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Research Planning Guide

Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Step 11: Write the First Draft

You chose a topic, crafted a research question, and formulated an outline.  You searched for books, journal articles, and internet sources on your topic.  You scanned those sources and read the pertinent sections, and consequently, you learned a lot more about your topic than you ever thought possible!  You took notes while you read, and now you've organized those notes to reflect your outline, which you may have adjusted based on what you found out about your topic.  Now it's FINALLY time to start writing!  

Unfortunately, this is where some students FREEZE UP.  Staring at a blank sheet of paper, or a blank screen, you may not know how to get started.  Here are some suggestions to help you "thaw" out:

  • You don't have to start at the beginning.  Instead, start writing about the part of your topic that you find most interesting.  Figure out where this information should appear in your outline, then figure out what else you need to write to get you there.  
  • Decide which sources you need to refer to, and which sources you should quote directly.  Use only the quotes that you can't live without (more about quoting, below).
  • Jot your main ideas down on paper before you start typing.  Some people think better with pen or pencil in hand.  You can type it all up nicely later.  
  • Remember—this is only your first draft.  It doesn't have to be perfect; it doesn't even have to be good.  But once you have something written down, you have a starting point—something you can work with and improve upon. 
  • Use your outline as your blueprint. If you start writing about something that doesn't fit your outline, ask yourself: is this important?  is it on topic?  Your outline should help you avoid "chasing rabbits" (getting side-tracked). 

Using Quotations

Now that you've read and understood all the fantastic resources you found, you may be tempted to quote them all as proof of the hard work you did.  But ask yourself:  Whose paper is this?  Your readers don't want to know what other people said—they want to know what YOU think about your topic; they want to know what YOU have to say.  Here are some general guidelines for using quotes in a standard research paper:

  • DON'T use a quote to introduce a topic or idea.  The quote should be used to support your ideas and viewpoints about the topic.  Present your ideas first, then use a quote from an expert to back you up.
  • DON'T use a quote when you can state the idea or data using your own words.  Use a quote only when the author has said something catchy or memorable, or something that explains the idea so well that no other words are needed.
  • DON'T construct your paper as a string of quotes.  Anybody can do that.  Use your own words. Express your own ideas, and show that you can organize and present your thoughts clearly.  Keep the quotes to a minimum.
  • DON'T use a quote that is over 5 lines long, unless it is absolutely critical or indispensable in making your point. If you do have to use a long quote, it should be set apart from the rest of your text, as a "block quote" with margins that differ from the rest of the text.  (In most cases: consult the appropriate style manual to be sure.)
  • DO enclose the quote in quotation marks, and follow the quote with a parenthetical reference.  Be sure the parenthetical reference matches the entry in your bibliography or "Works Cited" list.  

For more information about parenthetical references, bibliographies, and other topics related to citation and plagiarism see our Citation and Plagiarism Guide, or consult the DBU Writing Center's excellent resources.  

Using Academic English

In most cases, professors will want you to use a type of clear, no-nonsense language, known as "Academic English." Academic English is the standard form of written communication for reports, research papers, and other assignments. It's not flowery, or filled with big, important-sounding words.  The point of using Academic English is to get your point across efficiently and elegantly.  

Here are some great websites that can help you master the basics of Academic English:

Academic Phrasebank - this is an excellent source for instances when you need a new or more compelling way to present your case.  The Academic Phrasebank offers suggested phrases for you to use to make your points, and it covers a wide variety of common problems you might encounter while writing.  It's indispensable!

Using English for Academic Purposes and Academic Writing, from the Purdue OWL - these two websites present more comprehensive information on the topic, as well as explaining how to handle different types of circumstances and assignments.

What is Academic English? - a basic introduction to the conventions of Academic English.