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How To Write a Research Paper

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Writing a research paper in college can be a challenge. The key to success, however, is approaching a major project in smaller pieces. Check out these 6 basic steps to help you conquer any college research paper or project.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Depends on length and depth of assignment

Here's How:

  1. Have your thesis and/or topic approved by your professor or TA in advance. You may think you have an amazing thesis or topic, and you may end up writing an amazing paper. But if your topic isn't approved by your professor (or, worse yet, doesn't directly address the assignment), your grade will be less than stellar. Check in with your professor or TA before you begin to make sure all your work is headed in the right direction.
  2. Work backward to set a time line in your calendar. If your project is due, for example, during finals week, work backward to figure out when you need to start. Plan out how many weeks you'll need for research, how many weeks you'll need for writing, and how many weeks you'll need for revision. Then throw in an extra week or two just to be safe. From there, work backward and figure out when exactly you'll need to start your project in order to meet the assignment's due date.
  3. Break the assignment into smaller projects or sections. Say your paper or project needs to be 30, 40, or even 50 pages long. Trying to write and research that much in one go is not only scary but also virtually impossible. Create an outline for your project and go from there. View the final product as several different papers, for example, that address various parts of a larger picture. It will then seem -- and become -- much more manageable.
  4. Budget small amounts every week. Even if you're completely brain fried and can't write to save your life, do something each week to keep your momentum up. You can read, do a little online research, or proofread what you've written so far. But make sure to do something each week.
  5. Leave a cushion near the deadline. Chances are that your paper is due at the end of the semester, which means everyone else's papers are due then. Which means everything is checked out from the library and the flu will be going through all of the residence halls. No matter how well you plan, life happens sometimes. Make sure to give yourself a little cushion so you can accommodate accordingly.
  6. Have your final paper reviewed by someone else. Take your paper to a peer writing adviser, a learning center, or even someone in your residence hall who is good at giving constructive feedback. Working on major projects can prevent you from "seeing" everything from small errors to confusing or redundant sections. Having another pair of eyes look over your work will help ensure that smaller mistakes won't distract from the larger brilliance of your paper.
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