How Much Time to Allot per Task
It is always difficult to estimate how long it will take to complete a task. Students often grossly underestimate the amount of time it will take them to do a job thoroughly. In order to come up with a reasonable schedule, you must be fairly accurate with the amount of time you allow per task. Obviously, you can adjust the amount of time suggested for each task here if you have less or more time than what is usually allotted for a research paper.
The time that is recommended for each task is only a suggestion. You may work faster or slower on certain tasks than you do on others. Your particular project may not include some of the tasks, or others not included here may be required. Adapt these suggestions to suit your particular case.
Choosing the Topic
Choosing and refining your topic should be a minor part of your research paper in terms of the amount of time it takes. Ideally you would finalize your topic within a few hours of receiving the assignment, although most people need more time than that. You do need to limit the amount of time you spend on this task, so set aside only two or three days to choose your topic, narrow the focus, and perhaps shift the focus slightly if required.
Doing the Research
You might be surprised to learn that research is usually by far the most time-consuming part of your project. You probably will spend at least half of the time you have left for your project gathering research. To make this task seem less daunting, take some time to figure out where you are likely go for your sources of information. You can then schedule a few days for encyclopedia research work, a day or two to visit museums, another couple of days for interviews, and so on.
Don't underestimate the amount of time you will need for research. This is the basis of your entire paper. It is important that you gather enough information to completely cover your topic. If you try to cut corners, it will show, and the result will reflect poorly on you.
Creating the Outline
Once you complete your research, you need to organize it and put it into the format you want for your research paper. It is difficult to estimate how much time you will need for this part of the process; however, it is best to err on the generous side. Some research papers are quite easy to organize based on the topic and type of information you find. Others are more difficult, and some may even require going back for further research or clarification. Try to determine as best as you can where your paper falls between these two extremes. Then you can allow yourself anywhere from a few days to a week to complete your outline.
Writing the First Draft
It seems that writing the first draft would be time-consuming, but if you have taken careful notes (in your own words—see Chapter 12!), and outlined your paper in detail, it shouldn't take all that long. This step is really just a matter of putting all that work into sentences, adding your own interpretations and opinions, and ensuring that it all hangs together. A week should be plenty of time to write the first draft.
Proofreading Your Paper
This is an area that students sometimes skim over. Careful proofreading and editing is not something that can be done in an hour. Take your time with this task and do it properly. You will want to give yourself enough time to put it away for a day or two and then reread it, because a fresh pair of eyes can almost always catch mistakes. You may also want to get someone else to help you proofread, so schedule at least three days for this task.
Completing the Final Draft
The final draft shouldn't take a lot of time. Using the rough draft as a guide, you just make corrections and add or delete to improve your paper. Most sections will not have to be rewritten and reworded. But do leave yourself enough time to do a neat job on your final draft. A couple of days will result in a higher quality finished product than will a couple of hours.