Hopefully, your high school training up until this point has prepared you for the college research paper. In fact, in most high school settings, you would have already written several research papers before leaping to college. If this is the case for you, congratulations! If not, here is a quick lesson. In any case, this blog post will be a great refresher.

Why is a research paper important?

The research paper is truly an art form. If you don’t like writing, I bet you won’t agree with me. But think about it. The research paper is a conduit to express your insights, defend your believes, and extend the light of logical reasoning into the expanse of the unknown. And what lies at the heart of all this?

The thesis. The thesis is the sun around which the research paper orbits. Your thesis is the subject of your entire paper. In essence, it is the argument you present and defend in your paper. For example, here is a thesis statement:

President John F. Kennedy’s life and death enabled President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass legislation ensuring the rights of all Americans.

This paper would then go on to defend this statement.

After you have created your thesis, you outline the paper and conduct your research. I recommend taking a stack of note cards with you when you to go the library or internet to start researching. When you find a source you like, write the citation or source name on the back, the quote or idea you want to use on the front, and the page number in the lower corner (note: there are other ways to format this process, see online for more examples). Once you have all the cards you want, lay them out on a table or on the floor in the order you want to use them in the paper. Finally, transfer this visual outline into a written one.

How should I outline my research paper?

Your outline could take this form (or, whatever your professor requires):

  • Title of the Paper
  • Introduction with thesis statement
  • Paragraph main sentence #1, followed by supporting points and citations
  • Paragraph main sentence #1, followed by supporting points and citations
  • Paragraph main sentence #1, followed by supporting points and citations
  • Conclusion

When you to write the paper, put all of your note cards in order and then write the paper step by step, using your outlines and citations as you get to them in the paper. This process is logical, easy, and systematic!

Here are some final thoughts to help you with your paper:

  • Find a list of transitional words and phrases and memorize them. These will help your paper flow and maintain clarity.
  • Avoid informal language and personal pronouns, unless the professor asks for it or it’s really necessary.
  • Use timelines, character maps, and other organizational tools to keep events and key figures from becoming a jumbled mess in your mind.
  • Visit your writing center, especially early in your collegiate career. College writing is hard, so don’t be shy and get help.

This blog post is part of a series on how to be successful in college.