If you’re not careful, writing a research paper can fill all available time. Even the best writers can fall victim to doing “just a bit more research.” Having gained experience through years of writing for college courses, producing a master’s essay, completing a Ph.D. dissertation, various book reviews, articles for historical journals, and encyclopedia entries, I have arrived at three key principles necessary for quickly researching and writing high quality academic papers. First, have a clear thesis. Second, write as you research. Third, zealously keep track of your citations. Following these three precepts will facilitate the quick production of an excellent research paper.
To focus your research, it is imperative to develop an overarching thesis before you begin. Many writers will approach a research project with a general topic rather than a specific argument about a topic. When pressed for time, this is a mistake. Even with the Internet’s speed, Google’s search capabilities, and rapid journal access provided by JSTOR, if you start researching a topic rather than a specific question, your research will lack focus. Simply put, you need to have a precise plan before doing research; otherwise, you will not have much of an idea about whether the primary and secondary sources that you uncover are useful. The essential idea, here, is that for swifter paper completion it is best to fit your research to your thesis, rather than sifting through a broad topic in search of a thesis.
Following closely on using a pre-established thesis to guide your research is the necessity of writing while you do your research. All productive writers share this fundamental attribute. By researching as they write, they are able to immediately assess whether the documents they are finding are supporting their overarching thesis. Less efficient writers do the majority of their research before starting to write. For the sake of efficiency and organization it is necessary to write as you research, enabling you to immediately discern the usefulness of your research efforts, while always looking to your thesis to make sure that your research finds are supporting your arguments.
Finally, always attach a full citation – not merely a page number – to every direct quotation, paraphrase, or attributable idea that you use in your research paper. While writing, the references that you use to avoid plagiarism and give credit to the authors that have influenced your work must have the specific name, title, and page number even if a subsequent citation refers to the previous work. Since citations can migrate during editing, it is important to have a full reference anchored to a citation to keep track of it. This is a way of streamlining writing by making sure that you are not spending hours hunting for the sources of references once you have finished a paper.
The three keys to quickly producing high quality papers all focus on increasing efficiency through better organization. A clear thesis that guides both research and writing saves time and prevents the meandering that afflicts the researcher unsure of his overarching questions. Write as you research. This allows you to determine whether the research you are doing actually supports your thesis and it will allow you to avoid doing extra research that will not appear in your paper. Finally, meticulously track your citations so that you do not have to spend days trying to figure out from what source a quote or unique idea originated. Ultimately, the essential key to the quickly- and well-written research paper is the solid organizational efficiency achieved through creating a clear thesis, writing while researching, and keeping track of your citations.