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English Composition 2

Avoiding the Five Most Common Problems with Research Papers

There are many things to think about as you are writing, revising, and proofreading your research paper, as suggested by the Revision Checklist. This page is designed to help you focus on and avoid the five most common problems associated with research papers. While the Revision Checklist specifies many different aspects of your writing to examine, this page goes into more detail with just five common problems.

One of the most common problems with research papers is not listed below, and this problem involves papers that do not reflect weeks of work but instead appear to be hastily put together in just a few days. There is a reason why we devote several weeks to the research paper: it takes that long to write a good research paper. Your paper should demonstrate careful and thorough research, significant revision, and effective proofreading.

At the bottom of this page you will find several links to web pages that explain some of the items referred to below in more depth. The five most common problem with research papers are listed below in no particular order.

Problem 1: Weak Organization

The longer a paper, the more challenging it is to ensure that the paper is well organized and unified. Sometimes, the writer will start to drift from idea to idea in the paper, losing focus on the thesis. The following questions may help you ensure that your research paper is well organized.

Try this: You should be able to summarize accurately the entire content of your paper by listing just a few sentences from the paper: the thesis statement, the topic sentence for each body paragraph, and the restatement of the thesis. Collectively, these sentences should accurately convey everything you discuss in the paper. If any of the sentences or ideas in your paper are not clearly related to one of these sentences, then organization may be a problem.

The lengths of paragraphs can also give you an indication of possible problems with organization. If your paper has excessively long paragraphs (over a page and a half each) or excessively short paragraphs (paragraphs of only 5 or 6 sentences each), organization may be a problem.

To better unify and organize your paper, you should delete any sentences that are not clearly vital to the thesis for the paper. You might present some good ideas in those sentences, but if the ideas are not vital to the paper's thesis, they should not be in the paper.

Strong organization is especially important for a long paper. You have to ensure that readers will not get lost anywhere in your paper, that readers will always know how what they are reading logically relates to the thesis of the paper.

Problem 2: Poor Support and Development of Ideas

Poor support and development of ideas is closely related to weak organization, and excessively short or long paragraphs are one indication that the ideas in a paper are not developed well. It is also difficult to develop ideas successfully without the use of effective topic sentences.

Look carefully at the first sentence of each body paragraph. This sentence is what readers most likely will regard as the topic sentence for the paragraph. Again, there should be no sentences or ideas in a body paragraph that are not clearly related to main idea or ideas conveyed in the topic sentence. Does the first sentence of each body paragraph in your paper accurately summarize everything you discuss in the paragraph?

The following questions should help you determine how well you support and develop ideas in your paper.

Remember that your research paper not only is interpretive but also persuasive: you have to argue your interpretation, convincing readers that you have an interpretation that is well supported with evidence from the work of literature itself and further supported by insights from other scholars and experts.

Problem 3: Weak Use of Secondary Sources

Another common problem is the weak use of material from secondary sources. The following questions should help you evaluate how effectively you use material from sources to support and develop your thesis.

In addition, problems with the proper presentation, citation, and documentation of sources in papers are common. With the following questions in mind, review all of the material you use from sources in your paper.

There are many things to consider when you use sources in a paper, but you have access to all of the resources you need to use, cite, and document sources properly. Of course, just ask if you have any questions.

Problem 4: Excessive Errors

English Composition 2 is the last writing course most students take in college. By now, errors should not be a problem. Errors on the research paper will significantly reduce the grade, so make sure to proofread very carefully. Review your other essays to identify any errors that have caused problems for you in the past, and make sure that those errors, or any other errors, are not a problem in the research paper.

You have many resources to help you understand and eliminate errors. If you have any questions about errors, though, make sure to ask those questions.

Problem 5: Stylistic Weaknesses

By now, your writing should be free from stylistic weaknesses. Use the following questions to help you determine how strong your research paper is stylistically.

Additional Information

See the following web handouts for more information about some of the items listed above:

Using, Citing, and Documenting Material from Secondary Sources

Developing and Supporting Ideas Effectively

Style and Mechanics


Copyright Randy Rambo, 2016.