Content of article
Neatness counts, spelling counts, grammar counts. Take the time to make the report look nice. Pay attention to margins, avoid fonts that are difficult to read or are too small or too large, use clean paper, and make print the report cleanly on as good a printer or copier as you can.
Sometimes one of the largest barriers to writing a research paper is trying to figure out what to write about. Many times the topic is supplied by the teacher, or the curriculum tells what the student should research and write about.
However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the student is given a very broad concept to write a research paper on, for example, water. Within the category of water, there are many topics and subtopics that would be appropriate.
Topics about water can include anything from the three states of water, different water sources, minerals found in water, how water is used by living organisms, the water cycle, or how to find water in the desert.
When given a broad category to write about, it is important to narrow it down to a topic that is much more manageable. Sometimes research needs to be done in order to find the best topic to write about.
- Pick a topic within the category that you find interesting. It makes it that much easier to research and write about a topic if it interests you.
- You may find while researching a topic that the details of the topic are very boring to you. If this is the case, and you have the option to do this, change your topic.
- Pick a topic that you are already familiar with and research further into that area to build on your current knowledge.
- When researching topics to do your paper on, look at how much information you are finding. If you are finding very little information on your topic or you are finding an overwhelming amount, you may need to rethink your topic.
- If permissible, always leave yourself open to changing your topic. While researching for topics, you may come across one that you find really interesting and can use just as well as the previous topics you were searching for.
- Most importantly, does your research topic fit the guidelines set forth by your teacher or curriculum?
When writing a research paper, you must cite your sources! Otherwise you are plagiarizing (claiming someone else’s ideas as your own) which can cause severe penalties from failing your research paper assignment in primary and secondary grades to failing the entire course (most colleges and universities have this policy). To help you avoid plagiarism, follow these simple steps:
- Find out what format for citing your paper your teacher or curriculum wishes you to use. One of the most widely used and widely accepted citation formats by scholars and schools is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format. We recommended that you do an Internet search for the most recent format of the citation style you will be using in your paper.
- Keep a working bibliography when researching your topic. Have a document in your computer files or a page in your notebook where you write down every source that you found and may use in your paper. (You probably will not use every resource you find, but it is much easier to delete unused sources later rather than try to find them four weeks down the road.) To make this process even easier, write the source down in the citation format that will be used in your paper. No matter what citation format you use, you should always write down title, author, publisher, published date, page numbers used, and if applicable, the volume and issue number.
- When collecting ideas and information from your sources, write the author’s last name at the end of the idea. When revising and formatting your paper, keep the author’s last name attached to the end of the idea, no matter where you move that idea. This way, you won’t have to go back and try to remember where the ideas in your paper came from.
- There are two ways to use the information in your paper: paraphrasing and quotes. The majority of your paper will be paraphrasing the information you found. Paraphrasing is basically restating the idea being used in your own words. As a general rule of thumb, no more than two of the original words should be used in sequence when paraphrasing information, and similes should be used for as many of the words as possible in the original passage without changing the meaning of the main point. Sometimes, you may find something stated so well by the original author that it would be best to use the author’s original words in your paper. When using the author’s original words, use quotation marks only around the words being directly quoted and work the quote into the body of your paper so that it makes sense grammatically. Search the Internet for more rules on paraphrasing and quoting information.
Credit Where Credit Is Due!
When you work hard to write something, you don’t want your friends to loaf and just copy it. Every author feels the same way.
Plagiarism is when someone copies the words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas of someone else and presents them as his or her own. When you find information in a book, on the Internet, or from some other source, you MUST give the author of that information credit in a citation. If you copy a sentence or paragraph exactly, you should also use quotation marks around the text.
The surprising thing to many students is how easy it is for parents, teachers, and science fair judges to detect and prove plagiarism. So, don’t go there, and don’t make us try to hunt you down!
How to Organize Your Research Paper
The best way to speed your writing is to do a little planning. Before starting to write, think about the best order to discuss the major sections of your report. Generally, you will want to begin with your science fair project question so that the reader will know the purpose of your paper.
- Your science fair project question or topic
- Definitions of all important words, concepts, and equations that describe your experiment
- The history of similar experiments
- Answers to your background research questions
Depending on your topic and your writing preference, the layout of your paper can greatly enhance how well the information on your topic is displayed.