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Writing a Research Paper


1.  Take advantage of handbooks.

Handbooks about writing (put out by such publishers as Prentice-Hall, St. Martins, and Random House) usually have good chapters about research papers: note-taking strategies, citing sources, formulating a thesis, etc. The Loudoun Campus Writing Center has several handbooks you can use, and you should own one if you have taken English 111.

2.  Choose your topic wisely.

When choosing a topic, ask yourself the following questions: Am I genuinely interested in this topic? (There is no reason to make the project boring for yourself.) Are sources about the topic readily available? (No reason to make it too difficult.) Can I cut the topic down to manageable size? (The more specific, the better.)

3.  Use sources well.

You must be painstaking about your accuracy in quoting from outside sources. In using sources, you can either quote directly (use the exact words and mark them with ,.quotation marks"), paraphrase (say the exact same thing but in your own words), or summarize (briefly give the high points from a bulk of information). In all these cases, the original author must be acknowledged, and your writing should make it absolutely clear if you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing. Also, use direct quotations sparingly--only if the author's exact wording is essential or especially eloquent and enlightening. A research paper is more than a bunch of quotations strung together; you must comment on sources, show relationships between them, etc.

4.  Avoid plagiarism.

Plagiarism is using a source in any way without acknowledging it. You plagiarize when you borrow someone's words without using quotation marks and giving the author's name--BUT you also plagiarize when you simply borrow an idea or a train of thought without citing the author. When in doubt, ALWAYS cite the author. Plagiarism is a very serious offense.

5.  Write a good thesis statement.

Your thesis statement is a concise statement of EXACTLY what your paper is showing, arguing, enlightening, exposing, etc. Make sure some form of this statement appears in both your introductory and concluding paragraphs. (If you ca not state your paper's purpose in one or two sentences, you lack direction and need to give it some more thought!)

6. Use the campus writing center for any help you need.







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