The process of completing a research paper involves working through the following stages:
1. Choose your topic: address the assignment, determining what research question(s) you need to answer. Pick something you're interested in, as you will be spending a good amount of time pursuing this topic. The HRG suggests that "the topic should be related to the subject area under study, and the topic should not over too broad an area" (2).
2. "Pre-search": gather background information, often from reference sources such as encyclopedias, to clarify the major events/issues/key players involved in your chosen subject.
3. Develop a thesis: this is the question you're trying to answer, or the position you need to support. From the HRG: "Your thesis is the argument that your paper is making. A thesis must, therefore, take a stand that a reasonable person could argue against. If your "thesis" winds up being a statement of fact or even a universally agreed upon opinion, your paper will suffer" (3).
4. Gather sources: find support for your thesis in the work of others, or in primary sources. Remember that your thesis may evolve as you learn more. This guide will help you locate sources, but ultimately it is your responsibility to determine their credibility and relevance to your thesis.
5. Evaluate your sources: are they credible? Reliable? Relevant to your topic? Supportive of your thesis?
6. Organize your sources and notetaking: when you are confident that your sources are credible and relevant, you must synthesize that material in a manner that supports your project, and keep track of where you found each source for the creation of your Bibliography or Work Cited list and citations in the body of your paper.
7. Outline your work. As the HRG suggests, "a good researcher will move back and forth between her research, her thesis, and her planning, allowing the information she discovers to guide her planning and her planning to guide her research. Thus, the outlining of your paper should not begin only after you have 'finished' your research; a rough outline of the major sections of your argument should become apparent to you during the investigative stage, which will also help you to focus your additional research" (6).
8. Draft your written work, integrating sources. Remember that "drafting often reveals gaps in your outline that may cause you to do a bit more research" (HRG, 6).
9. Edit and review your draft, being sure to include in-text citations for material that you have quoted, paraphrased or summarized from your sources.
10. Complete your Bibliography (in Chicago Style for History papers) or Work Cited (in MLA for English papers) page which is included at the end of your paper, referencing the sources you used. More information about completing a Bibliography or Work Cited page can be found on the Citation tab of this guide and in the Academic Resource Center guide as well as the History Research Guide.