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Research Paper


  1. Class: Unspecified
  2. This template is published for use.
  1. Step 1: Understand your assignment. Select and focus your topic.
    Percent time spent on this step: 5%


    The research and writing process is rarely linear; realize that for best results you may need to go forwards or backwards in this planner's steps.

    Read through and understand your assignment (from UNC-Chapel Hill). Don't be shy to ask your instructor questions.

    Explore your topic.  The video Picking Your Topic IS Research  provides pointers on selecting and narrowing your topic (from Eastern Kentucky University). 

    Understand your topic more fully by conducting a preliminary search using Google. To help focus your research, begin forming questions that interest you about your topic.

    Using Wikipedia for Academic Research (video from CLIP)
    • Write down 5 - 10 topic keywords including terms, jargon, events, people, places, etc. to use when you search for sources.

    It may be helpful to develop a research mind map for your topic; consult Mapping Your Research Ideas (video from UCLA Library).  

    Recognize that writing varies among subjects. This guide provides resources on writing in different disciplines.
  2. Step 2: Write your preliminary research question and working thesis statement.
    Percent time spent on this step: 10%


    Now that you have focused your topic, you are ready to develop specific research questions (though your professor may have already given you a specific research question). 
    The answer to your specific research question will form the core argument of your paper. This argument should be expressed in a sentence or two called a thesis statement. The following sources can help as you develop your working thesis statement:

    Once you've developed your working thesis statement, begin writing your first draft:

    If you need help at this stage, consult the following:

    Note: all U of S students can download and use Read and Write software for free. Read and Write helps students with reading (e.g., text to speech, pronunciation), writing (e.g., word prediction, audio maker), studying (e.g., highlighter tool), and research. If you are an English language learner, Read and Write can be particularly helpful. 
  3. Step 3: Design your research strategy. Find and evaluate evidence to address your research question.
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    Now that you have a working thesis statement, it's time to design your research strategy, a method to follow for finding information on your topic.

    Begin searching for different types of sources or evidence. Books are a good starting point as they usually provide a broad overview of a topic. Journal articles are much shorter and more narrowly focused.
    • To find books, search the Library's Catalogue. If you need help, check out our guide for finding books.

    • To find journal articles, search in a database (what's a database? - video from RMIT University). Some databases, such as Academic Search Complete, cut across subject areasOthers are subject-specific, such as PsycINFO for Psychology. Not sure where to start? Look at the recommended databases for your subject area in the Library's Research Guides. Need help?  Check out our Finding Journals Guide
    It is important to evaluate all of your sources of information.

    Make sure you understand the difference between a scholarly and popular source (McMaster University Library).

    Keep track of your references by setting up a system that works for you (e.g., email yourself your references or use a citation manager tool).  This will help you immensely as you write your paper and cite your sources.  See Step #6 for more information on integrating sources into your paper and avoiding plagiarism. 

    Got a question? Use the Ask Us service for research assistance in-person, via email, chat, telephone, or by appointment with a librarian.
  4. Step 4: Critically read and summarize your sources.
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    Once you've located and evaluated your sources, it's time to read them in greater depth. Note: if you struggle with reading, or if you would simply like your articles read out loud to you, install Read and Write on your device. It's free for all U of S students.Need additional research? To find more sources on your topic, review the reference lists in the books and journal articles you found; for more information, consult How to Find Items Listed in a Reference List.
  5. Step 5: Develop the overall structure of your paper.
    Percent time spent on this step: 5%


    Based on your reading, you likely will need to polish or refine your thesis statement before you develop your paper's structure (from University of Wisconsin). If you have to completely revise or change your thesis statement, refer to Step #2 in this planner.

    Organize your thoughts and your paper's structure. 

    Become familiar with the basic essay structure
    Try various brainstorming techniques to use while you are writing (from UNC-Chapel Hill)

    At any stage of the writing process, you can get free online or in-person writing support at the University of Saskatchewan's Writing Help Centre.
  6. Step 6: Write your first draft.
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    Keep in mind that there are many ways to approach writing your first draft.  
    You do not have to start at the beginning. For example, you can draft segments of your paper. Once you've drafted some segments, look at ways to connect them. 

    At this stage you are not looking for perfection; instead, concentrate on writing down your rough ideas. Also, don't forget to take breaks to keep your brain and your writing fresh!

    As you incorporate others' ideas or words into your paper, cite your sources. Remember to note page numbers for direct quotations and paraphrases. If you are unsure about which citation style to use (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago Style, and so on), ask your instructor.
    As you write your paper, it isn't enough to summarize your sources. A good paper synthesizes, or brings together, the ideas of several authors to support your points.  

    Need additional research? Review the reference lists in the books and journal articles you already found; for more information, consult How to Find Items Listed in a Reference List.
  7. Step 7: Revise, Edit, and Polish
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    It's hard to know when it's time to stop drafting, but as you revise and proofread, you can always return to a previous step in the process.

    Use these revision checklists: 

    The following websites might help you to revise, edit, and proofread:

    Complete your bibliography, references, or works cited page. Consult the Library's Citation Style Guides.

    Now it's time to submit your paper and celebrate! When you get your paper back, reflect on the comments, and jot down a few things to remember for your next assignment. If you need clarification on any comments, be sure to follow up with your instructor. 
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