There is no bigger cause for procrastination than a writing assignment that requires some level of research. Many students who don’t know where to begin cringe when they hear the words “research paper,” and unfortunately this is often felt most by undergraduate students who are just starting out their college careers. Here’s a guide for getting started with writing a research paper:
The thing to remember most about writing a large assignment like a research paper is that you need to make time work for you, rather than against you. If you know you have a deadline due at the end of the year, don’t wait until the last week to get started. Make a plan which details every stage of the research and writing process. Create a calendar for yourself, setting personal deadlines or milestones. Give yourself enough time for the unexpected. You never know when your computer or printer could break down, when there could be power outage or any of a number of little disasters that could make your life difficult if you have fallen behind on your project.
In your calendar, give yourself days to speak with your professor or TA. Set writing and rest days. Getting ample sleep, eating well, and having some time off for yourself is extremely important in college. You may find it hard to set yourself down to research or write for 3 or 4 hours at a time. A good strategy is to work yourself up to longer writing days. In the beginning you will conduct some research and note taking for maybe 2 or 3 hours but do so each day. Gradually, you will research or write for longer periods but take a day off to rest or catch up on other school work.
It’s imperative to take great notes on the material you’ve read or have photocopied. Don’t wait until you have all of your research material; you should take notes as you go. Doing so will let you stay more organized and will help you develop ideas throughout the process rather than in the final weeks. Another reason to do this is because some library may be recalled by other students working on similar projects. You don’t want to have to return one of your more valuable sources before you are finished.
Your central and supporting arguments will make up the core of your research paper, providing you with a sense of focus and purpose to all of the work you’ve done to this point. Your central argument will be your thesis – a clear and concise statement that gives your side of a matter in simple terms. Your supporting arguments will contain all of the evidence you have gathered to prove your thesis. Brainstorm your ideas and draft a rough outline of how you want to present your argument.
After you’ve gathered enough info you should think about meeting with your professor or TA at least twice. The first time to discuss what it is you plan on writing and to develop some ideas and the second time is to show a draft of your outline in order to work-out some kinks. Remember that spending too much time conducting research can really jade your view on a topic, so these meetings can be extremely valuable in getting you back on track early in the process so you don’t waste more time making corrections shortly before your deadline.
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