Including Your Own Thoughts and Opinions
What makes a research paper truly unique to you is that it includes your own thoughts, perceptions, and ideas about your topic. In some papers, you form an opinion through your research. In other cases, you may change your opinion during the course of your research.
If you are writing a persuasive paper, you try to convince others to agree with that opinion. For analytical papers, you make comparisons between your interpretations and the facts.
Question the Facts
As you gather material, you must question the facts, dissecting each and every piece of information to discern whether it is true and reliable. Obviously, some facts are straightforward. Suppose your paper is titled “Does Requiring School Uniforms Reduce Incidents of Bullying?” You uncover the facts that a particular school of 800 students had 40 reported cases of bullying in one school year. After uniforms became mandatory, the number of reported cases of bullying dropped to 32 cases.
The number of students is a fact, as is the number of reported cases of bullying. But when working on a research paper, you must question all aspects of the data. How many people do the reported cases of bullying involve? Were there repeat offenders (and victims)? Did some of those students involved leave the school once uniforms were required? What is the process for reporting bullying? Have any changes been made to this process? Once you start to question the facts, you begin to realize how to approach this important aspect of your research paper and let your own unique voice shine through.
Will I be able to do all my research in the school library?
Probably not, although much of the information is available there, particularly if your library offers Internet access. Some of it won't be, and you'll uncover the rest of the information by conducting personal interviews and visiting museums or other historical sites.
Use Many Sources
When you last wrote a report, you quite possibly used an encyclopedia, surfed the Internet for further information, and maybe found an additional book or two to round it out. You will use those same sources for your research paper, but you will also use many more. Your research will include checking trade journals, visiting historical places of interest, and even conducting interviews.
While this may sound like a lot of work, you are simply going to where the information is. In order to truly dig into a topic, you need as much information as possible, and from as wide a realm as possible. Using the many other sources available opens up the topic to you and ultimately makes the final paper easier to write.
Once you gather all the information you can find from every possible source, the information will be easier to interpret. Because you have such a wide range of information and such detailed data, you will find that it all fits together logically.
Critical Thinking Skills
Instructors assign research papers for a good reason, even if that reason isn't readily apparent to you right now. Not only will you learn how to research a topic in depth and use resources that you have previously left unexplored; the new skills you learn or develop from writing your paper also will serve you throughout school and in the workplace, because the project will nurture your critical thinking abilities.
Typical major research papers are 20 pages long, typed, double-spaced, and one-sided. However, a recent study of secondary school history teachers revealed that many don't assign papers beyond about eight pages in length because they don't have the time to mark them properly.
“Critical thinking” is one of those catchy phrases educators are fond of using. What it really means is the process of gathering information and then dissecting and analyzing and evaluating it to arrive at your own conclusions. Not only is this important in future schooling; it is a key life skill.
Unfortunately, it is not something you can learn at one sitting. Critical thinking skills must be practiced, and a research paper is an ideal vehicle for developing these skills.
Fully Understand Your Topic
Research projects are assigned to ensure that you learn your topic inside and out. You can't possibly write a research paper about a topic with which you are only halfway familiar. You need to dig up every piece of information you can find on your topic. You have to learn your topic in depth. By the time you are finished, you will be the class expert on that subject.
Obviously, you cannot cut corners and still write a good research paper. Nor can you copy from someone else or delegate some of the work to another student, because you would not both have the same views. The only way to be successful on a project of this scope is to put a full effort into the entire project so that you end up fully understanding everything you researched.
This type of research work tends to remain with you. Years later, you may still be able to vividly recall parts of a research paper, whereas dry facts from an ordinary report are long forgotten.
Because your paper must include your own perspective on a particular topic, thoroughly researching the available information about that subject enables you to sort out your personal feelings about it. The degree to which you express those opinions in your paper depends on the type of paper you are writing.
You also have to decide what you think is believable and what should be questioned. It is up to you to determine how you think one event has affected another, and whether that effect has been negative or positive. You cannot completely form your view until you have done all the research yourself. The opinions you form show that you can think independently and that you can analyze all aspects of a situation to arrive at your own conclusions.
It is not enough just to research facts and form your own opinions; you also must learn how to communicate clearly to the reader. Your thoughts must be organized, and the paper must flow from one section to the next. Whereas in the past you have presented facts, now you will combine those facts with your own analysis. Your efforts should result in a research paper that is free of errors and interesting to read, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of what the paper is about and where you stand on the issues it raises.