How to write a Research Paper

In a switch from actuarial science to the social sciences, the amount of writing I’ve been required to do has increased, as Api might say in quoting our friend Drake, from “0 to 100 real quick.” Most of the papers I’ve written to date haven’t required me to go beyond class readings and a few newspaper articles, but I’m working on a research paper at present which will require a bunch of external sources. I have found some really cool resources to help, which I think the whole campus should know about. We might otherwise call this post “the things your tuition buys you that you may not have realized”. I’ll break it down into each stage of the writing process.

Planning Your Paper

Look no further than the Assignment Calculator provided by our friends at U of T Scarborough. Simply enter your start and due dates, pick an assignment type (from lab report and research essay to personal statement and grad school application), click the “create schedule” button, and you’re done. It breaks every assignment into bite-sized chunks with due dates for each. Each step also provides links to library and other services to help get you towards completion. Even if you’re not at U of T, having something to split up a scary-looking assignment into smaller pieces is handy. You can also generate a PDF schedule for offline viewing, though it does not have the links the web version does.
Screenshot of UTSC Assignment Calculator
Screenshot of UTSC Assignment Calculator

Finding Sources

There’s always Google, and I’m sure many of us have used the search engine at, but these can be frustrating and sometimes futile attempts to find relevant sources. But I just discovered that students and faculty can book one-hour research consultations with a librarian. Specify a subject area, give details on what you’re looking for and when you need it, and you’re away to the races. Just make sure you have your TCard with you when booking – you may need your library barcode. I just got back from my appointment this morning – a very helpful research librarian had compiled tens of sources for my benefit. It has saved me many hours of work and I am so grateful to her. Now all I need to do is read it all …

Citing your Sources

I have always done citations manually, which might be why I am convinced that half of one’s writing time should be allotted for this frustrating and dull (but absolutely necessary) task. Little did I know that U of T has a listing of citation management systems which can be used to automate this process. Of course, it is always a good idea to check over anything done automatically, but the thought of this burden being taken from me is exciting. For reference, the Writing Center has a handy guide on how not to plagiarize.

Writing your Paper

Of all the services on campus the Writing Centers have been the absolute best. They’ll help with any part of the writing process at all – from “I don’t really get what they’re asking” to a polished draft. Just book quickly and act on any waiting list openings as soon as you get an email – appointments fill up fast. Have you found any resources that help in the essay-writing process? How about less artsy assignments like labs, problem sets or design projects? Let me know in the comments!

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