against. In your research you may find that your thesis is either too broad or too narrow. Adjust accordingly and don’t be afraid to change it if you find that you no longer agree with your original argument.

  • Select and locate sources. There are a number of places to find sources for your research, including libraries, online, and class readings. Check in bibliographies and ask your instructor or T.A. for recommended readings. You likely won’t have the luxury of reading hundreds of articles for your paper, so it’s better to narrow your focus. This is why it’s important to identify a clear topic and have a draft thesis before starting.

  • Develop your outline. There are dozens of research paper outline templates you could use. Check with the assignment details to see if there are any special requirements – e.g., compare-contrast, analysis, etc. – and select an outline that works best. Then fill it in. Write your topic sentences as well as phrases related to each of your pieces of evidence in support of the topic sentence and thesis statement. Viewing a complete outline can help you identify parts that should be rearranged or omitted altogether in order to give your paper better flow and logic.

  • Write your first draft. Use your outline as a guide when writing your first draft and each subsequent draft. It helps you stay on topic and prevents you from writing too much content that is unrelated and will need to be cut out before a final revision. You shouldn’t focus too much on grammar, spelling and punctuation. You will have plenty of opportunities to correct mistakes later when you proofread and edit. You should write freely and creatively. Consider all the details of your argument and try making as many connections to your thesis as possible.

  • Revise content. With your second draft you will want to correct any grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes you encounter, but you mostly want to focus on content. Revision means looking for ways to rethink your argument and structure of your essay. You should look for opportunities to reorganize your argument if you find that some topics would strengthen your essay if they came before or after other paragraphs.

  • Proofread and edit. Proofreading and editing should be happening throughout your writing and revising processes, but you should always conduct a focused proofread and edit before submitting your paper. You should do this at multiple levels, taking your paper as a whole and then reviewing at the section level, then paragraph level, and lastly the sentence level. You may find that you don’t find many mistakes, but the time spent at this stage can have a tremendous impact on how your research paper is received.


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