Five Ways to Manage a Long Research Paper - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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College Preparation
August 3, 2018

Five Ways to Manage a Long Research Paper

Writing. Some people love it; other people detest it. But in college, all of us must do it. While a fair amount of the writing we do as students consists of smaller reflections and shorter essays, sometimes we will be required to write lengthy, in-depth research papers that demand a substantial amount of time and effort in a production often exceeding 20 pages. These tasks can seem monumental, but it’s possible to manage them and make them easier to think about and to complete. Here are a few ways you can help make writing long research papers easier.

  1. Create an Outline

You have your topic, and you know what you want to focus on in your paper. Now, break this down into subtopics, however many it may be. Let’s say you are writing a paper about how technology is affecting people’s lives. Your outline could include five subtopics such as, “Growing Up,” “In School,” “At Work,” “In Marriages,” and “With Friends.” There are numerous other routes you could take with this, and of course this is a very broad topic—a paper much longer than 20 pages could easily be written on any one of these subtopics themselves, but you get the idea. Whatever your topic is, break it down into smaller, more manageable topics that you can write about. In a way, your outline is helping you to break down this one, large paper into several smaller papers.

  1. Create a large list of credible sources.

Look up articles that will be helpful in writing your paper. Don’t go too in-depth yet; look at the abstract and the introduction to see if the article discusses anything of value. If it does, save the article, and go find some more. I would recommend having more sources than your professor requires because it will only help you when you start writing. The worst part of writing a large paper is getting stuck with nothing to write about, and then in order to fill up space you use excessive amounts of words that make the paper repetitive and tedious. No one likes to write that way, and no one likes to read papers like this either. In short, it is no-win situation for everyone involved. The more research you do, the more you will have to write about, and the more clear, captivating and robust your paper will be.

  1. Print the sources—and highlight, highlight, highlight.

Yes, it will cost money to print your articles, but it is worth it. I have always found it difficult to read and comprehend information on a computer screen compared to having a physical copy in front of me that I can mark up. So, print your sources and start reading them with a highlighter, pen or pencil in hand. When you come across parts of the article that capture your attention, star them and highlight specific points that are especially important. There are also a number of reference management tools available, like Endnote or Zotero; use these resources in lieu of printing to keep track of great sources when you find them. They can also ensure proper citation and reference formatting.

  1. Organize the information you found.

Now you have a plethora of sources in front of you with all sorts of markings on them. It is time to organize this information. I would recommend going through your outline and writing the name and page number of the article with the information you found under the subtopic to which it applies. If there are specific quotations you want to use, you can write them here, too. Then, under these points, write several notes about what you found so captivating about this information and what you want to discuss regarding it—essentially, summarize what you are going to expand on and write about later. You can also create an annotated bibliography to summarize the main points of each of your sources.

  1. Now… start “writing” your paper

After you have read through your sources and organized the data, now you can begin to discuss, evaluate, analyze and interpret the information. This is where the notes and annotations you have about specific research can be very helpful because it enables you to expand as needed. Consistently referencing your sources is important because it helps you avoid putting your own, ungrounded conjectures into the paper without being able to back them up. Since you have already done the research and organized it, you are now prepared to discuss it coherently, accurately and honestly, making the paper much easier to write and much more helpful to people interested in reading what you wrote.

My school, Geneva Collge has a strong Writing program and offers a writing center that can be a very helpful tool for students. Here, tutors will help students with any aspect of their writing, including understanding an assignment, brainstorming ideas, organizing thoughts, writing paragraphs, crafting sentences and formatting a paper.

To learn more about the Writing major at Geneva College, visit geneva.edu/academics/majors/writing or to learn more about Geneva's strong support for college writing, go to geneva.edu/academics/writing-center. Interested in attending Geneva College? Contact the Geneva Admissions Office at 800.847.8255 | admissions@geneva.edu.

-Andrew Domencic '19