Using an example of a research paper

When using an example paper to help guide you through a research assignment, you want to make sure it is helping and not hindering your own. Sample papers can be extremely helpful – but they can also be a crutch. It’s important to use them as a tool to guide you as you create your own using your own ideas.

Treating example papers as an outline is the best bet – and there are a few steps to do so:

  1. Review: When you receive a sample paper, the first thing to do is review the piece. On your own outline, make notes of what you like about the sample paper’s style. Make notes about what you dislike or what you would change. Also jot down the ideas that you have gleaned from the way the writer formatted and laid out their paper.
  2. Put it Away: Once you have created an outline of how you might apply what they did well with their paper, put it away so that you can focus on yours. It is better to put it away while you brainstorm and then review it again later.
  3. Create an Outline for Your Paper: Using your own argument, create an outline of the supporting points and sections that you will use to make your point. You can include a similar structure, or even similar ideas, but never include anything directly out of the other sample paper. This is why it is important to put it away – it may not even be intentional, but it is very easy to take on an idea that isn’t yours. And that can be problematic later.
  4. Write Your Rough: Using your outline, create a rough draft of your research paper. Include any citations or sources as you complete each section. Each section should be a cohesive argument that ties back to the initial argument.
  5. Review the Example: Once you have your rough draft completed, do another quick review of the example paper. Make sure you only borrowed structure and citation ideas from the paper – and not any of the arguments or exact phrases. You want to learn from its writing style – not steal its argument.
  6. Finalize: After a quick review of the sample paper, as well as the notes you took after your first read of the sample piece, finalize your paper. Make sure you have included the items that you wanted to include, but haven’t recreated the sample paper altogether.

Sample papers are a great tool in research paper writing. But it’s important they don’t become a crutch or copy piece.


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