Tip from Lyena: How To Write A Research Paper

My name is Lyena, and I can hardly believe that I’m a sophomore at Harvard. My freshman year of college flew by in a blur of great experiences, and I am excited to return in the fall! Some highlights of my college experience so far have been taking a freshman seminar on Neanderthals and human evolution, dancing in the Asian American Dance Troupe, and becoming a nationally certified Emergency Medical Technician in CrimsonEMS, in addition to being a tutor at HSA Tutoring.

One of the things I struggled with most in high school and college was managing my time and learning to write extensive research papers, so that’s what I would like to focus on. Regardless of what subject the paper is in, you need to take considerable time to research your topic, narrow your focus, organize your thoughts, write a draft, and revise and edit your paper. You won’t produce your best work if you are stressed for time and try to spend hours on the paper without taking breaks. When you first get the assignment months in advance of the due date, it is easy to push the assignment to the back of your mind and forget about it until it is too late. Don’t fall into that trap!

Time management of research papers is the #1 piece of advice that I can give, but I also have a few tips on how to write research papers which I’ve found help make the process more manageable:

1)       If you have any freedom in choosing your topic, I would recommend picking a topic that interests you but also includes key terms that are specific to the topic. For example, I once wrote a research paper on the medication thalidomide, and I found my sources quickly because every search of “thalidomide” brought up relevant information.

2)      Don’t come up with an argument until you’ve assessed the research you’ve gathered. See what other authors have argued in secondary sources or what you can argue based on your primary sources. You’ll often find an argument almost develops itself based on the evidence you’ve collected.

3)      Create an outline before you start writing. Everyone writes outlines differently, but it’s important to organize your thoughts to prepare for writing the first draft. I usually organize my outlines by grouping all of the evidence I want to use under paragraph subheadings.

4)      When writing the rough draft, don’t worry about syntax or word flow as much as getting your thoughts written on paper. It’s much easier to revise for fluency once you’ve gotten your ideas onto the page.

5)      Take a break before reading your paper one last time. Often I find that once I’ve taken my mind away from the paper, even for a moment, I return to it and find grammar errors or weird sentence structures that I didn’t catch in all of my previous read-throughs.

Most importantly though, remember to tackle research papers by starting early and doing a little bit at a time!

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