At this point, let’s take a deep breath and review what you’ve done:
· Chosen a topic
· Found some sources
So far, so good.
Now might be a good time to take a few minutes and get organized.
People work on research papers in different ways, and you need to find the way that works best for you. Unfortunately, students often don’t have any sense of how to work on a research paper and just scurry through and then use the same ineffective manner over and over again.
Today, I’m going to tell you some things that have helped me. I hope it will provide a starting point for you. Take what you need and discard the rest.
I have one big problem when it comes to research: Procrastination!
I’m not sure I’ll totally cure procrastination, but one thing that has helped is to make a schedule and put it on my calendar. I use my Outlook calendar on my computer, so on certain days things pop up on my screen as reminders. That way, I can keep up (or at least be reminded of how far behind I am).
Here are some tips that I’ve found to be helpful when scheduling my work for a research paper:
· Start from the due date and work backwards. If the paper is due on December 15, my deadlines might look like this:
o December 10—final editing (If you type your paper until the end or have someone else do it, then you will need to give more time for this step.)
o November 30—have the final rough draft done.
o October 30—have sources for paper. (This is especially important for me. I can do research forever. It feels like I’m being productive but it is often a smokescreen, not forcing me to go on to the next important stage: writing the paper.)
o September 30—have topic for paper
· Assume the worst will happen every step of the way. Now this may seem pessimistic, but it really helps when making certain that your paper is turned in on time. If you plan for the fact that the library might not have the sources you need and will need to get through interlibrary loan, then if that happens, you’re prepared. If you give yourself a week before the paper is due to have the final draft ready, then if something happens to your computer and you have to type it all again, then it will be an annoyance, but not an emergency.
Other helpful tools:
· Write a rough-draft essay about your topic. This has been very helpful to me. I write a basic essay at the beginning of the process with my basic thesis and my supporting reasons. This step has several advantages:
o I see if I actually have something to say on the topic.
o Later on, it makes it easier to tell my own opinions from those stated in my sources.
o It helps me know what kind of source material I’m looking for. For example, if I’m writing my essay on obesity and I see that my major points deal with psychological effects instead of physical ones, then I will focus on those aspects in my sources.
· Have a method for keeping source material sorted. In the olden times, before computers, students were often required to keep index cards for their sources and notes. Now students print out articles and copy book pages. But they often end up with mass quantities of print-outs, making it hard to keep up with everything. Here are some tips that might help:
o When you copy an article or before you turn a source book back in, make sure that you have all the information you need for the works cited entry. I also recommend writing the information down in MLA order; that way, when you’re ready to do your works cited page, everything is correct. I have also just kept a running Works-cited page, putting it in order on the last page as I go. If I end up not using a source, it’s easy enough to delete the entry.
o Clearly mark your sources. In larger papers, you might want to have different folders for each area. But you can also use different highlighter colors for each area. For example, let’s say that you want to discuss three psychological effects of obesity. When you come across information that backs up effect 1, mark it in pink. Effect 2 might be yellow. And so on. (You can also use different-sticky notes.) Just don’t overdo where you have every page marked.
Add your own comments about what keeps you organized during the research process!