How to Write a Long Research Paper
There are many different ways to write a research paper, and you may have already found a technique that works for you. The trouble with longer papers, however, is that they can become difficult to organize. Often you can follow events chronologically, but there may be points that you want to make along the way. By using the technique outlined in this short article, you will be able to organize your ideas and come up with a coherent finished piece of writing, no matter how much information you need to incorporate into it.
Extract The Information
|Extract The Information|
When you come up with a new book, article, or web page to cite, the first thing you should do is take down all the relevant bibliographical information you will need later. You can do this on paper or in a word processing file, but a much better choice might be to use one of the numerous online bibliography tools that are available to format and keep track of your citations. Many of these tools are free, and your educational institution may have a subscription to one of the more professional ones. Keeping track of bibliographical information is a chore, so let technology be your friend.
After citing your source, read through it and try to think what facts and quotations might be useful in your paper. Each bit of information you think you might use should go on a note card. It does not have to be handwritten, but you will want to eventually print it out if you type it up. Be sure to include enough information on each card to identify it's source for an in-text citation when you write your paper. These note cards are the key to organizing your ideas, so take them seriously. When you come up with a source, be sure to note relevant passages sooner rather than later. Do this for each and every source you can find that you think might be relevant. You will probably need at least four note cards per page to write a thoroughly researched paper, so keep searching for information until you've got everything you expect that you'll need.
Planning and Organization
Once your research is finished, most of the difficult stuff is over. Your job now is to plan out and organize. Take all your cards, lay them out on a flat surface, and shuffle them around until you've found a good way to group the topic into themes, the themes into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into sentences. What you have now is essentially an outline. However, an outline in this form is hard to manage. Set the cards you don't use aside, and type up what you will be using along with any ideas you have about how to organize things. By this point, your idea of your own paper should really start to crystallize. The final task of writing the paper itself will be a simple matter of using the tools of language to link together ideas.
If you're not confident about your writing abilities, have somebody else look over your paper. If you are confident, have someone else look over your paper anyway. At this point you have all the tools you need to make any revision short of changing your topic, so don't be afraid of constructive criticism. It goes without saying that you should thoroughly check your writing for spelling and grammar mistakes, which can be difficult to catch when you're writing. If you've left yourself enough time, it would be ideal to take a break from your paper for a few days, so that when you read over it you can take it at face value. It is easy to think you've written something entirely different than what is actually on the paper, especially when you remember (or think you remember) large parts of what you've written verbatim.
These steps won't guarantee a perfect paper, but they will ensure that what you hand in is some of your best work. Hopefully, you will learn to apply this process to more of your writing. Not everything needs to be planned out, but most academic endeavors benefit from good planning.