The first step in writing a paper is to make sure that you understand exactly what your teacher expects. Here are some questions to ask before you start researching and writing so you can be sure you are on the right track:
What type of paper is it? Is it a report (where you just gather facts and describe a topic), a paper in which you must offer your own ideas on an issue, or both?
Are there specific class readings you must use as sources?
What types of sources do you have to use? Can you use only Internet sources, or do you have to use books, journals, and newspapers too? Does your teacher like you to interview people, or does he or she prefer you stick only to printed sources?
Are there certain types of sources that are off-limits? Obviously, blogs and personal web pages aren’t considered reliable sources. But what about other websites you might want to use? Find out what your teacher thinks about your sources before you start work.
What will your teacher look for while grading your paper? For example, is your teacher looking for a casual, descriptive writing style (like a magazine article) or a research paper with a more formal tone? Is there a certain way your teacher wants you to structure your paper?
How long should the paper be (how many pages or words)?
Does the paper have to be typed or presented in a certain form (such as double-spaced lines, specific margins, presented in a binder)? Are there additional graphics that you also have to provide, such as illustrations or photos?
Do you have to provide a bibliography, footnotes, or other list of sources?
Sometimes a teacher will assign a topic or thesis for a paper, and sometimes he or she will leave it up to students to pick their own topics (of course these have to be related to the class or subject!).
If the teacher lets you choose your own topic, it’s best to write a paper about something that you find really interesting. This might be an issue that you feel strongly about and want to defend (or one you disagree with and want to argue against!). After you come up with your topic, run it by your teacher before you move on to the next step — research.