If the phrase "research paper" provokes panic, you’re not alone. Here are tips for avoiding five big research paper mistakes this fall.
Writing a research paper is a daunting task, and the stakes can be high if a big part of your semester grade is counting on this assignment. Writing a research paper, however, doesn’t have to be a stress-inducing endeavor. If you take the time to select the right topic, take sufficient notes during the research phase, and implement a solid structure within your paper, you can set yourself up for a successful assignment.
Keep reading to learn five research paper mistakes to avoid this fall.
Research Paper Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Topic
What’s right or wrong is somewhat subjective, but there are a few guidelines that can steer you in the right direction when selecting a topic. While you need to make sure your topic fits the scope of what you’ve been assigned, be sure to think about whether your intended topic is too broad or too narrow. You want something that is focused so you can target your research to sources that are the most relevant to your topic. However, getting too focused may make it difficult to find enough applicable sources. The key is to find a middle ground—a topic that still has unanswered questions and needs to be explored, yet is broad enough to give context to your research.
Research Paper Mistake #2: Taking Insufficient Notes During your Research
Before you can write your paper, you’ll need to read and analyze many primary and secondary sources. Make sure to take detailed notes about the information you get from each source. This will be helpful not only as you write your paper, but it will also keep you from having to go back to the original sources multiple times. One tip is to categorize information from each source on an individual notecard, which you can then organize into concepts or categories when you start outlining your paper.
Research Paper Mistake #3: Not Implementing a Clear Structure
The structure of your paper may vary depending on your assignment and the preferences of your instructor, as well as the subject matter. Any research paper will include an introduction, body, and conclusion, but you may also have sections describing your research methodology, results, and a discussion of what those findings mean. In any case, your introduction should clearly explain your research question or thesis and address why it’s important. After that, depending on your goals, you will go on to discuss the research methods used, your findings and analysis, and conclusion. Make sure you keep the relevant details in the right sections for a more streamlined result.
Research Paper Mistake #4: Not Making an Outline
This takes the advice about having a clear structure a step further. The best way to make sure you follow a structure and have everything in the right place is to create an outline before you start writing in depth. An outline keeps your paper organized and can help you avoid repeating or forgetting major points. It will also help you stay focused on your key points.
Research Paper Mistake #5: Failing to Proofread
In the past, maybe you haven't left enough time for proofreading your paper. Perhaps you’re generally a strong writer and don’t feel like your writing requires proofing. In reality, everyone needs to proofread, regardless of writing skills. Set aside time to read over your paper out loud, in an effort to catch any mistakes or sentences that don’t flow properly. Look for grammar mistakes, repetitive information, or other obvious problems. These can usually be fixed quickly, and it will help the credibility of your writing to eliminate even small grammatical errors.
Everyone needs to proofread, regardless of writing skills.
Ideally, leave yourself enough time so you can not only do a thorough proofreading job yourself, but also have someone else read it for you. It’s easy to read past your own mistakes—a fresh set of eyes will be helpful in catching all types of errors.