A research paper is sometimes referred to as a term paper, particularly when it is required to show what the student has learnt over a set period such as a semester. Whichever term is used the basic rules for writing research papers apply. A research paper will usually ask a student to argue a particular point using information gained throughout the course of study and substantiated by external referenced sources.
Mind mapping is a popular way to begin a research paper and there are excellent free applications available on-line for students who want to mind map using a computer rather than pen and paper. MindMeister offered by Google for example, allows an individual to create, build and manipulate mind maps using notes. Others can be invited to share and even contribute to the mind map.
For those who still prefer ink and lead all you need to create a mind map is a blank sheet of paper and a bit of focus. Begin by stating your research question in the middle of the sheet (virtual or real) and then just start jotting down ideas around it. If you’re not sure about how to begin simply start by considering the big 6: who, how, what, where, when and why.
Once you’ve brainstormed your general ideas set the scope of the project and establish some clear goals. Commit to being disciplined enough to stay within the scope you have defined at least for the first draft. Once you have completed a draft you may decide there are some elements or arguments which would add to the research paper and which can be included without changing the main argument.
Set some practical goals in terms of what you want to achieve in set periods. For example you might commit to writing 500 words a day for 10 days and then edit and review. Or you might like to break work down into sections rather than word count. Do whatever feels comfortable but keep in mind the deadline and your personal time constraints.
Write and Structure
The best way to begin writing is to begin writing. It’s true that sometimes the most daunting aspect of writing a research paper is putting pen to paper, or hand to keyboard. Once you begin you will very likely find a natural and easy flow. As you write begin creating headings and sub-headings based on the content you are finding relevant. As you research and recall place data under it’s logical headings. You can always reshuffle later but it will help you with flow if you do this as you go along.
Document sources as you write your research paper, including page numbers, editions and where appropriate website information. Maintaining excellent reference data can save hours at the end of your research paper. For those using Word 7 or later this is easily achieved by merely inserting references as you go along. At the end of the paper you simply insert bibliography and the whole referencing thing is almost too easy! One word of caution with regard to websites and that is make sure you double check the link is still active just before you submit your research paper. Dead links are bad.
Set Yourself up for Success
Be positive. Sounds maybe a bit lame when talking about writing a research paper but it’s true. Go into the project knowing that you’re smart, you paid attention and you know your stuff. Keep to your goals and you’ll feel good as you go along, confident that you’re on target and on time for submitting a smash up research paper. Good luck!