Top Steps to Writing a Research Paper

What's the First Step to Writing a Great Research Paper? Archaeology!

Writing a research paper in any academic field may seem like a big, scary process. When you're stuck with a writing assignment and the world is open to you, where can you go? I recommend archaeology. Archaeology is a huge, huge subject, covering everything about humans, ancient and modern, and by using it as a starting point, you can study nearly anything. Oddly enough, that makes it prime territory for finding an interesting way to spend some hours and days researching and writing a paper. You just need some directions to get the process underway.

The primary goals of writing any research paper are:

  1. to learn about a new topic--you may find yourself intrigued about an archaeological site or an ancient culture;
  2. to synthesize the information that you find on the subject into your own words--a skill that will come in very handy no matter what you do in the future;
  3. to use your own evaluation skills to draw your own conclusions--it is even more vital today that you sharpen your ability to recognize baloney when you see it--and, most importantly;
  4. to practice the art of writing. This quick lesson in research paper writing will help you organize your time and set you on the right (write) path.
Mountain of Books
Mountain of Books. ginnerobot

Archaeology covers everything having to do with humans: from the fossils of pre-human ancestors to the garbage dump in your own city. You'll find the study an intoxicating blend of art and science, including everything from the massive pyramids in Egypt to the grains of pollen that serve as proof of plant domestication to the DNA in ancient mummies. This article will help you explore archaeology to find the perfect research paper topic. More »

Research Library at University of Botswana
Research Library at University of Botswana. Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images News / Getty Images

So, now that you've chosen your subject, you'll need to find out what scholars have already written about it. Background research, which includes  literature review but also might involve going to see the artifacts or talking to people who have been to a site, is an essential part of any archaeological research project, in school or out of it. When doing archaeological research, you'll always need to find out what's already been written about a topic before you can add to it. Here you'll find the best places to start the research on archaeological sites and cultures. More »

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Reading Your Background Research

Student at Gundi Pira Secondary School in Pakistan
Student at Gundi Pira Secondary School in Pakistan. Tim Graham / Getty Images News / Getty Images

I know what you're thinking: you already know how to read. Still, when you have a mountain of books or articles to read, it can be formidable: you'll need to be able to read a slew of different opinions with the goal of understanding an issue well enough to synthesize everything you read, avoid plagiarizing anybody and, most importantly, give your own opinion on what you've read. Here are some tips that work for me.

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Writing a First Draft

Writing Desk in Home Office
Writing Desk in Home Office. Lewis Mulatero / Moment Mobile / Getty Images

After you've done all that reading, just putting your pen to paper (or your fingers to the keyboard) can seem incredibly scary. But it doesn't have to be, if you break the topic down into important sub-topics and address them one by one. Here's how to get that accomplished...

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Writing and Editing Your Final Draft

Codex Calixtinus, 12th Century AD
Codex Calixtinus, 12th Century AD. Xurxo Lobato / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Writing the final draft of a research paper in archaeology is probably the hardest thing to describe, because people's writing styles are as different as there are people. For me, the big secret is I never know what the paper is going to be like until I have most of it written. I like to start in the middle: go right to the meat of the subject, and let the introduction and conclusion write themselves. 
In this article, I describe how that works for me.