Write your research paper the right way

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Did you go back to school? Congratulations on making a great decision.

You are either soaring through the research paper-writing portion with flying colors or wondering why you let someone talk you into going back to school.

As you advance further into your RN-to-BSN program or graduate school, you will be writing — a lot. Writing doesn’t come easy to everyone, and honestly, after five books and numerous articles, I have bad weeks for writing too.

Some days I can write an essay or article in a few hours. Other times, it takes me two months of procrastination. There is no magic bullet for me, except maybe a deadline.

Outside of my professional writing, as a faculty member I see the other side. I can tell you what peeves me and my fellow faculty members and what makes us happy when it comes to grading research papers.

But you may not have weeks to hone your writing skills. You may need help right away, so you can finish that paper due this week! Here are some tips that can help.

Ensure you follow the rubric

The first step toward getting an “A” is to follow the rubric. A rubric serves as a guide you should use when planning your research paper. Faculty, like me, use the rubric to score the quality of your written responses according to specific evaluative criteria.

The rubric is what you will be graded against. Do not wander away from it. Read the rubric. Seriously, read it. On occasion, I have read a paper and wondered one of two things:

  1. Did the student even look at the rubric?
  2. Did someone else write this research paper?

Do not make us think this for a second. Once we think this, we will be reading your research paper even more critically. At this point, I am preparing for the worst-case scenario. If you couldn’t follow the rubric, did you read the article or book or do the appropriate research to write this paper? Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes and pretend you know what you are talking about?

Visualize your professor sitting down to grade your paper with one screen open to your paper and another screen open to the rubric. I scroll down my rubric as I read through your paper. But your paper doesn’t follow the rubric.

Faculty members spent hours creating that rubric for a specific purpose — to make grading easy and to make it easier to understand what we wanted you to write about. Follow the rubric and don’t deviate from it without permission.

What is the difference between grammar and style?

Grammar is considered the structural foundation of writing and the rules of language, or how to make a sentence “make sense.” Grammar are rules related to sentence structure such as: a singular subject needs a singular predicate and needs to express a complete thought.

Style is a grey area of grammar and its usage. Style is more of a set of preferences that are not syntactic rules. An example of style often stated is: Do not use contractions, avoid a passive voice and never end a sentence with a preposition.

Texting lingo is never appropriate for a professional paper. Also, note conversational English is different from written English. In other words, how you may say something to someone is not always how you would write it.

Further, when writing, be clear about the noun. Often, I see “they” or “their” used too frequently. You may know who “they” are, but it is better to say, “the nurses,” for example, to communicate as clearly as you can. Use the words that best tell the reader the most specific information you can even if you say “the nurses” five times in the same paragraph. Leave no room for questioning what you mean.

Formats help your research paper flow

Then there is formatting, including APA or MLA. Nothing makes me cringe more than to open a research paper that is longer than two pages and see no headers.

Headers are the first visual cue to me that you followed the rubric. The headers on your paper should be taken from the rubric to make it clear to the grading faculty member that you followed it.

Headers also help me find where things should be in your paper. I have always used APA format, so I speak to that in this blog. If your research paper is two pages, use at least a level one header, and if it’s three pages or more, then definitely consider using both level one and level two headers. Of course, refer to the grading rubric for APA or another format. But use at least one level of headers!

If you know what you want to write, start with that piece and fill in the rest around it. Always read it through from beginning to end to ensure it flows. Read it out loud. Microsoft Word has a new feature where it will read your document to you.

Another good hint — don’t permanently delete anything. In longer documents, I create a second document where I put pieces I cut out of what I am working on. That way, if I really do want it back in a document, I still have it. This is especially useful if it took 30 minutes to write that great sentence that no longer belongs anywhere.

Read your APA book. There is very helpful information about grammar and style in that book, as well.  Other resources to help with writing include The Elements of Style and blogs and podcasts from Grammar Girl.

I keep the above resources on my desk to help with my writing. Every time I get to effect and affect I still stop and talk it out! Some things are not as easy for my brain to remember.

No one is perfect, but that does not stop me from writing. Whether you want to be a professional writer or just get through your program, these tips will help you continue on your way.

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