Usually at the post-secondary level, when it finally comes time to write your first real research essay–or “paper” as it’s more commonly called–you may find yourself confronted with confusion, resentment, panic, and a touch . . . okay, let’s be real . . . a heap of ‘page fright.’

Maybe you have a creative writing background from high school or even college where you were accustomed to writing “personal essays,” the only research involved being a mental rifling through your brain’s repositories for relevant experiences you’ve had.

Or you vaguely remember writing a five-paragraph expository essay in English Comp. 12 on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where the body of the essay was filled only with your ideas and examples straight from the text.

Or you have “reports” under your belt on Japanese culture or how papyrus was made and used in Ancient Egypt, neither of which you knew anything about at the time the assignment was given, so you absorbed information from the library and regurgitated your findings in summary form.

True research papers are more than a loose collection of anecdotal memories or a patchwork of data pulled from several books. But while new to most first-year students, a research paper can be incredibly exciting, rewarding, and even comforting to write because it finally allows you to really get into a subject you care about with both hands while having added security–a proverbial squad car of “back up” to support you while you explore those dark alleyways of future knowledge.

That “back up” won’t only be the academic texts you incorporate into your paper from sources who also care deeply for the same topic you do, but also this very cyber-workshop which will, we hope rather painlessly, guide you through the entire process.

However, before you move along the steps we’ve laid out and pick up our breadcrumbs of wisdom, you’re probably still wondering, and rightfully so, what exactly is a research paper?

Another point of confusion may simply include the recognition that research papers come in all shapes, sizes, forms, and disciplines. This is very true and it’s easy to get off-track on your approach if you don’t first clarify and understand the fundamental difference between the two main types of research essays that you’re most likely to encounter in an assignment.

Once you know what you’re writing, it’s time to do what so few first-year students do: give thought to who you’re writing for. This is an integral part of research papers in particular because of the natural broadening of the audience that occurs from the consultation of “others” in the field: your outside sources.

Even when you are clear on the purpose and audience of your paper, one of the most intimidating, nerve-wracking, and dangerous aspects of research paper writing is plagiarism, especially when you’re not experienced with the process of using secondary sources. But knowledge is power. It can’t hurt you if you know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.