Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Overview of paths to organize research, part of Writing Research Papers.
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The first three steps of the research process are to know what you're researching, to find that research, and to review and select carefully what you will use as support for your key points. Now you're ready to organize the research into a clear arrangement that your reader will understand. During this step, you may realize that some of the research you collected is outside the scope of your research topic. Or you may realize that you need more research in some areas or both.
Discard some and add more. Being aware of these two concerns should be ongoing until the research paper is completed. The information has been gathered from a variety of sources and you have been taking notes, highlighting key information, and noting themes or key idea related to your topic. For example do the majority of your sources refer to one key expert in this particular field? Do the various experts agree and why or why not? How much new information have you added to your already existing knowledge about the idea? Do you have any unanswered questions? You think your research is mostly completed and you are ready to start organizing that information.
A variety of ways to accomplish this exists. Focused free writing. Just start writing whatever comes to your mind about your topic. Or brainstorming, a word or clause list of ideas as they form. Or clustering, drawing a bubble map to show the different directions your idea can develop. Which ever one of these you choose to use will eventually lead you to an organized outline. If you've never used any of these methods, you may want to experiment with all of them to help you determine which one works best for you and your learning style.
There is no right or wrong, good or bad, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is not which method you use, but that you use one to help you plan and prewrite. So you will produce an organized research paper. You also need to determine the best organizational pattern once the research is grouped. Consider these three choices. Each can be used separately or combined with one or more of the others. First, chronological or time order.
If you're topic has a time sequence to it, then organizing based on that sequence helps the reader follow the timeline. Maybe you're describing the process of becoming an effective time manager. You might begin with what needs to be done first, record how you currently use your time for two weeks. Then analyze that current use, which leads to the next step of preparing a to do list and then prioritizing the listed items. Even though no actual dates are given, each step needs to be done in a specific sequence or order. You could even include an actual projected timeline for achieving each of the steps. Of course, if you were writing your autobiography, you would begin with your birthdate, and continue giving dates until the present. Words such as first, next, finally, or last, help the reader follow the time sequence. I attended my first school from kindergarten until third. My next school lasted from 4th to 10th grade. Finally, my junior and senior years were completed in yet a third school. Another possible organizational pattern is the Spatial Arrangement, related to space. If you're writing a descriptive paper for example, you will want to help your reader visualize the space you're describing. Words such as on the left, on the right, above, below, on the top, around and over are words that help identify space. If you wanted to describe how you're going to reorganize your workspace to help you better manage your time, you might begin with a computer. Then to the right of the computer is your phone and printer.
Next to the phone is a pad of paper and a pen so you can take quick notes. On the left of the computer are your reference books in alphabetical order. All your other supplies such as paper clips and staples are in the top drawer. The reader can imagine the physical lay out of your work area. The third major organizational possibility to consider is the Order of Importance. Actually this one can be divided either from most important to least, or from least to most. If I want to convince my reader of the importance of effective time management, I could begin with the most impressive important reason, a greater chance for being promoted, for example.
The second reason might be that all the work gets completed during the day. So now take homework. And third, more time to socialize with coworkers during the scheduled lunch and break times. Or maybe your goal is to build suspense. If so, the above order would be reversed. Perhaps your reader will be more likely to read the entire paper as the drama builds. Transitional words for this would be first, next, most important, of lesser importance, and finally. So as you organize your research for the final paper, be sure to use a pre-writing technique that fits your learning style and to arrange the information in a logical pattern. One that's easy to follow, clear, and makes sense.
- Understanding the different types of research papers
- Researching the topic
- Brainstorming your focus
- Developing a thesis statement
- Writing topic sentences
- Composing a title
- Using a style guide
- Formatting your paper