A Stress Free Guide to Writing College Research Papers

I showed up at college with the glorious ambition of becoming a great writer. Two semesters later I wondered what the heck I was thinking. I was finishing my second advanced writing course and my fourth research paper and I was burned out. The next semester, I had yet another advanced writing course, but this time the teacher was a writing teacher rather than a critical thinking teacher.

This professor taught us how to go about the college research paper in a way that reduced stress and improved the final product. Now, my young padowans, I pass the same principles on to you.

First off, in order to have a stress-free college research paper writing experience, we need to have a plan for how we are going to get it done. A good basic plan follows these basic steps: Identify a question, Find sources, Organize information, Make an outline, write a draft, revise only, write a second draft, edit and polish.

Since we don’t want to get into too many details, we will just take a few moments with each of these steps.

#1 Identify a question
Identifying a question is different from coming up with a topic. One topic idea could be “Macbeth.” But as a writing prompt, this topic is massive. A question narrows the topic, in this manner: “Macbeth: How does friendship redeem?” When you have identified a question that you want to write about, you are ready to learn from sources.

#2 Find sources
Finding sources to help you answer your research question can be a matter of visiting your local periodical library. Another option for finding sources is to visit the websites for J-Stor and any EBSCO database for academic journals. What is nice is that many university libraries provide free access to these online databases for their students.

Another nifty way to find sources can be to look at bibliographies of articles that are related to your topic. If you think about it, this is like an optimized search!

A final, vital way to reduce stress when doing research is to always be sure you take clear notes on the source itself: author, journal volume, date and so on. Nothing is more frustrating than having some information that you want to use but not being able to identify its source.

#3 Organize information
You will probably begin to get a vision for how your research paper will be structured as you find answers and evidence for your question in your sources. Be sure to take good notes.

The next step of organization, and this might seem frivolous but it is of great use, is to get some index cards. I like to use the big ones rather than the 3×5 cards. Write notes and quotes on your cards. When you have transcribed the bulk of the information that you intend to use, arrange your cards into related groups.

Now you are ready for step 4.

#4 Make an outline
An outline should include a thesis statement, topic sentences for each paragraph and simple statements of the evidence and arguments you will use to support your thesis statement and topic sentences. The more detailed your outline is, the smaller your headache will be when you go to write the paper itself.

What is more, when you get your outline together you will be able to identify any areas or sections that are weak or need rearranging.

#5 Write a draft
With your outline ready, your paper will almost write itself. All you have to do is make good sentences, use effective transitions, and be sure to hit the page requirement!

#6 Revise only
After writing your first draft, any corrections you make should be on the level of revision only. Revision means you check your content and make sure there is enough, it is in a logical order, and the reader will be able to understand you. Editing comes later.

It can be useful to have someone who you trust read your first draft, looking for content and organization issues.

#7 Write a second draft
With your revisions on your first draft clearly marked, work up another draft. Be sure that you have included clear citations and references that follow the rules of your style of choice. APA, Chicago and MLA styles are the most common.

#8 Edit and polish
With your second draft in hand, you are ready to edit for spelling, grammar, sentence length, word choice and so on. First do it yourself. Then have somebody you trust do it, too. With editing done, check your prose and try to polish it up so it flows well and guides the reader through your paper smoothly. Be sure to check your hook and conclusion, as these are the things that will help leave a lasting impression on your reader.

Is writing a college research paper a lot of work? Yes. But now that you know the steps that you can follow to do a good job, you know that you need to put a fair amount of time into this. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to diligently work through each step and meet your deadline. Good luck and write on!