Writing Your Paper : Writing Research Paper

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Writing Your Paper :

While the process of writing has been thoroughly covered in other chapters in this section, writing research papers can present some unusual problems.

We present the process here in five general stages:

  • Getting started

  • Choosing a plan of organization

  • Writing a draft

  • Getting responses

  • Finishing your paper

  • Getting Started :

    If you have been taking notes in your own words and playing with systems for organizing your notes, you have already begun the process of writing your paper. If you find you are having trouble getting past the hurdle of that first paragraph, you may want to take some time to return to your original research question and informally write something down about what you have learned since you began looking for answers.

  • How do you understand your topic differently now from when you started out?

  • What seem to be the most important things you've learned and why do you believe they're important?

  • What are the most interesting things you've learned and why do you find them interesting?

  • Such free writing may help you focus your thoughts and could produce some chunks of text that you will want to incorporate into your draft. Other forms of preparatory writing may include outlining or brainstorming on paper (See Chapter 3).

    Choosing a Plan of Organization :

    Probably the best way to get all of your material under control is to make a rough outline. You may find that doing so will establish the broad claims you are going to make in your paper and show a logical way to order them. For a paper on Gentileschi, for example, perhaps you found information on the background of the period in which she wrote, information on her own life, information on works she painted and information on her reputation as an artist (in her own day, in the intervening centuries and today). Write down your major claims and make notes about sub points you want to cover under each. Often you will find that once you start writing at all-even if it's only summarizing your research results and dividing them among sections of the paper - the actual writing of the paper comes easier.

    You can also write an abstract for your paper. If carefully done, an abstract or summary can give you substantial guidance for organizing your paper and for beginning to articulate some of the points you want to make. Supplemented by a list of secondary or supporting points, a comprehensive abstract will serve you just about as well as an outline.

    You can also write a "discovery" draft of your paper. Perhaps you might start this first write-up out as a kind of informal chronological retelling of the research process you went through. You might start with, "When I first decided to do my research paper on women artists, I had never heard of Artemisia Gentileschi. Then as I narrowed down my range of choices, I began to find that. Next I discovered that. ... Then I went to the Web and looked at. “And only at the end of the discovery draft you might decide what claim you want the whole paper to make. Once you have come to realize through the discovery draft process just what your paper's claim is to be, then you can begin your actual paper's first real draft with a paragraph that ends with that claim, now expressed as your paper's thesis sentence.

    Whatever plan of organization you choose, having something written down that will serve as an anchor as you work will make the process of writing go more smoothly. It will also give you something to check your subsequent drafts against to be sure you've covered your main points.

    Writing a Draft :

    Most students find that the faster they actually do their drafting, the better it goes. Generally speaking, while you're writing your first draft it's much better to focus on just getting the material down any way you can and to worry about making the writing good later. This is especially important when writing about research, because research papers often are longer and more demanding than other assignments. Certainly making the writing smooth and polished is still of great importance. You just may find you cannot do that at the same time as you focus on getting all the material down on the page and getting it into some kind of order.

    Getting Responses :

    An essential step in writing a successful research paper is getting responses to a good, middle-level draft. A good, middle-level draft has all its factual content in place and has complete sentences organized into well-structured paragraphs but may well not have all the headings and subheadings, visuals, title page, references, etc., that writers typically only put in place during finishing. And a good, middle-level draft is typed and double-spaced. Once you have such a draft, it's essential to get responses to it, ideally on at least two levels : a peer review and a review by someone at the level of your report's intended main audience (here probably someone at the level of your course's instructor).

    What you want to avoid in any such review situation is offering the reviewer a vague, open-ended prompt. Something like "just look this over for me and tell me what you think" leaves the reviewer no good options. It's too easy for the reviewer just to take two minutes skimming the draft and say, "It looks fine." You need to give your reviewer a specific prompt (or prompts), as the next two subsections here illustrate.

    Peer Review :

    One review needs to be done by someone at your own level, someone either in the same class or who has taken the same class or who is at least at the same level in college as you. Here are just a few of the things you could ask such a reviewer to look for (you should pick just one or two of these per reviewer):

    Does this piece flow naturally-does it have a clear-cut beginning, middle and ending that hang together to make a whole?

    Are there any places in the report where you get lost or where if seems I've left something critical out?

    What part of this draft is strongest and why?

    What part of this draft is weakest and how might it be made stronger?

    (For persuasive reports) At the end of the report, have I at least started to persuade you to see these issues my way? If not, do you have suggestions for what else I might do?

    (For technical reports) At the end of the report, are you left feeling I've provided enough detail to give you a sufficiently clear picture of the subject I'm describing? If not, what suggestions do you have for additions?

    Review By A Higher Up : :

    An important second level of reviewing needs to come from someone who is not a peer - either your instructor or a writing center tutor or perhaps a more experienced writer. Such a person may even ask you a couple of questions before agreeing to undertake a review, so that in addition to being able to answer "What about this paper would you especially like me to comment on?" you need to come prepared to answer questions such as "What do you yourself think you did well in this paper and why?" or "If you could do one more thing in this paper, what would it be?"

    Here are some prompts you could offer to a reviewer at this level: Does the paper have enough substantive content to satisfy the assignment? Or does it seem too thin? What suggestions might you have for additional areas or sources for more good content?

    Does the paper have the appropriate tone for this setting? Does it seem to take too casual an approach to its subject or does it sound too stuffy and hence artificial? If there are places that sound inappropriate for this writing situation, will you please circle them?

    While this isn't a final draft and hence will still need some pol¬ishing for grammatical correctness, if you see a number of grammatical errors of anyone or two particular types (comma errors or spelling errors, for example), would you please let me know?

    If I were to do one more thing that would make this a better piece of writing, what would that be?

    These are just a few of the kinds of questions you can ask your reviewers to answer. Remember that just as it's important to offer some guidance to reviewers (as opposed to saying "tell me what you think about this paper"), so it's also important not to ask too much: pick just one or two questions you really need that reviewer to answer about that draft. If you have other questions, find another reviewer.

    Finishing your paper :

    If you take the quick and dirty approach to your earliest drafts, just to get the content down, you need to allow plenty of time and energy for polishing your research paper before you turn it in. Once you've gotten an early couple of drafts done, polished the writing, reviewed the content yourself and gotten some kind of outside review (whether from classmates or from your instructor), here are other things that remain to be done:

    Insert any charts or illustrations you're going to use, being sure to give credit for each one.

    Check your documentation to see that it conforms to the standards appropriate to the field in which the paper is written.

    Remember to include a Works Cited or References list at the end that gives full information on all the works you cite in the paper.

    Check for strong transitions from one paragraph to the next and from each section to the next.

    Review your opening paragraph and your conclusion. Do they work together to frame the paper? They should.

    Insert headings and subheadings to divide the paper into digestible parts. If your instructor likes the idea, you might even incorporate a pull-quote or two. But ask before doing so. Check to see if you have a focused thesis sentence in the first paragraph or two ( See Chapter 5 ).

    Underline the first or second sentence of each paragraph and review the underlined text to see if it acts as a kind of skeleton for the paper. If you see that you're leaving out an important point, insert it.

    Finally, before you turn the paper in, make sure you have a spare copy. And when you turn the paper in, try to do so in person.

    To continue the section on Writing Research Paper,

    1. Selecting a topic

    2. Researching your topic

    3. Writing your paper

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