A research paper is an expanded essay that presents your own interpretation or evaluation or argument. When you write an essay, you use everything that you personally know and have thought about a subject. When you write a research paper you build upon what you know about the subject and make a deliberate attempt to find out what experts know. A research paper involves surveying a field of knowledge in order to find the best possible information in that field. And that survey can be orderly and focused, if you know how to approach it. Do not worry--you would not get lost in a sea of sources.
If you are struggling to come up with a topic that feels “just right,” ask your professor or coworkers/classmates for advice. They will likely have great ideas that, even if they aren’t options for you to choose, can inspire you with new ideas. Asking a professor for help may seem frightening, but if they are worth anything as a professor, they want you to be successful with your work, and will do what they can to make that happen.
If you are writing a research paper for a class, consider the other students. Is it likely that they will also be writing about your topic? How can you keep your paper unique and interesting if everyone is writing about the same thing?
Any information that doesn’t fit within the framework of your outline, and doesn’t directly support your thesis statement, no matter how interesting, doesn’t belong in your research paper. Keep your focus narrow and avoid the kitchen sink approach. (You know, the one where you throw in every bit of interesting research you uncovered, including the fungal growth in the U-joint of your kitchen sink?) Everything you learn may be fascinating, but not all of it is going to be relevant to your paper.
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