The Process of Writing An English Research Paper
1. Choosing an Area of Focus
One of the most important steps in the process of writing a research paper for the English discipline is choosing an interesting, engaging topic. An instructor may offer students a range of topics from which to choose or allow students to choose their own areas of focus. If the teacher does provide a list of possible topics, students may respond by feeling either reassured or stifled by the narrowed topic choices. If you find yourself feeling stifled or have a specific interest in another topic not listed, approach your teacher and express your reservations. He or she may very likely allow you to investigate a topic not on the list. If the instructor does not offer a list of topics and you are having difficulty choosing your own, consider adressing the teacher for more guidance. Most importantly, take your time and don't feel rushed to choose a specific topic.
2. Seeking Instructor Guidance
Before beginning in-depth research, consult your instructor. He or she may be knowledgeable about the research available on your topic and different scholars you may be interested in investigating. In addition, your instructor may well suggest your topic is too general or specialized and be able to aid you in the process of refining or reworking your topic of choice.
3. Conducting Research
This is perhaps the most important step in the research paper writing process. Your research not only provides you ethos as a writer by revealing your knowledge and understanding of the topic, but also will very likely shape both your understanding and interpretation of the topic. Listed below are several important tips for conducting research and notetaking:
4. Creating a Tentative Thesis
After rereading your notes and reflecting on the topic, formulate a tentative one-sentence thesis. A thesis states your stance on a specific issue regarding the text. The remainder of your essay should expand upon and strengthen your primary claim or interpretation. Note that this claim need not refute other literary scholarship; however, this claim should either shed light or extrapolate upon an existing interpretation or offer a new interpretation. It should not consist of the writer merely restating the claims of other authors. Refer tothe Writer's Web page on the thesis for guidance in constructing a clear, well-formulated thesis .
An initial thesis should be tentative. Remain willing to change your thesis throughout the writing process. You may very likely end with a thesis quite distinctive from your initial thesis. If this is the case, be certain to revisit your paper in order to ensure that this transition in opinion is not inapproriately evident. Leading the reader through your thought process is not problematic, but a conclusion in opposition to your initial thoughts is.
5. Constructing a Comprehensive Outline
The primary purpose of an outline is to help the writer reflect on his or her research/interpretation and to create an organized (and tentative) vision of the research paper. An organized, fluid outline is the start of any good research paper. It aids the writer in constructing a paper which logically proceeds from one related point to the next. An outline should consist of three primary headings--the Introduction, Body, and Conclusion--as well as a number of subheadings regarding more specific categories of discussion.
Look at this example of a model outline; note that all outlines need not follow this exact format--this is merely an example which one may tailor to one's own personal needs. Also see the Writer's Web page on creating outlines.
6. Organizing Research
Analyze, sythnesize, and organize research according to your outline. Research should proceed sequentially in accordance with your tentantive outline.
It may be helfpful to include an additional means of indicating specific subcategories discussed by different authors. For example, you may choose to highlight all discussion of Lady Macbeth in a specific color; as a result, your notes will be organized both by author and specific subcategories.
Some research may prove irrelevant to your topic and should therefore be excluded. If you find yourself strugging with specific notions set forth by an author, it is likely in your best interest to either seek faculty help or exclude such materials. This is also an opportunity to juxtapose the views of different authors in order to guage the efficacy and validity of specific interpretations.
7. Writing Your Research Paper
Once you have created a compehensive outline and organized your research, it is time to begin writing your research paper. Begin by writing a first draft, taking time away from your work, and then revisiting it a day or two later. A first draft is simply a jumping off point--remain willing to rework your ideas, reorganize the structure/flow, and reassess your claims. Refer to the Writer's Web pages on using sources for guidance on how to use sources effectively. Consider taking this draft to the Writing Center to have a second pair of eyes examine it, as it is very common for writers to fail to recognize their own errors. Before submitting, make certain you have completed the following checklist:
As Hjortshoj notes in The Transition to College Writing, "In general, teachers view the typical student paper to be comparable to a rough draft that needs further thought, development, revision, and editing" (57). Most teachers stress the revision stage as one of the most important stages in the research paper writing process. Provide yourself ample time to properly and thoroughly review and edit your paper. Consider making an appointment to take your paper to the Writing Center. A consultant can adivse you on the clarity and overall strength of your paper, along with other integral shortcomings.