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At one point or another, you’re going to have to write a heavy-duty research paper. If you haven’t written one already, you’ve certainly heard classmates complain about the 28-page monster they had to write for one of their courses. And if you have written one, then you know what a grueling task the project can be. Regardless of how long your paper must be, the amount of time you have, or the topic you choose, some general guidelines exist for writing a first-rate research or term paper. Sharon Sorenson, author of Arco’s How to Write Research Papers, suggests the following.

1. Plan Your Time. Some instructors give you ten weeks to complete a project, while others might allot only four. Plan backward from the day your paper is due and map out a schedule that allows you enough time to finish.

2. Choose Your Topic Wisely. Depending on your instructor, you may or may not have a choice regarding the topic of your paper. If you have a choice, then try to select a topic that interests you. Otherwise, you may have trouble sticking to the task. Also, keep your topic broad enough to find enough resources to cover the topic of your paper, but narrow enough that you can develop and successfully support your thesis.

3. Write a Top-Notch Thesis Statement.All research papers must contain a thesis statement. These statements suggest a paper’s main topic and imply the order in which the ideas appear. For example, a thesis statement on a paper entitled Teenagers Coping with Alzheimer’s Patients may appear as follows:

“Understanding the emotions of both the patient and the family will help reduce everyone’s frustration.”

The paper will then go on to discuss patient and family emotions, as well as reduction of patient and family frustrations, as implied by the thesis statement. Keep in mind that your thesis may change after you’ve done a little research. This is OK, so long as your paper supports your final thesis statement.

4. Use Excellent Secondary Resources.Try not to rely heavily on one source. You need to consult varying opinions and information about the subject to provide a well-thought-out argument on the topic, especially if your paper is persuasive. Be prepared to address arguments from the opposing side. Also, confirm that your resources aren’t out of date. For example, if you’re writing a piece on new software applications, then any resource older than a year is too old. However, if you’re writing a paper on the Civil War, publication dates probably don’t matter as much.

5. Write an Outline.Once you’ve found the resources that will best help you, develop an outline of what you plan to cover in the paper. This will help keep you from drifting into uncharted waters as you begin to write the paper.

6. Create a First Draft.After you’ve written your first draft, go back and check your facts. Did you forget to include an important argument or piece of information? Does the content flow easily from section to section? Are you sure that you paraphrased and quoted sources correctly?

7. Proofread!Once you are comfortable with the content of your paper, take another look for grammar and typographical errors. If you feel as if you’re too close to the paper to look at it with an objective eye, then ask a friend or relative for constructive criticism.

Writing a research paper can be a daunting task, but if you break it down into small steps, the work becomes much more manageable. This article only skims the surface of what writing a research paper entails.

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