It can be tough to write a good research paper when you have multiple classes to worry about, deadlines looming, and no idea where to even start. Trust me, I’m a senior-level English major and I still get hit with writer’s block when I stare at a blank page. Luckily, though, I’ve developed some hacks for churning out well-written papers on time.
1. Start Early
This tip is not always easy to follow when you’re drowning in schoolwork you’re just trying to knock off before the deadline, but you’ll thank yourself later. You don’t have to do anything significant like write an entire page right away: focus on at least figuring out your topic or typing an outline. Maybe decide where you’re going to pull your research from (Google Scholar is a good start).
The important thing is that you give yourself plenty of time for the ideas to simmer away on the back-burner as you work on other stuff. If you find a chunk of time to work on it at any point (even if it’s way before the deadline), do it.
2. Pick A Topic Or Angle That Interests You
Depending on how much freedom you have with the paper, it may be open topic or it may be a pre-chosen list of topics. If the research paper’s topic is completely up to you, take advantage by choosing one that’s important to you (or that you at least find fascinating). Barring freedom of choice, the next best thing is to work an angle on the given topic that you think is interesting.
Sure, you won’t always be thrilled about your options (we’ve all had to write some pretty stuffy papers), but if you can find anything intriguing about what you’re writing, no matter how minor the detail, then the paper will be that much better for it.
3. Gather All Your Information Ahead Of Time
It’s tempting to research as you go and plop quotes in as you find them, but that strategy rarely amounts to a cohesive-sounding paper. It takes a lot of extra work to make it flow together when you can cut out that step entirely and have your research already prepared.
Yes, research is the least appealing part of the process, but once it’s done, it’s done. You won’t have to worry about researching throughout the entire paper when you have it all on hand from the get-go.
4. Cite Your Research As You Find It
To make pulling from your pre-gathered research even easier, go ahead and cite each quote or chunk of paraphrased information as you find it. Keep a separate document or notebook of all the findings relevant to your topic and write each citation out beside the information. This will save you a headache later when you need to cite in your paper.
If you want to take it a step further (and I recommend you do), add a works cited (MLA) or reference (APA) page at the end of your research notes and include each source you gathered. You can remove any sources you didn’t use in your paper later. Now all you need to do is copy/paste your citation page and viola!
5. Break The Writing Into Chunks
Almost as daunting as the research is the actual writing of the paper. Maybe you’re not the best word-smith around, or maybe you are but you can’t seem to make the words flow. Whether you gave yourself a month or a week before the deadline to write, the important thing is to take it one step at a time. The more time you have, the more you can break your writing up into manageable chunks.
Set a goal for yourself based on the time you have: will you write one paragraph per day? One page? No matter what you decide, just know that writing is much easier when you set smaller writing goals for yourself that amount to the final paper.
6. Skip The Intro
Maybe you’ve set your goal but you’re still staring at that blank page, uncertain where to begin. That’s a feeling most of us can relate to, so I’m going to give you a tip an English professor once gave me: skip the intro.
The introduction is often the hardest part to write because it requires more creativity to drag the reader in. So eliminate that pressure and start with the body of your paper. Get to the point—dive straight into your research. Assume the reader has already been dazzled by your intro, and you can come back to it when you’ve got the rest of the paper figured out.
7. Write To Lead Up To Your Research
The purpose of a research paper is the research. It’s all about getting to those nuggets of wisdom you found. On that note, it’s important to make the rest of your writing (the opinionated bits where you go rogue and insert your own writing voice into the paper) lead up to that research.
Imagine you’re talking to someone about what you discovered. You might start by explaining the point of even looking into that information, what it means to the topic you’re on—and then you’d present the facts. It works the same way in writing as it does in conversation (only more formal and snobby).
8. Use Larger Words Instead Of Simple Ones
Part of writing a research paper, whether it’s for an English class or science, is writing in a way that sounds distinguished and as if you know what you’re talking about. That includes using the vocabulary one would expect of a professor (yes, even though you’re not one).
Now, that doesn’t mean you can insert synonyms from Microsoft Word willy-nilly; just because it’s a synonym doesn’t mean it will sound right in the sentence. However, the thesaurus feature (or an actual thesaurus—those are handy) is a good place to start. All you have left to do is search for that word in a sentence to determine if it conveys the meaning you want.
9. Paraphrase To Avoid Huge Blocks Of Quote
Though it seems like the quotes say it the best way possible, it’s important not to include too many (trust me, professors catch on). But you still need to use the information, so in place of some of your quotes, opt to paraphrase instead.
Paraphrasing doesn’t have to involve changing every word of the quote. Since you’re still citing the material, it’s okay to use some of the same words. The trick is to look away from the quote after reading it and rewrite the information as if you were telling a friend about it.
10. Re-Read And Have Someone Else Read
The hardest part—researching and writing the paper—is over, but you have one last step to take: proofreading and editing. Assuming your research is solid and you knew what you wanted to say, this part shouldn’t take too long.
Set your research paper aside for a while (a whole day, if you can spare it), then re-read it as if you were seeing it for the first time. Adjust any mistakes you notice, then give it to someone else to do the same. Any obvious grammar or wording mistakes should reveal themselves in those read-throughs, especially if you read it aloud.