Writing a Research Paper
This page lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.
Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.
- Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
- Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
- Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
- Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
- Writing the Introduction
- Writing the Body
- Writing the Conclusion
- Revising the Final Draft
Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
- Try to find a topic that truly interests you
- Try writing your way to a topic
- Talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
- Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved
Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
You will need to look at the following types of sources:
- library catalog, periodical indexes, bibliographies, suggestions from your instructor
- primary vs. secondary sources
- journals, books, other documents
Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
The following systems will help keep you organized:
- a system for noting sources on bibliography cards
- a system for organizing material according to its relative importance
- a system for taking notes
Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
Consider the following questions:
- What is the topic?
- Why is it significant?
- What background material is relevant?
- What is my thesis or purpose statement?
- What organizational plan will best support my purpose?
Writing the Introduction
In the introduction you will need to do the following things:
- present relevant background or contextual material
- define terms or concepts when necessary
- explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
- reveal your plan of organization
Writing the Body
- Use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
- Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don't let your sources organize your paper)
- Integrate your sources into your discussion
- Summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
- Move up and down the "ladder of abstraction" from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization
Writing the Conclusion
- If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.
- Perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research.
Revising the Final Draft
- Check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
- Paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
- Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.
- Documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited.
Sample Outline #2
Title: The FederalistPapers’ Influence on the Ratification of the Constitution
Thesis: The Federalist Papers influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.
a. Describe The Federalist Papers are and when they started
b. Thesis:The Federalist influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.
a. State when The Federalist was printed and published.
b. Discuss the intentions and purposes of The Federalist.
III. Argument for the benefit of a
a. A would guard against external dangers
b. A would guard against internal dangers
A. The “extended sphere” argument about how it will control factions. (Federalist 10)
IV. Argument of the problem with complete separation of powers
a. Anti-federalists wanted a complete separation of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches
b. The Federalist said the maxim of complete separation of powers is misunderstood. (Montesquieu)
c. The branches need some limited power of the other branches to protect themselves from encroachment of the other branches (Federalist 51)
A. The branches need to have the interests of maintaining their powers, and not letting the other branches take that away.
V. Argument for a single executive, and against a plural executive
a. Anti-federalists didn’t want a single executive, too much like a monarch
b. The Federalist need the executive to be “energetic” and a plural executive would make this impossible (Federalist 70)
A. It would take too long for the people in the executive position to make decision in an emergency, because they might disagree.
B. In a plural executive, it is hard to tell who is responsible for a wrongdoing because they can all blame each other, so a single executive would lead to more responsible behavior
VI. Argument in favor of judicial review and terms of good behavior for judges
a. Anti-federalists didn’t like judicial review and the term of good behavior
b. The Federalist argued that judicial review was necessary to protect the judicial branch from the Legislature.
c. A term of good behavior was necessary to get qualified people for the positions; it would also give them time to develop knowledge.
b. The dates of the ratification of the Constitution by the States
c. The Federalist’s influence beyond the ratification