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How to Write a Research Report: Documenting Information

Writing a research paper can seem like a long, complex, overwhelming project. But you can do a great job as long as you stay organized, on task, and keep to a good schedule. One of the most important parts of writing your research report is good documentation. This guide will help you document your sources, keep them organized, and include them in your paper properly.

Understand the Required Citation Method

Different research reports will require different methods of citation; English papers will usually use MLA citation, while other classes may use APA, Chicago, or other methods. It’s vitally important to use the method chosen by your professor or risk losing major points on your project.

Keep an Ongoing Record of Sources

Using a software program you prefer, create a file to save all of your sources as you find them. Note everything you’ll need for your citations and reference list: Author(s), publishers, publication date, edition number, location of publisher, and relevant page numbers. You can also keep these things in a hardcopy, by designating a particular notebook, but this is a bit risky. If you create a digital file you can back it up in multiple places as you go, but if you lose a notebook, you’ve just experienced a major setback, and you’ll have to find everything all over again.

Separate Sources by Topic

If your report is a large one, you’ve likely got several sections on different topics to cover. In a separate list, record which sources apply to each topic. This is helpful when actually writing; during the writing process you may discover you need more information about something, and with this list you can go right the correct sources for finding it.

Cite as You Write

It’s tempting to write out a rough draft without including citations, with the intention of adding them back in after the fact. But this can cause problems later on. It’s a better idea to include citations even in the rough draft. At the very least, use a shorthand system for indicating where citations go. If you don’t do this, you may miss including them later, and be accused of plagiarizing the work of the author you used as a source. It will also save you much more time in the long run if your citations are already included in the paper at the draft stage.

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