Doing a Research Project Smartly: Where to Start?

As it becomes clear from its name, a research project is all about collecting relevant sources, reading them, making notes, and creating a piece based on your findings. The key aspects of this task are standard: you need to mind the structure, your audience, and your purpose. However, the requirements for this type of writing are higher than a regular essay usually has.

So what is a research project?

Research projects are pretty advanced academic papers. Your professor is interested in the way you can combine the information taken from the sources and your own ideas. Project research is not just a compilation of data you have retrieved elsewhere, but an accurate synthesis of the sources and your insights about the topic. You need to apply your ability to think critically, sum up, combine, find the most crucial moments, and defend your position. Demonstrate that you know how to work with information and present the products of your thinking.

Read the tips listed below to arrange your research process correctly.

Define the key question of your paper

To make your research project great, you need to have a personal interest in the topic or any aspect of it. However, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t feel excited about the theme, you are doomed to fail your paper. Even if you are neutral or even bored of it, this might serve as an excellent starting point for your writing. All in all, you can always provide a critical review of it.

Find the topic area that seems challenging or questionable to you. Think about it for a while and define the positions you would like to take. The central question will shape your further research and tone of writing.

Read and take notes

If your professor gave suggestions about the sources to use, you should stick to them. If you don’t have a prescribed list, then start your web search or visit the college library. If you don’t know how to do research, ask the librarian – he/she will surely help you get some books on the required topic. If you search online, make sure to use educational sites to get some initial references and encyclopedias. Use them to find some indexes and footnotes. Then move from the primary sources to more specific ones.

You may need both primary and secondary sources for your paper.

  • Primary sources: written by the authors that bear a direct relation to the event or question
  • Secondary sources: written by the authors that analyze, critique, and study the primary sources

Distinguish them in your paper and use both types for your work. Don’t forget to take notes while you are reading.

Process sources

When reviewing sources, you need to develop a critical point of view and ask questions about what you see. What is the author’s background? Does he/she have any particular position? What is it? Is he/she passionate about? Reading and asking questions about the author, students learn to distinguish reliable and unreliable sources, as well as discover connections, differences, and similarities between them.

When using online sources, make sure that you stick to the websites that have .gov, .org, and .edu in their title. These web materials are usually not commercial and, therefore – more trustworthy. Also, make sure to check the dates – try not to use outdated sources.

Before you start writing, think about your aims and audience

At this point, our research project steps gradually move to writing. Check your instructions carefully and try to understand what purpose you will have to follow. For instance, if the instructions ask you to review different sides of one problem, you are expected to find the controversies. Your purpose here is to inform your audience about the issue and its sides. Another task is to evaluate the controversies. Still other – taking a particular position and persuading your readers that it is more relevant than the other. Make sure that you understand what approach you are expected to take.

Make your draft

Now, when you have enough materials and a shaped purpose in your head, you may start drafting.

  • Use your notes to create a brief outline;
  • Define the main idea of your paper and write it down in 1-2 sentences to develop a thesis;
  • When drafting, try to keep all the sources in mind and figure out how they work together;
  • Break your ideas into topics and sub-topics to create a “skeleton” of your paper.

You might follow your initial plan or change it the way you want – some new ideas can emerge in the process of drafting. Don’t forget to back your opinions up with quotations, but don’t overuse them. Summarize the concepts from sources, paraphrase them, and don’t forget that the most delicious part of your paper is your insights.

Remember to keep up with the structure and use one idea per paragraph. Also, make sure to structure your paragraphs as if they were mini-essays – include a small introduction, central point, and sum it up. In your last paragraph, you should restate a thesis and briefly summarize the previous ones.

So with these tips at hand, you will surely create a winning research paper! Use them any time you feel confused about your task and happy writing!

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