During COVID-19, Student Learning Commons services continue.
For the complete range, including consultations, support, workshops, handouts, and groups, see SLC services continue online.
Four important things to remember
- Writing a research paper is a process—so you sometimes have to backtrack. It requires patience and time management.
- Start your research early.
- Ask for help from the Research Help Desk and the Student Learning Commons
- There is no such thing as a stupid question!
Understand the assignment
- Determine the objectives and scope
- Look for key words that describe main tasks for the assignment
Choose a topic that motivates you
- Educate yourself … find something new. Originality does count!
- Defend yourself … justify a position
- Establish yourself … expand your expertise
Ask a research question
- A sound research question (why? how? when? What if?) can help you work toward a solid thesis statement
- Avoid too narrow a question, or you may not find many research sources
Focus/refine your topic
- Break the project into chunks of work (Hint: schedule those chunks into your calendar -- the Assignment Calculator can help)
- Review class notes/assigned readings
- Use the Library databases to find relevant journal articles and other resources
Identify appropriate sources
- Work from the general to the specific, e.g. find background information first
- For background information – use encyclopedias, lecture notes, textbooks
- For books – search the catalogue
- For articles – search databases and indexes appropriate for your topic
- For a definition – check a dictionary
- Critically evaluate what you have found
Start thinking about a thesis statement
- A thesis expresses your main position and forecasts what your paper will discuss
- A solid thesis is debatable, requiring supporting evidence (e.g. your research)
- You don’t need to finalize your thesis until you’ve gathered your materials and written at least one draft!
Use the catalogue to find …
- Books (e.g. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham) | Films & Music | Reports
- Journals (but NOT articles). For example, see if the library has International Affairs.
- Search by Keywords (e.g. pregnancy AND alcohol abuse), not by Subject
Search article indexes and databases to find …
- Full-text articles. Try a multidisciplinary database such as Academic Search Elite.
- Citations of articles
- For the best database for your topic, ask a librarian or browse the Research Guides for your area of interest.
- If the SFU library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can request it from another library.
- Found too many sources? You may need to narrow your topic
- Found too few sources? Broaden your topic or choose other relevant keywords
- Choose scholarly journals over popular magazines
- Are your sources relevant? Biased? Too old?
- Is the information you found on Google from a reliable source?
Make sense of your research sources
- Use KEY WORDS to help you organize your materials logically
- Refine your thesis statement based on research materials
- Create a “working” outline to reflect your evidence and order of presentation
- Draft your paper based on this plan
Revise your draft
- Check for coherence …the overall “connectedness” of ideas; paragraph unity
- Check for cohesion … logical connections between sentences
- Check your style … is your tone appropriate for your audience? Is your wording clear and concise? Are you appropriately using terms and concepts in your discipline?
- Proofread for common errors. Hint: print out your draft and go through it line by line, and/or read it aloud.
Cite your sources
- Avoid plagiarism: take the plagiarism tutorial
- Use one of the standard Style Guides: APA, MLA or Chicago
- Record all your citations as you go. You’ll be glad you did when the time comes to write a bibliography!
If you get stuck . . .
If you’d like help with your writing process . . .
Visit the Student Learning Commons. Get resources, tips, and one-on-one assistance from a Peer Educator, and sign up for SLC/Library workshops on writing, learning, and/or research strategies.