A research paper is an expanded essay that presents your own interpretation, evaluation, opinion, or argument on a focused topic.
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Understand the Assignment
The first step is making sure you understand what the assignment is and what it is asking you to write about. Before you do ANY research or writing, make sure you do the following:
What are some important details to know before I begin research and writing?
Find a Topic | Search for Background Information | Refine your Topic | Narrow My Topic | Broaden My Topic
After you have an understanding of the assignment, it is time to find your topic. There are several factors to consider when deciding on a topic:
What do I do if I am stuck on finding a topic?
No problem! You can browse for topics on the the following databases:
You can also use "Gale's Topic Finder" found in the bottom left hand corner of any Gale database:
Search for Background Information
Why do I need background information?
Researching for background information is an important step in the writing process for several reasons:
Where can I find background information?
It is not unusual for students to find that their initial topics are either too broad or too narrow to reasonably research (after they have done background research) and that they have to refine their topics into something that is more researchable. Refining a topic is an important part of the writing process and it is best to take a few minutes to do so before you get too vested in your paper. It is also not unusual to refine your topic more than once.
How do I know if my topic is too broad?
Your topic is too broad if:
How do I know if my topic is too narrow?
Your topic is too narrow if:
While it is good to start the research process with as many ideas as possible, you will need to narrow (limit) your topic before you get too far along so you are not attempting to put too much information in your paper.
Consider factors such as age, gender, profession, demographic, species, or ethnic group. Example: If your topic is Marfan syndrome, research the demographic or group of people most affected.
Consider researching one small area of your topic. Example: if your topic is Marfan syndrome, research eye complications associated with the disease.
Consider researching a specific decade, century, era, or date. Consider a compare and contrast between two time periods. Example: If your topic is Marfan syndrome, compare and contrast public perception between the 1960s vs. the 2010s.
Consider whether your research will be looking at a country, region, state, county, rural areas, urban areas, military towns, or another area. Don't be afraid to compare and contrast two different areas. Example: If your topic is Marfan Syndrome research the affordability of treatment in urban vs. rural areas.
If your topic is too narrow (and you are finding no information on it) you will need to broaden it enough that you can research it. Ask yourself these questions to help broaden your topic.
If your topic is too new there is likely no peer reviewed research on it. If it's a recent event, you are likely to only find information about it in the news media. Search databases that contain articles from newspapers and magazines. If you are still not finding anything, you may need to change your topic.
Sometimes your topic is too specific and you need to "generalize" your search in order to find information. Example: if your topic is the burnout of ER doctors ages 30-40 in Phoenix. You may need to broaden it to include ER doctors in all of Arizona.
You are more than likely to have come across some related issues while searching for information on your topic, look at some of these issues in more depth and see if they would make good topics instead.
Search other databases for information (don't just use search a database because it's the first one you saw or because it's what you used before). Read the description below the database to be sure it's the best one for you to be searching. It's okay if you have to use multiple databases.
Need more help narrowing your topic? The website Thesis Helpers can assist you.
Develop a Research Question
After you have narrowed down your topic, the next step it to develop a research question. You may find yourself narrowing your topic even further as you develop a research question (this is normal).
What is a research question?
A research question is a focused question you propose answering in your paper. In other words, it is a question on a topic that you set out to answer.
Why do I need a research question?
A research question will keep you focused in your research so you know exactly the type of information you need for your paper. Additionally, a research question makes writing a thesis statement easier since your thesis statement will be the answer to your research question.
What makes a good research question?
You can form a research question by restating your topic as a question.
What is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is a statement that expresses the main point or argument of your paper. Readers should be able to look at your thesis statement and identify two things:
A thesis statement:
A thesis statement should NOT include opinion phrases such as:
A thesis statement should NOT include words such as:
What is the difference between a thesis statement and a research question?
The primary difference is that a thesis statement makes a specific claim that you will attempt to prove in your paper. In contrast, a research question asks an open ended question on a topic that your paper will discuss. Having a a good research question is the first step towards writing a thesis statement.
Where does a thesis statement go in my paper?
Thesis statements should go in two places in your paper:
What are some examples of thesis statements?
Time to Search
Finding sources for your paper in a database can be a frustrating process, especially for new college students. When searching any database it is important to keep two things in mind. You want to make sure to:
Picking a Database
How many databases do I have access to?
Mohave Community College provides access to 85 databases on our A to Z Database List. Several of these databases are from our EBSCO or Gale vendors. But there are also several databases not associated with either of these vendors available to search.
What types of sources can I find on databases?
Databases may contain articles, videos, images, newspaper and magazine articles, eBooks, government reports, and more.
Can I just pick the database that is first on the A to Z Database List or choose a database at random to start my search with?
You can do this but it is not a recommended strategy:
Which database should I pick to start my search with?
That depends on your topic. There are several ways to determine which database you should start your search with:
Can I search more than one database at once?
Yes you can. You can search multiple EBSCO or Gale databases simultaneously using the widgets below (these are also located on the homepage).
Time to Search: Search strategies
Finding sources for your paper in a database can be a frustrating process, especially for new college students. When searching any database it is important to keep two things in mind:
Choosing keywords is a critical part of the search process because keywords function as your search terms. In general, keyword searching is what you use when you are first beginning a search.
Unlike Google and other internet search engines that utilize Natural Language Searching, databases are designed to retrieve results that contain every word that has been typed into a search box (the database won't retrieve it as a result otherwise). This is why selection of your keywords is very important (more on this in the next section).
What are keywords?
Keywords are the main ideas represented in your research topic or question and/or the main words you would use to describe the topic to another person.
What are the main steps in the keyword process?
1. Determine which words or phrases represent the main concepts of your research question.
Example: What is the relationship between children drinking diet soda and weight gain? (keywords are underlined)
2. Determine synonyms or related words for those concepts. If you are having trouble, try looking the term up in a thesaurus to help you generate a list.
low calorie soda
increased body mass
3. Determine which words you are going to combine into a search. Start with your original search terms to see what results you get and then modify your search by using some of the synonyms you came up with. You will likely find more synonyms as you start searching.
Example: For my first search, I would use the terms "children," "diet soda," and "weight gain," and then look at my initial results. For a modified search, I might use the synonyms "minors" and "diet beverage" in place of children and diet soda.
Boolean Searching & Boolean Operators
What is Boolean Searching?
Type of search that allows for fewer (but more focused), search results. In other words a Boolean search can filter out information that is irrelevant for your purposes.
What are Boolean Operators?
Words used to connect and define relationships between search terms. Use Boolean operators to narrow or broaden your search. The three primary Boolean Operators are explained below.
What is Natural Language Searching?
Natural language searching is when you use regular everyday language to ask a question (as if you were asking a person). Internet search engines (such as Google) utilize natural language searching. You use cannot use natural language searching and expect to get effective results.
There are three primary Boolean Operators that databases utilize: AND, OR, NOT.
What does the AND operator do if I use it in a database?
Using the operator AND between two (or more) search terms means that you will retrieve results that contain all of the search terms. If it does not contain all the search terms, it will not show up as a result. Using this operator between search terms will decrease (narrow) the number of results you retrieve.
Example: a search for "obesity AND soda" would retrieve results that contain both the words "obesity" and "soda" in them.
What does the OR operator do when I use it in a database?
Using the operator OR between search terms means that you will retrieve results that contain at least one of the search terms. Using this operator between search terms will increase (broaden) the number of results you retrieve. Use the OR operator when there are synonyms or variations of a word or when you want to search for two or more aspects of the same topic.
Example: a search for "obesity OR overweight" would retrieve results that contain either the word "obesity" or the word "overweight." in them. The results may also contain both of the terms but they must contain at least one of the terms.
What does the NOT operator do when I use it in a database?
Using the operator NOT before a search term means that you will exclude that word from your search results. Meaning any results that contain that search term will not show up. You may want to use this operator to exclude words or terms that are not relevant to your search or to exclude words that have multiple meanings. It will decrease (narrow) your results.
Example: a search for "diet NOT beverage" would exclude any search results from appearing that contain the word "beverage."
Creating an Outline
Why should you create an outline before writing your paper?
What is the basic structure of an outline?
Is there a video I can watch on creating an outline?
Is there an example of an outline I can use?
How do I know if my outline is ready to turn into a rough draft?
Ask yourself the following to see if you are ready to write:
Now that you have created an outline, you are ready to use it to guide you in the actual writing of your paper. In other words, you know what your are going to say in your paper, you just have to figure out the best way to say it:
What are some tips for writing my introduction?
What should I keep in mind when writing the body of my paper?
The body of your paper contains the points, evidence, and analysis used to support your thesis (main argument). When writing the body, keep the MEAL plan in mind for each paragraph:
"Paragraphing: MEAL Plan" by Excelsior Online Writing Lab, Excelsior College is licensed under CC BY 4.0
What should I keep in mind when writing my conclusion?
A conclusion should provide readers with closure by reminding them of the main ideas and arguments of your paper.
Revising, Editing, and Proofreading
Why should I revise and edit my paper after my first draft?
Sitting down and reading your own work gives you the chance to read what others are going to read (including the person grading your paper). In short, it will allow you to see if your paper "makes sense."
What does revising my paper mean?
Revising is the process of reading (and re-reading) your paper to check for big picture issues such as focus, organization, and intended audience.
Revising tips and tricks:
What does editing my paper mean?
Editing is the process of reading your paper to improve its style, flow, sentence and paragraph structure, and citations.
Editing tips and tricks:
What does proofreading my paper mean?
Proofreading is the process of reading your paper to check for common errors such as punctuation, typos, misspelled words, grammar, and formatting.
Proofreading tips and tricks:
What does it mean when I'm told my paper doesn't "flow well"?
This typically means your writing doesn't sound natural and that you need to work on sentence clarity.
Paper flow tips and tricks:
How can I find someone to read over my paper?
It's a good idea to have someone read over your work who can point out mistakes, errors, or parts of your paper that are unclear before submitting it for a final grade. Find someone who is unbiased who can offer honest feedback (avoid friends and family members).
It is important to draw on the work of experts to formulate your own ideas. Make sure that your sources are cited properly. Backing up your points with evidence from experts provides support for your argument or thesis statement. You are contributing to a scholarly conversation with scholars who are experts on your topic.
This is the difference between a scholarly research paper and any other paper. You must include your own voice in your analysis and ideas alongside scholars or experts.
All your sources must relate to your thesis, or central argument, whether they are in agreement or not. It is a good idea to address all sides of the argument or thesis to make your stance stronger.
The three ways to present sources in support of your central argument are:
1. Quotation - when you use the exact words from the source. You will need to put quotation marks around the words that are not your own and cite where they came from.
2. Paraphrase - when you state the ideas from another source in your own words. Even when you use your own words, if the ideas or facts came from another source, you need to cite where they came from.
3. Summary - much like a paraphrase but used in cases where you are trying to give an overview of many ideas. As in paraphrasing, quotation marks are not used, but a citation is still necessary.
With paraphrasing, you must write out the idea in your own words. Simply changing a few words from the original source or restating the information exactly using different words is considered plagiarism. If you cannot state an idea in your own words, you should use the direct quotation. More information can be found in this guide to Quoting and Paraphrasing.
When integrating a source into your paper, remember to use these three important components:
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. A.A. Levine Books, 1998.