The writing tips you will find below have helped me to write very successful papers in several different academic disciplines and formats: Sociology, Political Science, History, Art History, English, German and Psychology. This guide divulges the main strategies I use to write great research papers for any discipline or topic.
When I entered college, I thought I knew how to write. My high school English teachers drilled a specific approach and style to academic writing, so I thought they were preparing me for what I would have to do in college. I was wrong, and they were definitely not teaching for college writing. What I have learned in the 500 pages I have turned in during my college career helped me to form my own research paper writing strategy.
My college requires a Freshman Writing Seminar (a thing I would suggest all universities add to their curriculum). The first paper that I turned in to my professor was four pages long and was covered in writing when I got it back. This leads me to my first piece of advice: go and talk to your professors before, during and after the writing process. They are there to help you succeed, it is important to take advantage of their expertise. In addition, they will be grading your paper. Asking them questions will help you define what it is your professor wants from your writing.
As much as this seems silly, write for your professor. If one of your professors prefers long, flowery prose, give him or her long, flowery prose. Conversely, if a professor stresses the importance of being concise, then be concise. Try not to overthink it, but it cannot hurt to give a professor what they want. In my experience, doing this not only gives you better grades, it improves your writing ability.
Research Before You Write
Although everyone has a particular writing process that works for them, I find that my writing is most efficient if I compile my research before I sit down to write. This will allow the writing to flow more freely and your ideas will be more developed because you have already gone through your research. Often I create a word document with the major quotes I want to use and write my paper with this document side by side for easy paste-in.
Learn Your Citation Formats Early
First, ask your professor which style they prefer. Some of the most common are MLA, Chicago/Turabian, and APA. While my high school writing was in MLA format, almost all of my college research papers have followed the Chicago/Turabian style because I study the Social Sciences. There are exceptions, however, because disciplines like Art History and Biology have their own styles.
In addition, each professor will have different preferences or variations on the style. That is why it is important to learn the basics of citation as early as possible. My freshman year I spent hours poring over my style guide to make sure that I was not downgraded because of formatting issues. Once I learned the style, I cut my writing time by about 33%, which is significant when you are trying to balance four or five different classes.
Write Carefully and Edit as You Go
Producing a true rough draft works for many people, but doing so makes my writing process much longer and more laborious. I like to create a draft as close to the finished product as possible. In some cases, I actually have not edited the paper after writing it. This will help you immensely in those inevitable time crunches during midterms and finals. I also like to create my footnotes during my research – another big time-saving practice.
What is most important about writing great research papers is to develop your own strategy and stick to it. If you are having trouble, or are looking for some new approaches, then the tips above are a great place to start. Good luck!