Step 1: Understand the Available Resources
Students should familiarize themselves with primary and secondary sources, as well as the variety of print, non-print, and electronic resources that are available. Your school librarian is essential in this process. It is important to understand how to locate these resources and how to use them responsibly and without plagiarism.
Step 2: Select a Topic
Choose a topic and then find a specific angle or approach to that topic that is reasonable to handle within the prescribed page limit. A topic should be one in which the researcher has some interest and basic understanding although he/she does not have to be an expert. It should be specific enough that the student will be able to find enough information without being overwhelmed. When appropriate, the topic should fit the theme or focus of the class.
Step 3: Conduct Preliminary Research and Begin Taking Notes
Visit the library to research print and online sources, including databases. This step is meant to gain a broad understanding of the topic before formulating a thesis. If information is collected that will be used later in the project, students should keep careful track of each source to be cited later.
Tip: Search strategies such as Boolean logic (and, or, not) are useful when narrowing your searches. Use online encyclopedias for general knowledge, then move to topic specific sites. Evaluate sources for validity and reliability. Your librarian is an essential tool to teach strategies and evaluating sources online.
A note on citations: It is helpful at this stage to review the assigned citation format and a strategy for taking notes, whether it is using note cards, Google Docs, or another system. Your librarian can teach a lesson on citing sources and organization skills to ensure that students know how to keep track of their sources. For a guide to citing your sources in MLA format, click here.
Step 4: Determine the thesis
Students should be encouraged to create a thesis statement early on in the process. The thesis statement is the statement of belief or introduction around which the entire piece will be structured. A well-crafted thesis statement will guide the research as well as the rough draft, organization, and final writing.
Step 5: Create a Preliminary Outline
Following the course set down by the thesis statement, students should brainstorm possible subtopics or questions appropriate to the theme or topic of the piece. Students can arrange and rearrange subtopics into a logical sequence. A finished outline should reflect the thesis statement, anticipated body, and conclusion of the finished piece.
Step 6: Organize Information and Take Notes
Students should organize the information that was gathered in the research step into the outline noting any areas still in need of more information or closure. Conduct further research if needed.
Step 7: Write the first draft
Use the outline and note cards for guidance. Begin with the thesis statement and add supporting details making sure to cite sources when appropriate.
Technology integration idea: Have students write their first draft on the computer for easy reading and revision.
Step 8: Reread the written work and revise as needed
Read first for content. Make sure the thesis statement is clearly stated in the introduction and that details are provided to support the work. Read the work a second time to check for grammatical mistakes. Use the COPS strategy as a guide (Capitalization, Organization, Punctuation, Sentence Structure).
Step 9: Prepare the final paper for production
This procedure is determined by what form the final paper will take. Multimedia projects will need pictures, audio, and possibly video to support the text. Brochures and other desktop published items will need some type of graphics.
Step 10: Prepare the Works Cited Page
Students should prepare the works cited or reference page using the sources that were used in the paper. Double check the citation format and punctuation conventions. For a guide on creating a works cited page in MLA format, click here.