Writing a research paper: where to start

Writing research papers is a difficult task; the paper itself must, of course, be well-written, but it must also demonstrate a wide research and an ability to synthesise any relevant information. That means that the writing itself is only a very small part of completing the task. So, you have a paper to write, and no definite starting point, what do you do next?

  • Read
  • The first thing to do is to read. Lots. A research paper is a research paper, and that means choosing a focus and reading a huge amount of relevant material.

  • Think
  • Once you have had an initial and broad read, take some time to think about your direction. In your reading, did you notice an area that was interesting to you, but that had not been sufficiently explained? If so, choose this as a thesis.

  • Read
  • Now that you have a specific idea to research, take some time to read all the material that you can that seems to be related to your study.

  • Think
  • Again, importantly, take some time to think about your initial idea, in relation to your newly acquired specific information. Does the gap in research still hold? If not, start again, if it does, move on to the next step.

  • Plan
  • Begin writing a detailed plan, as in, put a sentence for every proposed paragraph, which tells you what that paragraph must do in order to make your argument, purely in relation, at this stage of planning, to your primary sources. This will ensure that your argument is grounded in primary text.

  • Find Evidence and Sources
  • Now that you have a plan of argument in place you must ensure that you have evidence around which to structure your thesis. Having evidence, good sources, will strengthen your position. Now plot those sources into your plan.

  • Write Introduction and Conclusion
  • The first actual writing should be an introduction and a conclusion, because these provide the starting point and the destination for your argument.

  • Fill in the Gaps
  • Now, simply fill in the gaps by discussing your primary texts in each paragraph, and discussing them in relation to your sources.

Starting a research paper is an act of thought, then an act of reading, then much thinking, more reading, more thinking…. The writing itself comes last!

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