How do we do it? How do we at Unemployed Professors manage to produce so many top-quality research papers in so little time? The answer is that we each have our own method that is designed to create efficiencies while not compromising on quality.
Although there is no single right way of producing a professional research paper, here is one possible approach:
- Follow the rubric precisely. If the essay question calls for a ten-side paper divided into two parts addressing two different themes, then write a paper that does just that. Do not imagine that eight or twelve sides is acceptable, or that you can get away with covering only one theme, or that the paper will somehow be enhanced by addressing three or more themes. If the instructions stipulate that Harvard referencing must be used, do not use MLA. It’s basic stuff, but essential.
- Search for relevant sources. Sometimes the sources to be used are indicated in the instructions. Most research papers, however, require the writer to conduct independent research and to find appropriate sources him/herself. Click here to find out how to do this. Finding the relevant literature should be one of the first things a writer does. Most are available electronically through university libraries and Google Scholar.
- Do the reading. This is often the most time-consuming task, as it can take many hours, if not days, to read the relevant literature. There are some ways to save time: in the case of journal articles, for example, read the abstract first, then the introduction, then the conclusion. That way, you will know the key points the author is trying to make and may also get a sense of where in the article to find other important information. Another option is to use a keyword search in the case of electronic sources.
- Take notes. Whenever you come across something in the literature that seems relevant, note it down. If often pays to copy exact quotations together with their page numbers. If you have any thoughts about the literature while reading, especially critical ones, write those down, too. Put your notes for each source in a separate Google Drive document to begin with. Once you have finished reading each source, go through that document and add in the author and year before each page number. This can be done quickly by copying and pasting, and it means you will have a ready-made array of in-text citations to choose from when it comes to the writing stage.
- Create a bibliography. Counter-intuitively, the first part of the essay to be finalized will (if you follow this advice) be the bibliography. As you take notes, create a separate bibliography tab on Google Drive and add in the full bibliographic references, organized alphabetically by surname. By the time you have finished note-taking, your bibliography will be complete.
- Organize your notes thematically. Once you have done all the reading – and only then – divide your notes into themes or categories. Those themes will probably have suggested themselves to you over the course of the readings; if not, look for common themes as you go through your notes. Using separate Google Drive tabs for each theme, copy and paste the most relevant parts of your notes from their “author” tabs into the new “theme” tabs. Do not cut and paste, as you may potentially need your notes in their original form later on.
- Think about structure. The structure of the essay will largely depend on the themes you have identified and the argument you intend to make. It is at this point that you must be clear in your own mind what your thesis statement will be and how best to go about arguing your case given the material and knowledge you now have available. The different themes will likely correspond to different sections of the essay, but you will also need to have something original to say in each section that can form the “red thread” of your argument.
- Write up each section in turn. Now that you have a good sense of the overall shape of the paper, go through each section, turning the ready-made array of relevant thoughts and quotations into beautiful flowing prose. If the referencing style requires footnotes rather than in-text citations, be sure to use footnotes as you write up. Style is not something that can be easily taught; it develops over many years. Nevertheless, the professional writer can be relied upon to produce lucid, unambiguous sentences as well as touches of stylistic flourish. Plagiarism is unacceptable. Collate the various sections into one document so as to produce a single flowing argument.
- Add the introduction and conclusion. Just as the bibliography comes first in order of completion, so the introduction comes last (along with the conclusion). For only once the body of the essay has been written up does it become absolutely certain what the argument is. Only at this point can a punchy introduction be written that confidently announces a thesis statement and offers a “roadmap” for the rest of the essay. Similarly, only at this point is it absolutely clear what the sum findings of the argument are, making it easy to summarize those findings in the conclusion.
Format the paper and proof read. Once the body of the paper has been written, add the bibliography and format the paper according to requirements. Usually this involves the Times New Roman font, size 12, double-spaced with 2.5cm margins. Be sure to include page numbers, and make sure the page count (or word count) is correct. Perform a spelling and grammar check using your word processor. Finally, proof read the entire paper to make certain that its quality is as good as it can be.
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