It doesn’t take a Master’s Degree in English to write an A-level research paper in college. All it takes proper planning and motivation. You may promise that you will never put off writing a paper ever again, but don’t kid yourself. You will.
Most of the research papers that are assigned during your first years will be based on at least one piece of material: a book or film. Begin studying this material as soon as the paper is assigned. Putting off a book, article or film until the night before a paper is due will add at least two to three hours to your production time. Even if you put off actually writing the paper, have notes taken or highlighted materials, and have your resources planned and checked out or available. College research papers are likely to be much more detailed and longer papers, so make sure that you know your requirements before looking for sources. Go to your campus library and ask a library assistant to help you in your search. You will quickly learn how to use the multitude of information out there that does not come from Wikipedia.
As the due date nears, begin outlining your paper. Although the outlining technique doesn’t work for everyone, it is worth a try for your first paper. Write down the essay prompt, then plan one or two paragraphs to assess each point or question in the prompt. Breaking up the topic into sections will give your essay flow and organization. After planning a flow for your paragraphs, jot down the points in each sub-topic. This will help you to make sure that your points don’t conflict.
All of these planning exercises can be done in the days after the paper is assigned, then you can put off writing the paper until the night before the due date. Begin you paper by making settings on your word processor program that fit the standards of your instructor. double-space it from the beginning, set your margins and font size, then start typing away! Start by copying and pasting your outline so that you will remember the flow of ideas and each point you have made.
When writing the meat of your paper, keep all of the sources which you plan to cite in the paper. As you make an important point, skim through your sources and find a supporting quotation. If you can not find any supporting materials for your point, keep it in the paper but do not elaborate as extensively without sources.
A common question in lower-level gen. ed. courses is how to cite sources. My teachers seem to agree that the most thorough way to cite is through footnotes and a Bibliography. In the body of the paper, cite sources with footnotes. In the footnotes, provide only the Author of the book/article along with the page number where the quote is found, or the title of the film or media aid. At the end of the paper provide a bibliography with all of your sources in an academic format such as MLA. This will show your instructor that you not only retrieved good sources, but used them accordingly.
When your paper has reached past the minimum, take a break! You have done a lot of work. After a few hours, go back and read through the paper and be sure that it makes sense (sometimes you can get on a roll and lose track of what you are saying). If you are satisfied with your work, then you are done! If you are not completely satisfied with your writing, go to your school’s writing center (every college has one), seek advice from a website, or talk to your instructor. However, do NOT email your instructor the night before the paper is due with questions or asking for feedback.
With these tips, you can still start the actual writing of your paper soon before it is due, but you must make an “action plan” soon after the paper is assigned. After you have done a couple of college-level research papers, you will figure out the exact plan that works best for you.