One of the most important steps in the process of writing a research paper for the English discipline is choosing an interesting, engaging topic. An instructor may offer students a range of topics from which to choose or allow students to choose their own areas of focus. If the teacher does provide a list of possible topics, students may respond by feeling either reassured or stifled by the narrowed topic choices. If you find yourself feeling stifled or have a specific interest in another topic not listed, approach your teacher and express your reservations. He or she may very likely allow you to investigate a topic not on the list. If the instructor does not offer a list of topics and you are having difficulty choosing your own, consider adressing the teacher for more guidance. Most importantly, take your time and don’t feel rushed to choose a specific topic. Your choice of topic will influence both the effort you invest in your research and the degree to which you enjoy the process.

Choose a topic you find challenging and interesting. Don’t shy away from controversial topics. Be aware of how much research is available on your topic of choice. Although it is important to offer readers a new interpretation or perspective of the work under investigation, you need not be deterred if your area of focus is widely discussed. It is useful to learn how to incorporate the insights and ideas of other scholars within your own personal findings. Before narrowing your focus to a specific claim or interpretation, conduct research in order to gain an understanding of what other individuals have said about the topic. Most students find it useful to examine a wide range of sources before deciding on a specific area of focus. Select a topic you feel equipped to handle. Before beginning in-depth research, consult your instructor. He or she may be knowledgeable about the research available on your topic and different scholars you may be interested in investigating. In addition, your instructor may well suggest your topic is too general or specialized and be able to aid you in the process of refining or reworking your topic of choice.

This is perhaps the most important step in the research paper writing process. Your research not only provides you ethos as a writer by revealing your knowledge and understanding of the topic, but also will very likely shape both your understanding and interpretation of the topic. In order to avoid later confusion, begin each section by recording the author’s name, book or article title, and page numbers (if relevant). As you examine each source, record important or unique notions which you may wish to incorporate within your paper. Make certain to outline the general arguments of each source by including a descriptive heading after the citation. This will aid you in more quickly and easily distinguishing between sources in the future. Additionally, it may be useful to group sources into categories based on more refined topics. In order to diminish the risk of plagiarizing, do NOT directly lift phrasing or entire segments of the text from sources without properly indicating that you have done so.

If you find it necessary to directly quote an author, clearly indicate what has been copied from the author and record the page number on which this information can be found. Remain critical of your sources: Do not assume that an idea or criticism is valid, because it appears in the argument of a single critic or even multiple critics. It is important to remain criticial of your sources and their interpretations. Additionally, it is not necessary to exclude a source with whom you disagree. Recognizing and reflecting on claims in opposition to your own both strengthens and substantiates your own interpretation. There are a wide range of potential sources available to researchers, but not all sources are created equal. In order to ensure your sources are of a high quality, seek sources from respected academic journals and books. It is possible to find valid sources outside of these perameters, however, you should primarily focus on using these resources. The Research References section at the bottom of the page contains links to helpful databases. After rereading your notes and reflecting on the topic, formulate a tentative one-sentence thesis. A thesis states your stance on a specific issue regarding the text.

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