A research paper can be used for exploring and identifying scientific, technical and social issues. If it’s your first time writing a research paper, it may seem daunting, but with good organization and focus of mind, you can make the process easier on yourself. Although you may be limited by specific classroom or work related guidelines, choosing your topic is the first and most important step in your research paper project. Regardless of whether your topic can be anything you want or has rigid requirements, it is important to keep a few questions in mind: Is there enough research available on this topic?
Whenever possible, choose a topic that you feel passionate about. Writing about something you enjoy certainly shows in the final product, making it more likely that you will be successful writing a paper about something you enjoy. If you are writing a research paper for a class, consider the other students. Is it likely that they will also be writing about your topic? How can you keep your paper unique and interesting if everyone is writing about the same thing? They will likely have great ideas that, even if they aren’t options for you to choose, can inspire you with new ideas.
Don’t be afraid to change your topic. If you choose a topic, begin researching, and realize that it isn’t the right decision for you for some reason, don’t fret! Although it requires a bit more time, you have the ability to change your topic even after you begin researching others. With a topic selected, the next step is to begin research. Research comes in numerous forms including web pages, journal articles, books, encyclopedias, interviews, and blog posts, among others.
Take time to look for professional resources who offer valid research and insight into your topic. Whenever possible, look for peer-reviewed empirical research. These are articles or books written by experts in your field of interest, whose work has been read and vouched for by other experts in the same field. These can be found in scientific journals or via an online search. Take a trip to your local library or university library. Although it may seem old fashioned, libraries are chock full of helpful research materials from books to newspapers and magazines to journals. Don’t be afraid to ask the librarian for help either — they are trained in research and know where everything about your topic is located.
Websites, blogs, and forums online aren’t required to publish facts only, so make sure that the information you find is trustworthy. Typically, websites that end with . Try changing your search query often to find different search results for your topic. If nothing seems to be coming up, it could just be that your search query isn’t matched well with the titles of most articles dealing with your subject. There are special search engines and academic databases available that search through thousands of peer-reviewed or scientifically published journals, magazines, and books. Although many of these require a paid membership to use, if you are a current student in college you have free access through your university’s membership. Look for databases that cover your subject only.
Take advantage of this ability to ask for specific information by using as many of the query boxes as you can. Visit your school library and ask the librarian for a full list of the academic databases they subscribe to, as well as the passwords for each. This should contain many more books and journals that are about your topic as well. This step is very important: read through your research, take notes on what you think is important, and highlight key facts and phrases. As you mark off important pieces in the research, add your own commentary and notes explaining to yourself where you might use it in your paper. Writing down your ideas as you have them will make writing your paper much easier and give you something to refer back to. Annotating your research can take quite a bit of time, but needs to be taken one step further in order to add a bit more clarity for the outlining process.