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Writing, Research and Documentation Guides
Research Writing Style Guides    |    List of Search Engines and Boolean Logic
   Guides to Evaluate Web sites    |   Guide to Evaluate non Web-based Sources
Searching the WWW  |  Guide to Research at GMU  |  GMU Library - Help with Research
Honor Code and Plagiarism Guidelines
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Sample in-text citation style    |  Sample reference page style guide
  • When is your paper due? Mark the due date for the draft and the final version on your calendar.
  • Carefully reread the assignment.  Make a list of the key terms which help identify what you need to do.
  • Think about what topics interest you that meet the criteria for the assignment? Why do these topics interest you?
  • Use an approach suited to your learning style - For example, list ideas; make an outline; draw a circle - insert your main idea and then draw smaller circles named with possible subtropics; draw a tree with branches simulating sub topics; free write ideas without censoring them in your head.
  • What do you hope to learn from researching any of these topics?
  • Who will be your audience?  What will your audience get out of learning more about this topic?
3. DO RESEARCH [You can't write a good research paper without good sources.] 
  • Ask a librarian for help in finding materials.  The university library will have more scholarly material than a public library.
  • Specialized encyclopedias (dealing with specific disciplines) are good sources to help you find  topics. A few examples in the sciences are: McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine.  The Arts and Humanities also have such references.
  • Familiarize yourself with the search strategies of the databases you are using to find sources.
  • What key words/phrases will you use to find your information?
  • What databases - (online, CD ROM, library resident) would be appropriate for finding resources?
  • Be discriminating in your selection of sources. It is generally best not to just rely on Web resources for a research paper.  Most scholarly sources are not yet on the Web or are only available to paid members of scholarly organizations.  Much information on the Internet is not reliable.  Of course, a lot of information in print is also not credible.  Be a discerning researcher.  Review these guidelines for evaluating sources.  Here are some guidelines for evaluating Web resources.   If your sources are not credible, your paper will not be credible.
  • Can you find enough information, given the kinds of resources you are expected to use?
  • Is your level of understanding of the subject sufficient to understand and interpret the sources?
  • Are the sources credible? Look at authority/credentials of author/s, connection to subject, credibility of publication, supporting evidence.
  • Are the sources current?  Out of date information is particularly troublesome in rapidly changing fields like science and technology.
  • Are they sufficiently scholarly, written by experts in the field about which you are writing?
  • Do you have access to them?
  • Review the information you have gathered on the subject for variety, appropriateness, depth of coverage.

  • Make copies of the source material.  Take notes (Use a 3x5 card for each source and/or keep computer records.) on each source.  Cards are good to help you sort out the placement of the material in your paper. Include all key information, such as: author/s' names, title of journal/ book, title of article/ chapter, page numbers, date of article, Web address, database you used to find the source,  key term/s used to find the source,  pertinent information (Note whether or not you are quoting or paraphrasing the pertinent information.). These records can help you find the material again if you lose the original source. You will need the info. for your bibliography/reference page and also show your teacher if she/he requests to see your sources.)
  • Read and take notes on your sources.
  • Put similar ideas together.  Is there a pattern?  Can you find a central theme? (If not, perhaps your sources cover too broad a range.)
  • Make an outline (Be willing to change the outline if , after reading writing a first draft you can see your pattern is changing.  The outline is a road map.  If you go in another direction, change the map.  But be sure your new direction is a valid one.
  • Write a preliminary thesis statement.  (Your thesis statement is generally one or two sentences which state your central points . It is NOT your approach to writing the paper. It is NOT a question.  It is more likely the answer to the main questions you are seeking answers to in your research.)  In your research paper, the thesis is generally positioned at the end of the introductory material, which sets up your subject.  Be willing to revamp your thesis as your understanding of the issues increases and your main point gets more precise.
  • Begin where you feel comfortable.  If you are stuck on the intro, begin in the middle!  The point is to get those ideas out.  You can reorganize later.  Be willing to throw out some of your preliminary writing.  This writing is often a bridge to where you want to go and once you get there you may not need the preliminary writing anymore.
  • Don't correct grammar, punctuation, spelling at this time.  Censoring yourself will interfere with the creative juices.
  • After you have a fair amount, read out loud what you have written.  Record yourself reading your text and play it back.
  • Don't do fine-tuning or editing at this point; you are still in the formative stage.
  • What is working and what needs clarification?
  • Ask someone else to read what you have written, preferably someone familiar with the assignment.  If you are a member of a peer response group, they should be your primary responders.
  • Do you stick to your focus?  Are your points substantive? Do your sources adequately support your points?
  • Reexamine your thesis.  Do the central topic and sub topics relate to your thesis?
  • Do you use the sources to support points you make in your own words, or are you just regurgitating information from sources and letting them speak FOR you?  Paraphrase when possible to show you understand and can interpret the material accurately.  Paraphrasing means to accurately restate the points in your own words.
  • What parts need more detail, evidence? (Cite all sources, whether quoted or paraphrased.)
  • What parts need reorganization, sharper focus?
  • What sections need clearer transitions between ideas?
  • Does the introduction adequately set up the subject and thesis? (The thesis is generally at the end of the introductory paragraph.)
  • Are the paragraphs cohesive?  Your paragraphs should focus on  particular aspects of the main topic.
  • Does the conclusion tie in with the thesis?  If the thesis and conclusion don't match, chances are in writing your paper your views on the subject changed.  You  may need to change your thesis/ rethink your position.
  • Are sentences grammatically correct?
  • Are your sentences varied in length and structure and emphasize main points?
  • Do your sentences express ideas clearly and concisely?  Are they punctuated correctly?
  • Are your words concrete and appropriate for the subject and audience? Using "big words" to impress readers often backfires.  Keep it simple is generally a good rule.
  • Does your paper follow the exact format required?  APA?  MLA? or another form?
  • Did you get someone else to respond to questions you have about your paper?  A second opinion can be helpful.
  • Review the required research style guidelines.
  • Be sure quotes and paraphrases are properly cited (in the form required) in the text of your paper.
  • Be sure your reference/bibliography page is properly documented (MLA?, APA? another form?).  Research styles have rigid formats. Don't mix and match styles.
  • Be sure that each source used in your paper is also listed in the appropriate form in your reference/bibliography page.
  • Review the style guide for proper cover page, page numbering format.
  • Get a final reading from someone else.
9. RELAX - You did it!! 
Please review the Honor Code and Plagiarism Guidelines.
Writing, Research and Documentation Guides
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