A research paper is an academic text that presents scholarly studies and opinions in order to inform or persuade. Such articles are often assigned in college and graduate courses to encourage students to become familiar with the scope of scholarly study on a particular topic. They should not be confused with essays; the primary purpose of a report is to present the writer's individual ideas and opinions on a topic. Though many essays will require a research component, a report is not a research paper because it is centered in the writer's own thoughts and opinions. A research paper, on the other hand, is a more objective text. It may attempt to persuade the reader to a certain opinion held by the writer, but it does so through the presentation of scholarly opinions rather than the writer's own logic and ideas.
The first step to writing a good research paper is to pick a clear, specific topic. A research paper is an assignment, not a book; therefore, learners should avoid selecting topics that require book-length research. An example of a topic that is too large for a reference report is the Spanish Civil War. This is an enormous subject. Prefer a very specific part of the Spanish Civil War, such as the role of women in the Spanish Civil War. This is still a very large topic, but could be written about within the span of a several-page reference project.
Often, research papers are assigned in order for the writer to investigate a topic thoroughly and then synthesize the most important aspects of that research. To do this effectively requires the writer to perform considerable investigation into his or her selected topic. The research component of the project is often the most time consuming and difficult aspect of the composition process. Effective research requires a learner to investigate the major sources of information in the particular field in which he or she is writing. These information sources are frequently pointed out to the student by his or her instructor. If not, a research librarian at any university library will be able to suggest where students should begin their search for information. In almost every case, this search will focus on library resources and online databases rather than the Internet. There are many valuable online sources, but they typically must be accessed through a library database. The Internet is often not a valid resource because many sources on the Internet are not peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed means that a text is read and critically assessed by experts in the field in which it is written. Those experts decide whether or not the text is valid for publication. Many sources found on the Internet can assist students begin their research, but unless they are peer-reviewed, they should probably not be included in the body of the project itself.
Once a student has gathered and reviewed many sources on the topic at hand, he or she is ready to begin the writing process. Because a research paper presents so much information, however, a student should not sit down at her desk and launch into the writing process without first organizing how all of her sources are going to be presented. A research paper is a type of text that benefits greatly from a general outline. This need not be a detailed document, but merely a rough sketch of the order in which the information is going to be presented. All sources that refer to the same subject or make a similar point, for instance, should be grouped together. Furthermore, the writer should take care to organize the entire paper so that it progresses from general ideas to specific ones. In the report on the role of women in the Spanish Civil War, for instance, a description of the roles of women in Spanish society during this time should not come after a discussion on women's participation in battleâ€”it should come first.
Students should take care when writing articles that all of their sources are carefully and accurately documented both within the text and in a references or works cited page. These citations and references should follow the specific style format required by the student's instructor and discipline.
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