Research Process Steps - Your Ultimate Guide for Best Papers
January 04, 2017 - Posted toWriting
College brings a lot of uncertainties – new roommates, living within a budget, making new connections, etc. One thing, however, is quite certain – research paper assignments. You will have many - in fact an average of 32 papers - to write during your four-year march to a Bachelor’s. While you were possibly able to be a bit lazy with the steps in research process in high school, you do not have that luxury now.
Every paper you write will be judged on the research you have used, the validity of your thesis statement or research question, and, of course, those pesky details, such as sticking with the specified research paper format style.
Here’s a step-by-step guide that should get you great results – results that translate into great grades.
Step I: Selection and Refinement of a Topic
If you goof at this point, your entire paper will suffer, so you have to get this right. In high school, you perhaps chose a factual topic, let’s say, the “Causes of the Civil War” or “Pollution of our Oceans.” These topics required you to research facts and report them. You are in the “big leagues” now, and that will not do. Here are the important parts of selecting that topic:
- Understand the parameters provided by your instructor. S/he will have guidelines – stick to them.
- Go through your text and your class notes, and find a topic that interests you. This is important – if you don’t like the topic, the entire process will be drudgery. When you do find a topic, it might be a good idea to run it by your instructor. Another suggestion – try to find one that is not common. When instructors have the chance to read something different, they are happier.
- Check out research available on your topic. You can usually gauge the refinement of your topic by checking out what research currently exists. If there is too little, you will need to broaden your topic, and vice versa.
- You need a scholarly thesis. Usually, you can get to this thesis by turning your topic into a question. Instead of “ocean pollution,” for example, you might ask, “What are the newest technologies for cleaning up our oceans?” or “What are the politics that hinder cleaning up our oceans?” These questions will give you your research question and, once you have done some initial research, your thesis statement.
Step 2: The Preliminary Research
In the course of selecting your topic, you have done some preliminary research, if only to confirm that there are appropriate and scholarly resource materials available on the topic. If you are in grad school, specifically working on your thesis or dissertation, then your preliminary research will entail much more. You will be using it in writing a research proposal and so will be taking notes as you thoroughly review that research. Do a good job here, because not only will you use that content for your proposal, these resources can form a part of your total body of research for writing a literature review section or chapter.
Step 3: Locating Those Resources
Obviously, the first place to look will be the electronic database of your school library. Using keywords and keyword phrases that relate directly to your topic is all you will need. For a larger swath of resources, particularly for grad students, use ProQuest. Here you will find research articles and other scholarly works (e.g., published theses and dissertations).
Here is the thing about selection of resources. Secondary materials are perfectly fine for undergraduate work, so long as the author is a respected scholar in the field. No encyclopedic-like resources are acceptable.
Obviously, the Internet is an additional source for material, both through generic searches and through subject directories.
Step 4: Assessing those Resources
No resource should be considered for use without a check of the author’s authenticity. This means reading his/her bio, either the one that comes with the publication or searching online. A Ph.D. in English does not make an expert in history or economics.
The other important consideration is the biases that author’s may have, particularly if your topic is controversial. It is fine to use a biased author, but you must acknowledge that bias in your paper.
Especially when using Internet resources, double-check data and statistics you are given.
Validating the authenticity of your source material is an extremely important step in the research process. Don’t skip it.
Step 5: Taking Notes
In high school, you were probably taught the note-card method. Guess what? It really is old-school but it really is still effective and most efficient. Why? Because if each note card holds one piece of information (along with source information), it can be sorted out and placed with similar information from other sources. Ultimately, sorting out those note cards will provide you with your sub-topics.
Whether you plan to quote or “source” something on a note card or not, you still need the resource bibliographical information, so that it may be included correctly in your bibliography.
Step 6: Organizing the information
This can be the most difficult of the research process steps. This is the step at which you have to organize all those note cards into categories, with the expectation of having sub-topics for your outline. This can be frustrating. However, here is a tip that you will not find elsewhere. Get online. Search for research papers on your topic. Take a look and see what sub-topics were used. This will give you an organizational plan to begin with. IMPORTANT: You are looking at organizational structure; you are not looking to “lift” any part of a paper for your own. You already know how easy it is for your instructor to check, so just don’t do it.
For graduate students completing a literature review: you will not have sub-topics in the same manner as undergrad research papers. Your research has involved a review of the relevant research that others have conducted and you will be reporting on their findings as they relate to your research project. Reading through literature reviews of other theses and dissertations on related topics will give you good examples for you to follow.
Step 7: Even a Cursory Outline Will Keep You on track
You should construct some type of outline that will cover the order in which you will cover your sub-topics. How detailed you make it depends upon you and the topic. Even a brief very informal outline will help you draft that first copy. Just list your sub-topics and, under each one, a listing of the points you will be covering. This will keep you organized as you construct your paper.
Step 8: The Rough Draft
Using the outline, you now write the first draft of your paper. While many say you should not concern yourself with grammar and other composition, it’s a good idea to try to avoid grammar mistakes the first time through – it’s just more you have to clean up later.
Step 9: Editing and Revising
Plan on plenty of time for editing and proofreading your paper. Once you have finished your rough draft, set the paper aside for 24 hours. If you try to edit right away, chances are you will miss things. As you begin the editing process, do it in this order:
- Read the paper first for coherence and flow. Are the sub-sections organized in the right order? Have you made your points clearly? Is there a logical flow of ideas?
- Look at your transitions from one paragraph to the next and from one section to the next. Will the reader know what to expect next?
- Does your introduction contain a good statement of your thesis or hypothesis?
- Does your conclusion sum everything up? Does there need to be a call to action?
Once you are satisfied with the flow, it is time to proofread for grammatical, spelling, and mechanical errors (e.g., punctuation). If this is a challenge for you, get someone else to read the paper for you and point out any of these types of errors.
Step 10: Check that formatting
Instructors can be sticklers for detail. One of those details is the format style that has been specified. If you are unsure about your in-text citations or your bibliography format, use one of the many tools now available that will format those citations in the style you need.
Step 11: The Final draft
Your last step is to type the final copy and submit it.
This is a common step-by-step process for research paper construction. You may find an alternative model of the research process, especially as you move into graduate level research and writing or as instructors in various disciplinary field require. This process, however, will give you a basic model that you can use for most any paper you write at the undergraduate level.
When You Are in a Bind
It happens to the best of students. There is simply too much going on; there are too many paper assignments at the same time; other obligations have prevented you from being able to meet a deadline. In these circumstances, you may need to find a service that can write a research paper for you. This is no reflection on you or your intelligence. It is just a fact of life, and nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, it is a part of learning how to work “smarter” when you need to.