If you're anything like me, you always have good intentions at the beginning of the semester for giving yourself ample time to complete your research paper...but then the weekend (or night) before the paper's due date sneaks up on you and you haven't even started. This situation has happened to me countless times - in fact, I can't remember ever starting a paper earlier than 2 days before the due date. I have had many years to perfect my procrastination methodology and I think I've got it down to a science. This guide is for quick and dirty paper writing - it probably contradicts everything your teachers have told you...but it works.
Step 1: Pick Your Topic
The best scenario for writing a quick paper is when your professor allows you to pick your topic / thesis statement. Note: This is not the time to develop your thesis...that comes later. The key is to pick as broad a topic as possible. If your professor wants a 10 page paper it will be much easier to fill 10 pages about the life of Aristotle than having to create a bunch of fluff around his views on posterior analytics. Also, pick a topic that a lot of previous research has already been done on it. If you're writing the paper the day before it's due, you aren't trying to reinvent the wheel...you're basically just collaging other people's research and putting it in your own words.
Step 2: Research
I've found that the fastest way to get going on your paper is to do the research first, then develop your thesis later. If you develop your thesis too early, you may find that there's not enough to research to support it, it's too specific, it's super lame, etc.
So where's the best place to start? Wikipedia. Despite all the Wikipedia trash talk you've heard from teachers, Wikipedia is the best place to get an outline going. It usually gives a broad overview of the topic, then has an outline with a bunch of different topics that I usually steal for my own body outline. Just make sure that you never plagiarize from Wikipedia. I mean don't ever plagiarize anything, but that is the first place your professor will go to check for plagiarization.
Once you have a rough outline, copy and paste specific quotes, passages, terms etc. from Wikipedia into Google and look at other sources that come up. Professors prefer book/print sources over online sources any day...so if your search comes up with a book or print article that has been made available online, definitely go for that. Even if it's just a sample of the book, try to find the page number, or worst-case scenario - make an educated guess. Your professor probably won't go buy the book and scan every page to check up on your citation. If you find a cheap Kindle book on your topic, you might want to buy it. Just remember to only scan through the relevant sections because you don't have time to read an entire book at this point. If your Google search leads to a sketchy looking website with no author, don't use it. It might have awesome info but your professor will not like it if the website isn't valid. That being said, if you know your professor has 200 papers to read and they aren't going to check all sources...and you're feeling lucky...then go for it.
Copy/Paste all the sentences or paragraphs you wish to paraphrase into a word document and put each section into your own words. This is to make sure you don't accidentally plagiarize...because later on you could think you have an awesome original idea but it actually came from an old source you forgot about. The sections don't need to flow together or have any kind of order, it's just about putting things into your own words. Make sure to cite your source after each section...that will save you some time when you're writing your final draft. After you're finished rewriting, delete the original texts.
Step 3: Develop Your Thesis
Now that you've done the research, you should have an idea as to what your thesis statement should be. Professors always hate broad thesis statements so try to make it seem as specific as you can without limiting the amount of things you can talk about. Since this is a research paper it doesn't have to be controversial, revolutionary, super innovative, etc. It just needs to provide direction on where your paper is going. So if you are writing about a person you can talk about how they were influential, made an impact on issues of that time period, thrived through difficult circumstances, something like that. A general rule I learned in high school is that thesis statements should be the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. I've always put it there and haven't had a teacher correct me so I would go with that.
Step 4: The Body
Once you have your thesis statement established, read through the stuff you have written and try to organize and take out stuff that doesn't fit. Come up with the number of paragraphs you want, what each paragraph is specifically talking about, and put things in their respective paragraphs. Don't start on the introduction and conclusion paragraphs yet, just dive right into the facts. Try to blend the stuff from different sources so that it all flows together. Different sources can have different tones and writing styles and even though you put everything in your own words, each section can sound different. This puts up a red flag for a professor to think that you are plagiarizing so keep that in mind. If you need to, google some more stuff and get more research. Don't forget to put in all your citations.
Step 5: Introduction and Conclusion
Now you're ready for your introduction and conclusion paragraphs. I typically devote my introduction paragraph to putting my topic in some sort of context. If the paper is about a person I'll give a super short bio. If it's about a thing or concept I'll briefly explain what it is, how it's used, why it's important, etc. I try to go for 5-6 sentences in the paragraph. The first sentence starts introducing the topic, then each sentence leads more and more to the final sentence, which is the thesis statement.
I find the conclusion paragraph to be the most difficult section to write. I mean you've already said everything that needs to be said, so now you're just filling space until you can stop writing. It's like when you're stuck in a boring conversation and you're trying to find an excuse to leave. But it has to be done so here we go. When writing about a person I usually use this space for their legacy. Like how they impacted their children, the next generation, the ideas of today, etc. I kind of use that strategy with a concept as well, like how did that invention/idea/concept change society or culture.
Step 6: Works Cited
for the Works Cited page I always go to citationmachine.net, enter the info from the sources, then copy/paste into Word. The website is good for most writing styles.
Step 7: Sleep on It
I am often too lazy to do this, but the best way for proofreading is to read over it the next morning. That way your mind has some time to get off the subject for a while and get a fresh perspective. But I'm telling you this from experience...don't wait until a few minutes before class to print it (if you have to submit a hard copy). You never know if your printer will decide it doesn't feel like printing, you forgot you ran out of ink/paper last week, or some other random factor that only happens when you have to print at that exact moment.
Now you have your paper in hand...congratulations and best of luck to you on your grade.