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Research Papers? You Got This! Part 1

by Mary Steffenhagen

Leaves are changing hues, the nights are arriving sooner and the library is crowded into the wee hours. That’s right: We’ve officially entered paper writing season. Almost every college student finds himself or herself pulling an all-nighter at one point or another to chip away at the writer’s block a research paper inevitably brings. As an English major, I’ve probably written a few more papers than other students but nearly everyone encounters some such assignment in the common core no matter his or her major. If you’ve been staring at a mental brick wall for hours, never fear: There are plenty of resources and tricks to get around that writer’s block and make that research paper a reality.

First, know your databases. Your university most likely has access to too many scholarly journals to count but databases make them easy to find. I’ve made quite good friends with EBSCOhost, a database which encompasses more databases on topics from Mark Twain’s mystical view of the soul to current technological developments in the military. (ProQuest is equally useful.) Searching within such a broad database gives so many options that research is quite easy, even if you’re unsure of your topic. Most will give you online access to the source you need and your college library may have archived physical copies of a journal...or even ebooks. They may not be as easy to procure but don’t limit yourself to online only sources: Talk to a librarian and see what they'd suggest - you never know what's out there unless you ask!

Now that the database or librarian has given you a paper to use as a source, start picking it apart...from the ending. If you check the bibliography or works cited, you’ll avail yourself of even more sources by basically following the author’s bread crumb trail. Find the thesis – aka the driving point of the paper – within the first few paragraphs and build off of it. Whether you agree or disagree with the author, their sources and citations will lead you to more evidence supporting or debunking the viewpoint. I tend to start with my own idea and look for research related to it but if you’re short on time, picking apart your source’s sources will save a lot.

Next week, I’ll talk about some writing techniques that have aided me in my paper writing. In the meantime, good luck researching!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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