The research paper is one of the basic tools of scholarship. It is the written result of careful investigation of a chosen topic and is intended to display your grasp of the topic, your mastery of the appropriate sources, and your ability to express yourself in a scholarly fashion.

The completion of a research paper to the instructor’s satisfaction requires that you have achieved some expertise in the chosen subject area. A paper is not merely a writing assignment, it also requires you to demonstrate the following skills.

  • to know where and how to search out information,
  • to use the library and online resources,
  • to take accurate notes,
  • to support ideas with footnotes,
  • to analyze, not simply describe, material,
  • to list a bibliography so that others may turn to cited sources, and, most important,
  • to organize your thoughts on a given topic.

Before You Begin

Start your work by reading the course syllabus and/or research assignment carefully to be sure you understand the assignment. If there are unanswered questions, ask the instructor now, not after you’re halfway done and going the wrong way. How many pages is the paper to be? Department policy says 12-15 pages. Does the instructor want you to include an outline? The Department has no firm policy, but if you have developed a solid outline in preparing your paper, including it will demonstrate the quality of your work. May you use endnotes or are footnotes required? The Department strongly recommends footnotes. Are you writing for your professor or for your classmates as your audience? (This gives you a better idea of what sorts of things to explain and footnote.) What style or form of paper does this instructor require? What types of resources are you required to use (i.e., journals, books, the World Wide Web, interviews, newspapers, primary/secondary sources). Once you have fully grasped your assignment, you can begin to work on it.

Specific Help On Term Papers

How To Select A Paper Topic How To Research Your Topic
How to find a topic to write about that you will enjoy working on and how to narrow down a topic to a manageable size. It also covers how to define a paper if the topic is given to you by the professor. How to find sources online, in the library, and in other places you may not have thought of. The page also explains how to take notes on your research, how to gauge if online sources are trustworthy and what kinds of sources you should be looking for.
Tips On Writing Your Paper Helpful Links
How to write the introduction and general tips on how to write and create a nicely presented and well written paper. A few links to VU sites and others to help you research and write.
Footnote and Bibliography Format

This document last updated December 18, 2009.