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Starting Your Research Paper: Planning Your Paper

No matter what your subject area, you'll probably have to write research papers. This guide can help.

Building a Framework

Now that you have done your research, you are ready to plan your paper.  It's a good idea to at least think about how you're going to structure this thing.  It'll help the flow of writing as well as greatly help when writing your introductory paragraph.

Before planning your paper, go over your professor's directions.  Some professors are very specific in how they want the paper written, and others will leave it up to you to plan your paper.  If there is anything that you are unclear about in the instructions, ask your prof.  S/he will probably welcome your inquiries in advance, rather than having to wade through yet another poorly-planned paper. And chances are this will result in better marks for you, so it's a win/win.

The following tips should work in most cases, but may not work in all:

FlowSometimes, papers just have a natural flow to them.  For example, if you need to include background information about your topic, that's going to be one of the first points in your paper.  You wouldn't put background information at the end of the paper.  Same with talking about future trends -- that's something that would go at the end of the paper.

Pros & ConsWhen planning out your paper, plan to match points together.  If your first point is a con, immediately follow it with the matching pro (or vice versa).  Often with a pro/con paper, you will pick a side. If you do, offer the other side first and then follow with your side.  This will make it look as though you're rebuking the opposition and will make your paper stronger.

Original ResearchIf you are writing a paper that requires you to provide your own original research or insight, you should start off talking about other people's research or literature first and then work your way towards your stuff.  You want to end your paper with your original material.

Weak to StrongIn most cases, the closer to the end of the paper, the more important the point.  This is partially because when people read your paper, they will remember the final points more than the opening ones.  It's a good idea to have your paper go from your weakest point to your strongest point.  You want the stronger points to be the ones that people remember.  So, how do you tell weak points from strong ones?  Look at how many supportive claims you will have for each point.  The more supportive claims, the stronger the point.

The Outline

Once you've chosen your topic, gathered your resources, and thought about structure, you're ready to put fingers to keys and get this paper written, right? Well, almost. Organizing your thoughts into an outline will make the actual writing part go much more smoothly.  

Depending on your subject, an outline may be broad and evolve as you write, or very detailed and need to be strictly followed. Regardless, every good outline should contain these things:

1. your thesis statement in the introduction

2. The main points that support that thesis in the body of your paper (weakest to strongest) 

3. A conclusion that restates your thesis in light of these points, and that suggests a possible outcome or where further research might lead.

In diagram form, your paper should end up looking roughly like this: 

outline outline