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Quick tips on organizing & formatting an essay or research paper


Welcome to the College Writing Guide!  Learn how to choose a topic, how to organize your essay, format your essay correctly, and create citations.

Focusing Your Topic

When choosing your research, follow these 3 steps:

First start with a broad subject or area of interest.  Then narrow down to your topic to something specific in that area of interest.

For example, you can start off with a general interest in environmental science and then narrow this down to climate change.  Your topic can’t be too broad or too narrow, it has to be right in between these two extremes.

After choosing your topic, you now have to narrow down to your specific research question.

Creating concept maps or mind mapping is a powerful brainstorming tool that will help you narrow down your topic.  The purpose of mind mapping is showing the relationship between different concepts.  It is typically a series of circles connected by lines to show the relationship between topics.

For example, as you can see, you start in the middle with your main, broad topic.  From there, connect it to smaller, more specific topics within that broad topic.  Some of those secondary topics will be related and some will not be related. 

Picking Your Topic

Organizing & Outlining

Effectively organizing your paper’s ideas is key! If your paragraphs are well organized, your readers can easily read and understand your ideas.

The three most common ways to organize a paper are by:

  • CHRONOLOGY: timing or steps
  • IMPORTANCE: least to most
  • LOGICAL BREAKS: reasons or solutions

Your thesis statement, usually placed at the end of your introduction, points to the purpose of your paper and sets up readers' expectations.

REMEMBER: the thesis is not a mere statement of fact; it is an assertion you must support