How to Ace Your College Research Paper

A common assignment that confounds many college students is the well-known and often dreaded research paper. Your professor asks that you use a variety of scholarly sources, but what exactly does that entail? And how can you find these sources? The following research strategies will help you ace your college research paper quickly and easily. 

Pick the right topic

College research papers usually require that students select a topic of their choice. Compile a list of a few topics that appeal to you. Do some preliminary research using Internet search engines to ensure that there is sufficient information on the topics you have brainstormed. Then, meet with your professor to find out what he or she thinks would be the best topic for you to select.

It is vital that the topic you select for your research paper is feasible. You must consider the assignment’s deadline, your understanding of the subject matter, and how much research information exists on the subject. An obscure topic could equate to weeks of unproductive, frustrating research and a low-quality paper. Here are some helpful tips for writing an essay.                  

Use your school’s online databases 

It is likely that your college library maintains a system of virtual databases. These typically allow you to access a vast supply of scholarly journals for free on any of your library’s computers. Most colleges allow access to their database systems through the library’s webpage. Ask a school librarian for the password, or if prompted, sign in with your school ID.

Using an online database system is an efficient way to access high-quality scholarly information. Within each database system, there is typically a feature to locate specific databases by subject, such as anthropology or chemistry. Be sure to take advantage of the search tools within each database itself, which can save you a great deal of time. You can often find detailed information within a few seconds of searching. Research experience is important for grad school applications, so this may be your chance to prove you have what it takes if you plan to go on to grad school!

Another benefit to using online databases is the ability to cite a source online (A.P.A., M.L.A, etc.). This capability makes it simple for you to select and generate the appropriate citation type. You can then paste the proper citation onto the “Works Cited” page at the end of your paper. Ask your professor which style is preferred for the class. 

Take advantage of your library and ILL

Visit your school’s library and explain to a librarian that you are working on a research paper. Librarians can provide you with the support you need to locate useful texts as sources for your paper. Large universities often have specialized libraries with reference librarians who are qualified to help you access specific material in a wide array of subjects, such as psychology or geology. Specialized libraries can make finding precise information much easier.

If you cannot locate a particular printed text, or if a journal article is not immediately available from your library, consider utilizing your school´s ILL service. “ILL” stands for “interlibrary loan.” With an interlibrary loan, you can typically obtain a physical or electronic copy of the text that you need at no cost from another library. An interlibrary loan will rapidly provide you with the resources you require. Sometimes, loans can even arrive the same day you make the request!

Move from general to specific sources

Begin your research by seeking out sources that broadly examine the topic you wish to study. These less specific yet pertinent sources can direct you toward other sources that are more precise. Inquire with your professor or TA about helpful general sources that discuss the subject you are researching. 

Try to constantly watch for additional sources. While reading a source, whether it is more general or more specific, be sure to review the footnotes and bibliography. By doing so, you will likely find a plethora of other relevant and credible references to point out in your research paper. These are some great tips to help you organize your notes.

If you pinpoint your focus on the above strategies, your college research paper should come together quite effectively. Best of luck!