Answered By: Lauren McFall
Last Updated: Sep 12, 2020     Views: 277

So you have to write a research paper! The steps listed below might look like a lot of work, but it will make the process much less painful and will produce a better product in the end.

Selecting a Topic

  • Brainstorm possible ideas
    • What's interesting to you? You're going to be spending a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing about the topic, so it may as well be something that you are genuinely interested in.
    • Try browsing through your assigned readings for any important themes that might stick out. Or, visit current event websites or library resources like CQ Researcher or Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints for topical information.
  • Read background info
    • Now that you have a general idea of what you want to research, learn some more specifics. Try browsing through encyclopedias and websites to learn about related and more specific topics. This will also provide you with keywords that can help when you're trying to learn more.  A helpful databases for this step is Gale eBooks (GVRL Encyclopedias).
  • Select a smaller, more specific topic
    • Now that you are more familiar with the subject, hone in on one specific area to research. You don't want to choose too broad of a topic that would be impossible to cover in a 3-5 page paper.
  • Write out a list of keywords
    • From the research you've done already, come up with a list of possible keywords to use when you look for more information. Keep track of these words so you know what works and what doesn't later on in your research.
  • Compose a focused research question and pick out the main ideas to research
    • If you have an idea in mind, write out your research question.
    • Example of a focused question -- How did JW Turner's experience as an artist during the Industrial Revolution inform the themes present in his paintings?
      • Main ideas in this research question: Industrial Revolution, JW Turner, art (specifically, painting).
      • Note how the above question is more specific than a question like: "What was art like in the Industrial Revolution?" or "What themes are present in the art of JW Turner?" A focused research question should lead you to take a stand on a topic and put forth original ideas.
  • Add to your list of keywords to find articles/resources. Then read, read, read!
    • Now that you have a more specific topic, add to your original list of keywords. Keep track of what works and what doesn't. If you're finding too many articles in the journal databases, try being more specific (for instance, "painting" instead of "art"); if you're not finding enough, consider using less specific terms.
    • Consult the A-Z Databases List to select one that fits your topic

Lastly, stay flexible!

Keep in mind that research is not a linear process -- just because you chose a topic in the beginning doesn't mean that you are locked into that topic. During your research process, you might realize that there is something more interesting that you would rather learn about, or maybe you're not finding any information on your original idea. It's ok to modify your topic! Stay flexible and the process will be much more enjoyable.


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