Top 10 11 Things I Wish I'd Known about Writing Research Papers

Top 10 11 Things I Wish I'd Known about Writing Research Papers
By Erin M. Clarke
11. Hoover is a fantastic place to start. The research librarians know their stuff and can help you make the most of Hoover's holdings. It's their job after all.
10. That being said, Hoover is a't everything. Preparing an authoritative research project requires authoritative sources--something I can't always find on the shelves at McDaniel. For starts, check out Hoover's web page (the link under 'Federal Depository/Documents Online' is really useful!). For books & journals (which you will have already discovered using one of the many journal databases found on Hoover's web page), consider Towson University--it's reasonably close, easy to use, and conveniently located near lots of nice bookstores/cafes where you can treat yourself to a post-research reward. Before going, check their hours & holdings ( the links to Cook Library).
9. Each discipline has its granddaddy of databases (you can find out which one(s) from the research librarians, your professors, the library website). My favorite journal database is the MLA bibliography (being an English major, literary research papers are all I ever write).
8. Everything I needed to know didn't come from the Web. The Web has some good things to offer. And then there's the rest. Sites with .org and .gov are usually good. Sites with .edu and .com can also be good. Hold sites with 'geocities' anywhere in the URL highly suspect!
7. Blasphemy of blasphemies: having a definitive thesis is NOT a prerequisite for researching the paper. Having a general governing idea for my paper, as well as a rough idea of its outline are helpful, but my research usually shapes the final outcome of the paper. 'But I don't have a thesis yet!' has always been the procrastinator's battle cry.
6. Ask your professor(s). They are, after all, the experts in the subject. Ask them what resources they've found helpful. Ask them to clarify their expectations. Ask them how their weekend was (just threw that last one in to see if you were paying attention). Profs LIKE students to communicate with them. Really.
5. (Shameless plug) Ask a writing tutor. That's what we're here for. We've been through the research wash too many times to count. We're faded, tattered, and battle-worn. We can help you sort out snags in any part of your writing process (though, to be fair, we prefer not to have to deal with the blood-curdling screams/wails/moans of, 'Aaaagh! The paper's due tomorrow and I don't even have a thesis!'). And, what's more, we know what it's like.
4. Writing a research paper is a little like AA: take it 'one step at a time.' As a whole, the research paper seems kind of like a huge monster crouching in the corner, something fearsome and unbeatable. But, chances are, you can take on one hairy tentacle of research here and one watery bug-eye of a first draft there. So don't panic!
3. Organization. No, we're not talking about the state of your room (and, incidentally, I've found that the messier my room becomes, the better the paper usually is). We're talking, 'how am I going to present this information to my reader to best convince her/him that what I'm arguing is RIGHT?' It's not something that you must be married to before you begin drafting ('cos you can always cut and paste paragraphs later), but it helps to think about your research paper in terms of sections. It keeps you from repeating yourself, makes your argument stronger, and tells you've written enough to stop for a coffee break.
2. The *[email protected]!ty First Draft. It's my favorite part, really. I resign myself to writing a truly awful first draft, a draft in which I vomit out all of the ideas in my head, (loosely) according to the framework I'd had in mind. It's not something I'd show to anyone (the shame, the horror!), but it puts all of my ideas on paper. Then I can do something with them.
1. Don't procrastinate. Yes. I know. It's what everyone says, but it's the truth. The gut-wrenching stress of writing a research paper the night before might be something to tell the grandkids about (and I won't say that I haven't tried to last-minute a few papers in my day). . .but at some point, the 'I don't care about this anymore, I just want it to be done' philosophy kicks in, and it's all downhill from there. Starting early and doing a little at a time ensures that you CAN ask research librarians, profs, writing tutors, that you CAN check out other libraries, that you CAN take it one step at a time, that you CAN consider its organization, that you CAN afford to write a really awful first draft-and have the time to craft the paper into the best convince her can write.
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