It is often the extent to which the writer applies his/her critical thinking skills that makes the difference between a mediocre and a superior research paper. Perhaps the most important aspect of this type of writing is the research aspect, which involves applying oneself to the active study of the scholarly research on the topic being explored. The operative word here is 'active,' as such study involves not just reading but the analysis and synthesis of the ideas and information gleaned from a variety of sources.
- Source Evaluation
In order to be certain that the sources from which one gains information are valid, one has to perform an evaluation of the sources. Certain guidelines should be considered a rule of thumb for selecting and evaluating sources:
- It is not considered wise to take information from websites unless the particular site visited is connected to a university or another academically recognised organization.
- Government websites are also considered good sources of information for a scholarly research paper.
- It is customary (and perhaps safest) to take one's information from the most scholarly areas; this primarily involves the exploration of peer-reviewed journals.
- Note Taking
It is important to take good notes while reading the literature and evaluating the research that will set the theoretical tone of your research paper. Some good practices are as follows:
- Highlighting pages
- Bookmarking websites using clear and precise titles
- Writing down key points
- Cross referencing
Yet, not only is it important to be accurate in writing down or highlighting key aspects of the research, but it is also necessary to make note of the source from which the information is obtained at the time it is discovered. This allows for the most accurate forms of documentation. It saves time during the process as well, as it guards against the writer's having to retrace his/her steps in a search for author and article names during the refinement of the reference page near the end of the research paper writing process.
- Outline Development
Thorough note-taking aids in another important aspect of research-paper writing: the development of a detailed outline. Good outlines include introductory paragraphs complete with a developed and focused thesis statement that points out the precise direction of the research. They are often written in point format, yet arranged in such a way that give a good overview of the themes that will be represented in each paragraph. This format uses parallel construction as a means of placing the topic sentences of each paragraph on one level. Supporting ideas are then written in point form below each topic sentence. Concluding ideas are also included in the outline of a good research paper.
- The Introduction
The actual introduction of the research paper gives insight into the importance of the research. They include background information concerning the problem or question being explored and hint at the research done that has led to the hypothesis the researcher proposes in answer to the question/problem.
- Thesis Statement
The hypothesis is usually stated in full within the thesis statement that falls at the end of the introduction. It summarises precisely what the writer hopes to accomplish within the essay.
The body of the paper follows, and each paragraph of the body should contain a topic sentence that highlights one aspect of the research. The rest of each paragraph should be made up of supporting ideas that thoroughly explore related ideas and their implications.
Finally, a conclusion takes the main ideas and implications presented in the body and it ties them together in a way that sheds some more light on the initial topic. A good conclusion to a research paper will also point out areas in which the research can be extended in order to promote further inquiry for the purpose of providing a broader understanding of the issue being explored.
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