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Writing a Research Paper: Tips for Successful Papers

Tips for Successful Papers

Important Note: These tips have been adopted and adapted from the book Harbrace Writing Course. They are intended as a brief general guide. Specific faculty members in specific disciplines may develop different rubrics or criteria for evaluating different types of papers. Students should thus consult with their current teachers about grading criteria for specific classes and for specific paper assignments. Also, please consult the current Harbrace College Handbook, available at the library, for details about grammar, paragraph unity, paper unity, etc.

Online Guides

There are many excellent online guides to writing papers. Here are a few:

A Guide for Writing Research Papers, MLA-Style: http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/library/mla.pdf

A Guide for Writing Research Papers, APA-Style: http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/apa/

The Nuts and Bots of College Writing: http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/

IPL Teenspace: A+ Research & Writing: http://www.ipl.org/div/teen/aplus/

How to Write an Essay: http://www.bham.ac.uk/english/bibliography/students/essay.htm

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper:http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/student/humanities/philosophy.shtml

A Guide to Writing in Mathematics Classes: http://edisk.fandm.edu/annalisa.crannell/writing_in_math/guide.html

A Guide to Writing in the Sciences: http://classweb.gmu.edu/biologyresources/writingguide/ScientificPaper.htm

Guide to Writing History Papers: http://www.sou.edu/history/carney/writing.htm

Assignment Requirements

Students should pay close attention to the assignment as set forth by their instructors. In general, however, students should ensure that the assignment:

  • is submitted on time
  • meets the stated length requirement, usually typed with double spacing and standard margins
  • follows the proper citation format and procedures

Writing Guidelines

In general the paper should contain:

  • an opening paragraph that catches the reader's interest and clearly states the thesis of the paper, i.e., clearly states what the paper is about
  • words that are spelled correctly and sentences that are grammatically correct
  • unified paragraphs, with sentences transitioning from one another and developing the paragraph's central idea
  • a unified theme, with paragraphs transitioning from one another and developing the paper's central idea or ideas
  • a concluding paragraph that briefly summarizes the main ideas of the paper and restates the paper's main thesis, giving the reader the sense that the stated goal of the paper has been accomplished

Critical Thinking Guidelines

Students should display knowledge of the material by ensuring their papers reveal:

  • a clear understanding of the material, including an understanding of the main ideas and their relationship to one another
  • an understanding of the commonly accepted interpretation of the material (*different interpretations are usually permissible if they can be supported by the text)
  • a clear presentation of their own agreement or disagreement with the original material and a clear presentation of their reasons for this agreement or disagreement