Your job is not quite finished. After writing the paper, you must prepare its physical presentation. Unless told otherwise, you should type your paper double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all four sides of each page. Your paper should feature a title page, the body of the paper, and then the bibliography, "Works Cited," or "References" page(s). If your instructor prefers some variation of this model, that will usually be specified in advance. Once again, it is important to stress that a paper is a whole product. A paper that contains impeccable research, cogent analysis, and brilliant writing will still evoke a negative reaction from the reader if it is wrinkled, printed sloppily, or barely readable because the ink on the ribbon is exhausted. Some general guidelines include:
All good research papers rely on information compiled by and analysis done by others. If you write a research paper without consulting other works, then you have written an essay, not a report. If you do rely in part on the work of other people and you do not cite them, you have failed in your responsibilities. A research paper cite the work of others.
Effort: Thomas Alva Edison once supposedly commented that "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." That is true whether one is inventing the lightbulb or creating an essay, a report, or a book. Writing and polishing drafts of a paper take time and effort. They cannot be done the night before the paper is due. If you sit down at your word processor the night before your report is due and write it into the wee hours of the morning, you will almost certainly leave your reader as bleary-eyed when he or she reads the paper as you were when you wrote it. Two things to do are to write drafts and to get others to read your paper.
Besides organization, the other hallmark of a good paper is clarity in writing. Remember that if a paper fails to communicate well, then its research-no matter how well done--will have little impact. There is an old piece of advice that says, "write like you speak." This is terrible advice, at least for formal papers. Good written communication is somewhat different from good spoken communication. When you speak to someone, especially face to face, you can convey meaning through voice inflection, gestures, and other methods in addition to your words. These methods are not available in written communications. Therefore, choice of words, punctuation, and other considerations are particularly vital when you write. Good writing can be divided into three parts: effort, style considerations, and technical matters.
Whatever approach you choose, bear in mind that a cardinal rule is, Summarizing your findings in the conclusion does not mean that this is the only place to put "you" in the paper. Your analysis should appear throughout the paper. A big error that many novice writers make is to use the main body of the paper to create a heap of facts and to wait until the conclusion to say what they mean. This approach is boring and will not impress your readers with your analytical ability. The best papers by far are those that draw data, events, and other material together and interpret them throughout.
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
The second and probably more important goal behind a paper-writing assignment extends beyond the specific content of the course. The object is to sharpen your analytic and writing skills in preparation for the professional career that you may wish to pursue after graduation. Do not underestimate the importance of such thinking and communications skills. Most professional positions that college graduates seek will eventually require that you find information, analyze it, and convey your conclusions and recommendations to others, including your boss. You will be judged by your product. A survey of ranking business executives a few years ago asked them what accounted for the rise of their most successful young subordinates compared to the failure or slow progress of other junior executives. Communications skills was one of the factors most mentioned by the top executives. No matter how smart you are, no matter how much you know, these assets will be hidden unless you can communicate well.
There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.
Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, a student will find that she can achieve great things through her research and writing.
Basic GuidelinesThe purpose of the term paper in ECS 15 is for you to learn how to do effective research on a subject and then write it up clearly, showing where you got your information.
Most successful efforts require some planning. Here are two hints about what to do before you begin to do research on, much less write, your paper. Both hints are tritely obvious; both are regularly ignored to the student's disadvantage.
1. Your instructor will (or at least should) let you know what is expected. Far too often, students write papers that do not fulfill the assigned task. If you do not understand the assignment, discuss it with your instructor. It is not uncommon in class or on the job for a person to get instructions, to not understand them, but to be reluctant to ask for clarification for fear of seeming "dumb." This is a significant error. In the first place, your boss will probably not think less of you for asking for clarification. In the second place, asking for supplementary instructions is far, far better than doing a report that does not meet the needs of your boss and is not what he or she wanted. That makes you look dumb.