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How do I write a research essay?

researchessay.jpgWriting a big research essay and don't know where to start? Check out this guide for help.

Imagine your history teacher has asked you to write a research paper on World War II. Does your heart sink at the thought? Researching can seem scary because when there’s so much information out there, sometimes you just don’t know where to start.

With these tips you’ll be able to write a high-quality paper, and you might just learn that it isn’t as scary as you thought.

First steps

Start with a question to figure out what you don’t know. Do some basic research – check out an encyclopaedia and see what interests you. Write a list of questions, and pick one that you want to answer. Good researchers find out how others have answered their questions, and sometimes come up with brand new answers themselves.

General tips

Before getting started, consider these tips to make your life easier:

  • While researching, keep track of your sources of information as you find them. You can write them down, type them up, or use software like Zotero, which connects to Mozilla Firefox. You’ll need to write down your sources and tell your teacher at least the author, where you found them (the page number and name of the book, or the website), and when and where they were published.
  • Make sure you write down information the way your teacher wants. You will use citations, which tell readers where a quote comes from. Citations are actually quite easy to do - just ask your teacher for help, or check out the Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) for detailed info.
  • Type up your research notes and connect quotes with sources. This can make writing the essay easier: you’ll only need to copy and paste the information, and you’ll know where it comes from.
  • Question your sources. You might end up using just a few sources, but you should look at lots to make sure your information is accurate. Watch out for political biases, opinions vs. facts, bad logic in arguments, etc. This will take practice, so start asking “Can I trust this source?” as early as you can.
  • If you are having trouble finding resources, ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed; researching is a skill that takes time to learn.