First Steps to Writing Your Research Paper

Expectations for page and word count aside, the more complex your paper is the more daunting the thought of starting it can be. If you are a career researcher you may have been studying the outcome of your thesis for months, even years. If you are a student, you are likely trying to condense a lot of theoretical information into something solid that contributes to the base of knowledge.

As a community, academics like complex topics. We prefer the narrow and intricate topic to the broad and the general. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing on a complex topic. There are a few ways to get the momentum you need to not only start your paper but finish it!

Here are 5 ideas for how you can get started; pick the one that makes sense for you and get the research rolling!

Start By: Sharing Your Idea

If you know the topic you want to research, or if you are trying to decide between several ideas, start by writing out your hypothesis. But don’t stop there! We’ve warned before about being overprotective of your research. Keeping your topic to yourself cannot achieve much,  but an idea shared can receive actual feedback or constructive criticism, and attract collaborators. Sharing your idea early on can also raise questions that will make your final paper more thorough and you can raise awareness of the paper before you even distribute it.

When you write out your hypothesis, make sure it is focused, clear, and that you are touching on the most relevant topic you want to cover in your paper. If you are stuck for a first step in writing that complex paper, writing out the idea and sharing it will provide both focus and motivation to get started.

Start By: Writing Everything You Already Know

If the complex research process is overwhelming you and weighing on your ability to write a first draft, sometimes it helps to just “get it out”. Get all that knowledge out of your head. Don’t worry at this point about structure, citing sources, or even keeping a tight focus on your paper. Simply write out everything you learned during the research process or start with the things you knew going into the study and what you want to prove. It’ll mean some heavy editing in the second draft and you’ll need to cite your sources later, but you’ll gain some valuable momentum with a rough draft in hand.

Start By: Making an Outline

Your research will need to be organized thoughtfully by the time you reach that final draft. Why not start with the outline of how your points will be organized? Map out each topic relevant to your paper and organize them so that they flow nicely from one to the next. Each line, each paragraph, and each argument in the paper should serve a purpose. Making an outline as a first step will save you time editing later.

Start By: Arguing Out Loud

You’re passionate about your topic. If you are stuck with what to write, try turning your research topic into a lecture or debate. Saying your points out loud forces you to organize your thoughts. You may also learn something about which points are most valuable, and which fall short or seem less relevant to your listener.

Reading your work aloud is a great editing tool in the final stages. By talking through your research today you just might find it easier to put those words on paper tomorrow.

By talking through your research today you just might find it easier to put those words on paper tomorrow.

Start By: Citing Your Sources

If you’ve done the research and are striving to share your work, why not start with the sources? For many authors, writing sources in the appropraiate format can be hassle and is easy to put off. Do this up-front and it’ll make those in-text citations much simpler. It’ll also give you a solid idea of the research that you will be incorporating into your new body of work, and which information you might save for your next paper.

Once you’ve taken the first step toward writing your paper, you might be surprised how things move along. You’ll be ready to share your work before you know it! Submit it to SSRN to reach interested readers.

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