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7 Steps to Writing a Great Research Paper
(Continued from 1)

Start writing parts of the essay long before you finish researching (and don’t worry about starting at the beginning!) This strategy works well because writing is thinking, and the process of writing can help you define your arguments and questions and enable you to return to gathering materials with clear goals in mind. You might even change direction almost completely as you discover more interesting ideas through writing. If you don’t write early in the process, you might be forced to stick with a less interesting thesis because of a lack of time.

5) Write in your own words.
An article on writing academic essays wouldn’t be complete without a warning about plagiarism. Presenting someone else’s work as your own is never appropriate. Never turn in an essay that you haven’t written—chances are a professor will recognize that it has been plagiarized—and always cite any material that you have found in an outside source.

Whenever you want to include a phrase or sentence that comes directly from another text, be sure to put quotation marks around it. Try to be selective about when to quote an outside source. Remember that for most assignments your job isn’t to compile other writer’s thoughts; it is to analyze and synthesize the information you find. If the idea can be paraphrased in your own words, try to do so. Keep in mind, though, that an idea from another source that is presented in your own words still needs to be cited. Check with your instructor to find out which citation style to use (MLA, Chicago, APA, CBE, etc.).

6) Read and revise your first draft.

Once you have written your first draft, put it away for a few days. If you can only put it away for an hour or so because of time constraints, do so, but remember that the more time you have away from it the better. After you’ve had a chance to get away from the essay, take a look at it again. As you read over it again, ask yourself these questions:

• Is the main point clear?
• Does each paragraph focus on one main point and have a clear topic sentence?
• Am I providing enough support for my claims?
• Does the order of the paragraphs make sense?
• Are there transitions between ideas and paragraphs to help the reader move from one point to the other?

Take some time to revise and fix any problems you notice.

Then, if possible, share your essay with a teacher, tutor, or classmate. Writing is communicating, and you need to be sure that you’ve communicated effectively to another person. When another person reads your essay, he/she can let you know whether your argument is convincing and easy to follow.

Keep in mind that you can repeat this step as often as is necessary to get your essay into great shape.

7) Proofread carefully.

Proofreading is an important process. A polished essay is much easier to read than one filled with typos and formatting errors.

Know that the spellchecker will help you find some errors, but it can’t help you find all of them and won’t catch a word that is spelled correctly but doesn’t fit the meaning of your sentence. Also, be cautious when using the grammar checker because it might encourage you to change something in a way that will change a sentence’s meaning.

There are two great ways to find errors in your essay: 1) Read it out loud. You may feel silly doing this, but it will help you catch omitted or repeated words and awkward sentences. You might even have someone else read it out loud while you listen. 2) Read the essay backwards sentence by sentence from the end to the beginning. This editor’s trick works well because it forces you to focus on the words on the page rather than on what you expect to be there.

Once you’ve fixed all of your typographic errors, look for formatting and spacing problems, make sure your essay conforms to the guidelines stipulated by your teacher, and feel relieved and confident when you turn it in!


Cathy has taught freshman composition and worked as a writing tutor for undergraduate and graduate students across the country. She currently
serves as a writing consultant for graduate students working on theses and dissertations.

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