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The Process of Writing a Research Paper
Planning the Research Paper
The goal of a research paper is to bring together different views, evidence, and facts about a topic from books, articles, and interviews, then interpret the information into your writing. It’s about a relationship between you, other writers, and your teacher/audience.
A research paper will show two things: what you know or learned about a certain topic, and what other people know about the same topic. Often you make a judgment, or just explain complex ideas to the reader. The length of the research paper depends on your teacher’s guidelines. It’s always a good idea to keep your teacher in mind while writing your paper because the teacher is your audience.
The Process There are three stages for doing a research paper. These stages are:
While most people start with prewriting, the three stages of the writing process overlap. Writing is not the kind of process where you have to finish step one before moving on to step two, and so on. Your job is to make your ideas as clear as possible for the reader, and that means you might have to go back and forth between the prewriting, writing and revising stages several times before submitting the paper.
» Prewriting Thinking about a topic
The first thing you should do when starting your research paper is to think of a topic. Try to pick a topic that interests you and your teacher — interesting topics are easier to write about than boring topics! Make sure that your topic is not too hard to research, and that there is enough material on the topic. Talk to as many people as possible about your topic, especially your teacher. You’ll be surprised at the ideas you’ll get from talking about your topic. Be sure to always discuss potential topics with your teacher.
Places you can find a topic: newspapers, magazines, television news, the World Wide Web, and even in the index of a textbook!
Narrowing down your topic
As you think about your topic and start reading, you should begin thinking about a possible thesis statement (a sentence or two explaining your opinion about the topic). One technique is to ask yourself one important question about your topic, and as you find your answer, the thesis can develop from that. Some other techniques you may use to narrow your topic are: jot lists; preliminary outlines; listing possible thesis statements; listing questions; and/or making a concept map. It also may be helpful to have a friend ask you questions about your topic.
For help on developing your thesis statement, see the English Center Guide to Developing a Thesis Statement .
Discovery/Reading about your topic
You need to find information that helps you support your thesis. There are different places you can find this information: books, articles, people (interviews), and the internet.
As you gather the information or ideas you need, you need to make sure that you take notes and write down where and who you got the information from. This is called “citing your sources.” If you write your paper using information from other writers and do not cite the sources, you are committing plagiarism . If you plagiarize, you can get an “F” on your paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of school.
There are three major different formats for citing sources. They are: the Modern Language Association (MLA) , the American Psychology Association (APA) , and the Chicago Turabian style . Always ask your teacher which format to use. For more information on these styles, see our other handouts!
After you’ve thought, read, and taken notes on your topic, you may want to revise your thesis because a good thesis will help you develop a plan for writing your paper. One way you can do this is to brainstorm — think about everything you know about your topic, and put it down on paper. Once you have it all written down, you can look it over and decide if you should change your thesis statement or not.
If you already developed a preliminary map or outline, now is the time to go back and revise it. If you haven’t developed a map or outline yet, now is the time to do it. The outline or concept map should help you organize how you want to present information to your readers. The clearer your outline or map, the easier it will be for you to write the paper. Be sure that each part of your outline supports your thesis. If it does not, you may want to change/revise your thesis statement again.
» Writing a research paper follows a standard compositional (essay) format. It has a title, introduction, body and conclusion. Some people like to start their research papers with a title and introduction, while others wait until they’ve already started the body of the paper before developing a title and introduction. See this link for more information about writing introductions and conclusions .
Some techniques that may help you with writing your paper are:
- start by writing your thesis statement
- use a free writing technique (What I mean is…)
- follow your outline or map
- pretend you are writing a letter to a friend, and tell them what you know about your topic
- follow your topic notecards
If you’re having difficulties thinking of what to write about next, you can look back at your notes that you have from when you were brainstorming for your topic.
» Revising The last (but not least) step is revising. When you are revising, look over your paper and make changes in weak areas. The different areas to look for mistakes include: content– too much detail, or too little detail; organization/structure (which is the order in which you write information about your topic); grammar; punctuation; capitalization; word choice; and citations.
It probably is best if you focus on the “big picture” first. The “big picture” means the organization (paragraph order), and content (ideas and points) of the paper. It also might help to go through your paper paragraph by paragraph and see if the main idea of each paragraph relates to the thesis. Be sure to keep an eye out for any repeated information (one of the most common mistakes made by students is having two or more paragraphs with the same information). Often good writers combine several paragraphs into one so they do not repeat information.
- The audience understands your paper.
- The sentences are clear and complete.
- All paragraphs relate to the thesis.
- Each paragraph explains its purpose clearly.
- You do not repeat large blocks of information in two or more different paragraphs.
- The information in your paper is accurate.
- A friend or classmate has read through your paper and offered suggestions.
After you are satisfied with the content and structure of the paper, you then can focus on common errors like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, typos, and word choice.
- Subjects and verbs agree.
- Verb tenses are consistent.
- Pronouns agree with the subjects they substitute.
- Word choices are clear.
- Capitalization is correct.
- Spelling is correct.
- Punctuation is correct.
- References are cited properly.
For more information on proofreading, see the English Center Punctuation and Grammar Review .
After writing the paper, it might help if you put it aside and do not look at it for a day or two. When you look at your paper again, you will see it with new eyes and notice mistakes you didn’t before. It’s a really good idea to ask someone else to read your paper before you submit it to your teacher. Good writers often get feedback and revise their paper several times before submitting it to the teacher.
Source: “Process of Writing a Research Paper,” by Ellen Beck and Rachel Mingo with contributions from Jules Nelson Hill and Vivion Smith, is based on the previous version by Dawn Taylor, Sharon Quintero, Robert Rich, Robert McDonald, and Katherine Eckhart.
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Basic Steps in the Research Process
The following steps outline a simple and effective strategy for writing a research paper. Depending on your familiarity with the topic and the challenges you encounter along the way, you may need to rearrange these steps.
Step 1: Identify and develop your topic
Selecting a topic can be the most challenging part of a research assignment. Since this is the very first step in writing a paper, it is vital that it be done correctly. Here are some tips for selecting a topic:
- Select a topic within the parameters set by the assignment. Many times your instructor will give you clear guidelines as to what you can and cannot write about. Failure to work within these guidelines may result in your proposed paper being deemed unacceptable by your instructor.
- Select a topic of personal interest to you and learn more about it. The research for and writing of a paper will be more enjoyable if you are writing about something that you find interesting.
- Select a topic for which you can find a manageable amount of information. Do a preliminary search of information sources to determine whether existing sources will meet your needs. If you find too much information, you may need to narrow your topic; if you find too little, you may need to broaden your topic.
- Be original. Your instructor reads hundreds of research papers every year, and many of them are on the same topics (topics in the news at the time, controversial issues, subjects for which there is ample and easily accessed information). Stand out from your classmates by selecting an interesting and off-the-beaten-path topic.
- Still can't come up with a topic to write about? See your instructor for advice.
Once you have identified your topic, it may help to state it as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the epidemic of obesity in the American population, you might pose the question "What are the causes of obesity in America ?" By posing your subject as a question you can more easily identify the main concepts or keywords to be used in your research.
Step 2 : Do a preliminary search for information
Before beginning your research in earnest, do a preliminary search to determine whether there is enough information out there for your needs and to set the context of your research. Look up your keywords in the appropriate titles in the library's Reference collection (such as encyclopedias and dictionaries) and in other sources such as our catalog of books, periodical databases, and Internet search engines. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings. You may find it necessary to adjust the focus of your topic in light of the resources available to you.
Step 3: Locate materials
With the direction of your research now clear to you, you can begin locating material on your topic. There are a number of places you can look for information:
If you are looking for books, do a subject search in One Search . A Keyword search can be performed if the subject search doesn't yield enough information. Print or write down the citation information (author, title,etc.) and the location (call number and collection) of the item(s). Note the circulation status. When you locate the book on the shelf, look at the books located nearby; similar items are always shelved in the same area. The Aleph catalog also indexes the library's audio-visual holdings.
Use the library's electronic periodical databases to find magazine and newspaper articles. Choose the databases and formats best suited to your particular topic; ask at the librarian at the Reference Desk if you need help figuring out which database best meets your needs. Many of the articles in the databases are available in full-text format.
Use search engines ( Google , Yahoo , etc.) and subject directories to locate materials on the Internet. Check the Internet Resources section of the NHCC Library web site for helpful subject links.
Step 4: Evaluate your sources
See the CARS Checklist for Information Quality for tips on evaluating the authority and quality of the information you have located. Your instructor expects that you will provide credible, truthful, and reliable information and you have every right to expect that the sources you use are providing the same. This step is especially important when using Internet resources, many of which are regarded as less than reliable.
Step 5: Make notes
Consult the resources you have chosen and note the information that will be useful in your paper. Be sure to document all the sources you consult, even if you there is a chance you may not use that particular source. The author, title, publisher, URL, and other information will be needed later when creating a bibliography.
Step 6: Write your paper
Begin by organizing the information you have collected. The next step is the rough draft, wherein you get your ideas on paper in an unfinished fashion. This step will help you organize your ideas and determine the form your final paper will take. After this, you will revise the draft as many times as you think necessary to create a final product to turn in to your instructor.
Step 7: Cite your sources properly
Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources.
Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes: it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references. The MLA and the APA Styles are two popular citation formats.
Failure to cite your sources properly is plagiarism. Plagiarism is avoidable!
Step 8: Proofread
The final step in the process is to proofread the paper you have created. Read through the text and check for any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Make sure the sources you used are cited properly. Make sure the message that you want to get across to the reader has been thoroughly stated.
Additional research tips:
- Work from the general to the specific -- find background information first, then use more specific sources.
- Don't forget print sources -- many times print materials are more easily accessed and every bit as helpful as online resources.
- The library has books on the topic of writing research papers at call number area LB 2369.
- If you have questions about the assignment, ask your instructor.
- If you have any questions about finding information in the library, ask the librarian.
Librarian 763-424-0733 [email protected] Zoom: myzoom Available by appointment
- Writing Worksheets and Other Writing Resources
- The Writing Process
A Process Approach to Writing Research Papers
About the slc.
- Our Mission and Core Values
(adapted from Research Paper Guide, Point Loma Nazarene University, 2010)
Step 1: Be a Strategic Reader and Scholar
Even before your paper is assigned, use the tools you have been given by your instructor and GSI, and create tools you can use later.
See the handout “Be a Strategic Reader and Scholar” for more information.
Step 2: Understand the Assignment
- Free topic choice or assigned?
- Type of paper: Informative? Persuasive? Other?
- Any terminology in assignment not clear?
- Library research needed or required? How much?
- What style of citation is required?
- Can you break the assignment into parts?
- When will you do each part?
- Are you required or allowed to collaborate with other members of the class?
- Other special directions or requirements?
Step 3: Select a Topic
- interests you
- you know something about
- you can research easily
- Write out topic and brainstorm.
- Select your paper’s specific topic from this brainstorming list.
- In a sentence or short paragraph, describe what you think your paper is about.
Step 4: Initial Planning, Investigation, and Outlining
- the nature of your audience
- ideas & information you already possess
- sources you can consult
- background reading you should do
Make a rough outline, a guide for your research to keep you on the subject while you work.
Step 5: Accumulate Research Materials
- Use cards, Word, Post-its, or Excel to organize.
- Organize your bibliography records first.
- Organize notes next (one idea per document— direct quotations, paraphrases, your own ideas).
- Arrange your notes under the main headings of your tentative outline. If necessary, print out documents and literally cut and paste (scissors and tape) them together by heading.
Step 6: Make a Final Outline to Guide Writing
- Reorganize and fill in tentative outline.
- Organize notes to correspond to outline.
- As you decide where you will use outside resources in your paper, make notes in your outline to refer to your numbered notecards, attach post-its to your printed outline, or note the use of outside resources in a different font or text color from the rest of your outline.
- In both Steps 6 and 7, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between your own words and ideas and those of others.
Step 7: Write the Paper
- Use your outline to guide you.
- Write quickly—capture flow of ideas—deal with proofreading later.
- Put aside overnight or longer, if possible.
Step 8: Revise and Proofread
- Check organization—reorganize paragraphs and add transitions where necessary.
- Make sure all researched information is documented.
- Rework introduction and conclusion.
- Work on sentences—check spelling, punctuation, word choice, etc.
- Read out loud to check for flow.
Carolyn Swalina, Writing Program Coordinator Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley ©2011 UC Regents
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide
A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.
Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.
This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.
Table of contents
Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.
Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:
- Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
- Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
- Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.
Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.
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There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.
You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.
You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.
Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:
- A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
- A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.
Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.
Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.
- Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
- Are there any heated debates you can address?
- Do you have a unique take on your topic?
- Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?
In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”
A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.
The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.
You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.
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A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.
A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.
Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:
- Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
- Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
- Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.
You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.
Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.
Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.
George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.
It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.
You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.
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The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.
What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.
Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?
How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.
The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.
One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:
- topic sentences against the thesis statement;
- topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
- and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.
Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.
The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.
Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.
You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.
You should not :
- Offer new arguments or essential information
- Take up any more space than necessary
- Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)
There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.
- Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
- Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
- Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
- If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.
The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible.
- Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
- Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
- Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.
Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:
- each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
- no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
- all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.
Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .
Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading or create an APA title page .
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Checklist: Research paper
I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.
My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.
My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .
My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .
Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .
Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.
I have used appropriate transitions to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.
My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.
My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.
My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.
I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.
I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .
I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.
I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).
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The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Research Paper
Few things strike more fear in academics than the accursed research paper , a term synonymous with long hours and hard work. Luckily there’s a secret to help you get through them. As long as you know how to write a research paper properly, you’ll find they’re not so bad . . . or at least less painful.
In this guide we concisely explain how to write an academic research paper step by step. We’ll cover areas like how to start a research paper, how to write a research paper outline, how to use citations and evidence, and how to write a conclusion for a research paper.
But before we get into the details, let’s take a look at what a research paper is and how it’s different from other writing .
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What is a research paper?
A research paper is a type of academic writing that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a single topic, based on empirical evidence. Research papers are similar to analytical essays, except that research papers emphasize the use of statistical data and preexisting research, along with a strict code for citations.
Research papers are a bedrock of modern science and the most effective way to share information across a wide network. However, most people are familiar with research papers from school; college courses often use them to test a student’s knowledge of a particular area or their research skills in general.
Considering their gravity, research papers favor formal, even bland language that strips the writing of any bias. Researchers state their findings plainly and with corresponding evidence so that other researchers can consequently use the paper in their own research.
Keep in mind that writing a research paper is different from writing a research proposal . Essentially, research proposals are to acquire the funding needed to get the data to write a research paper.
How long should a research paper be?
The length of a research paper depends on the topic or assignment. Typically, research papers run around 4,000–6,000 words, but it’s common to see short papers around 2,000 words or long papers over 10,000 words.
If you’re writing a paper for school, the recommended length should be provided in the assignment. Otherwise, let your topic dictate the length: Complicated topics or extensive research will require more explanation.
How to write a research paper in 9 steps
Below is a step-by-step guide to writing a research paper, catered specifically for students rather than professional researchers. While some steps may not apply to your particular assignment, think of this as more of a general guideline to keep you on track.
1 Understand the assignment
For some of you this goes without saying, but you might be surprised at how many students start a research paper without even reading the assignment guidelines.
So your first step should be to review the assignment and carefully read the writing prompt. Specifically, look for technical requirements such as length , formatting requirements (single- vs. double-spacing, indentations, etc.) and citation style . Also pay attention to the particulars, such as whether or not you need to write an abstract or include a cover page.
Once you understand the assignment, the next steps in how to write a research paper follow the usual writing process , more or less. There are some extra steps involved because research papers have extra rules, but the gist of the writing process is the same.
2 Choose your topic
In open-ended assignments, the student must choose their own topic. While it may seem simple enough, choosing a topic is actually the most important decision you’ll make in writing a research paper, since it determines everything that follows.
Your top priority in how to choose a research paper topic is whether it will provide enough content and substance for an entire research paper. You’ll want to choose a topic with enough data and complexity to enable a rich discussion. However, you also want to avoid general topics and instead stick with topics specific enough that you can cover all the relevant information without cutting too much.
3 Gather preliminary research
The sooner you start researching, the better—after all, it’s called a research paper for a reason.
To refine your topic and prepare your thesis statement, find out what research is available for your topic as soon as possible. Early research can help dispel any misconceptions you have about the topic and reveal the best paths and approaches to find more material.
Typically, you can find sources either online or in a library. If you’re searching online, make sure you use credible sources like science journals or academic papers. Some search engines—mentioned below in the Tools and resources section—allow you to browse only accredited sources and academic databases.
Keep in mind the difference between primary and secondary sources as you search. Primary sources are firsthand accounts, like published articles or autobiographies; secondary sources are more removed, like critical reviews or secondhand biographies.
When gathering your research, it’s better to skim sources instead of reading each potential source fully. If a source seems useful, set it aside to give it a full read later. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck poring over sources that you ultimately won’t use, and that time could be better spent finding a worthwhile source.
Sometimes you’re required to submit a literature review , which explains your sources and presents them to an authority for confirmation. Even if no literature review is required, it’s still helpful to compile an early list of potential sources—you’ll be glad you did later.
4 Write a thesis statement
Using what you found in your preliminary research, write a thesis statement that succinctly summarizes what your research paper will be about. This is usually the first sentence in your paper, making it your reader’s introduction to the topic.
A thesis statement is the best answer for how to start a research paper. Aside from preparing your reader, the thesis statement also makes it easier for other researchers to assess whether or not your paper is useful to them for their own research. Likewise, you should read the thesis statements of other research papers to decide how useful they are to you.
A good thesis statement mentions all the important parts of the discussion without disclosing too many of the details. If you’re having trouble putting it into words, try to phrase your topic as a question and then answer it .
For example, if your research paper topic is about separating students with ADHD from other students, you’d first ask yourself, “Does separating students with ADHD improve their learning?” The answer—based on your preliminary research—is a good basis for your thesis statement.
5 Determine supporting evidence
At this stage of how to write an academic research paper, it’s time to knuckle down and do the actual research. Here’s when you go through all the sources you collected earlier and find the specific information you’d like to use in your paper.
Normally, you find your supporting evidence by reading each source and taking notes. Isolate only the information that’s directly relevant to your topic; don’t bog down your paper with tangents or unnecessary context, however interesting they may be. And always write down page numbers , not only for you to find the information later, but also because you’ll need them for your citations.
Aside from highlighting text and writing notes, another common tactic is to use bibliography cards . These are simple index cards with a fact or direct quotation on one side and the bibliographical information (source citation, page numbers, subtopic category) on the other. While bibliography cards are not necessary, some students find them useful for staying organized, especially when it’s time to write an outline.
6 Write a research paper outline
A lot of students want to know how to write a research paper outline. More than informal essays, research papers require a methodical and systematic structure to make sure all issues are addressed, and that makes outlines especially important.
First make a list of all the important categories and subtopics you need to cover—an outline for your outline! Consider all the information you gathered when compiling your supporting evidence and ask yourself what the best way to separate and categorize everything is.
Once you have a list of what you want to talk about, consider the best order to present the information. Which subtopics are related and should go next to each other? Are there any subtopics that don’t make sense if they’re presented out of sequence? If your information is fairly straightforward, feel free to take a chronological approach and present the information in the order it happened.
Because research papers can get complicated, consider breaking your outline into paragraphs. For starters, this helps you stay organized if you have a lot of information to cover. Moreover, it gives you greater control over the flow and direction of the research paper. It’s always better to fix structural problems in the outline phase than later after everything’s already been written.
Don’t forget to include your supporting evidence in the outline as well. Chances are you’ll have a lot you want to include, so putting it in your outline helps prevent some things from falling through the cracks.
7 Write the first draft
Once your outline is finished, it’s time to start actually writing your research paper. This is by far the longest and most involved step, but if you’ve properly prepared your sources and written a thorough outline, everything should run smoothly.
If you don’t know how to write an introduction for a research paper, the beginning can be difficult. That’s why writing your thesis statement beforehand is crucial. Open with your thesis statement and then fill out the rest of your introduction with the secondary information—save the details for the body of your research paper, which comes next.
The body contains the bulk of your research paper. Unlike essays , research papers usually divide the body into sections with separate headers to facilitate browsing and scanning. Use the divisions in your outline as a guide.
Follow along your outline and go paragraph by paragraph. Because this is just the first draft, don’t worry about getting each word perfect . Later you’ll be able to revise and fine-tune your writing, but for now focus simply on saying everything that needs to be said. In other words, it’s OK to make mistakes since you’ll go back later to correct them.
One of the most common problems with writing long works like research papers is connecting paragraphs to each other. The longer your writing is, the harder it is to tie everything together smoothly. Use transition sentences to improve the flow of your paper, especially for the first and last sentences in a paragraph.
Even after the body is written, you still need to know how to write a conclusion for a research paper. Just like an essay conclusion , your research paper conclusion should restate your thesis , reiterate your main evidence , and summarize your findings in a way that’s easy to understand.
Don’t add any new information in your conclusion, but feel free to say your own personal perspective or interpretation if it helps the reader understand the big picture.
8 Cite your sources correctly
Citations are part of what sets research papers apart from more casual nonfiction like personal essays . Citing your sources both validates your data and also links your research paper to the greater scientific community. Because of their importance, citations must follow precise formatting rules . . . problem is, there’s more than one set of rules!
You need to check with the assignment to see which formatting style is required. Typically, academic research papers follow one of two formatting styles for citing sources:
- MLA (Modern Language Association)
- APA (American Psychological Association)
The links above explain the specific formatting guidelines for each style, along with an automatic citation generator to help you get started.
In addition to MLA and APA styles, you occasionally see requirements for CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style), AMA (American Medical Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
Citations may seem confusing at first with all their rules and specific information. However, once you get the hang of them, you’ll be able to properly cite your sources without even thinking about it. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
9 Edit and proofread
Last but not least, you want to go through your research paper to correct all the mistakes by proofreading . We recommend going over it twice: once for structural issues such as adding/deleting parts or rearranging paragraphs and once for word choice, grammatical, and spelling mistakes. Doing two different editing sessions helps you focus on one area at a time instead of doing them both at once.
To help you catch everything, here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind while you edit:
- Is your thesis statement clear and concise?
- Is your paper well-organized, and does it flow from beginning to end with logical transitions?
- Do your ideas follow a logical sequence in each paragraph?
- Have you used concrete details and facts and avoided generalizations?
- Do your arguments support and prove your thesis?
- Have you avoided repetition?
- Are your sources properly cited?
- Have you checked for accidental plagiarism?
Word choice, grammar, and spelling edit:
- Is your language clear and specific?
- Do your sentences flow smoothly and clearly?
- Have you avoided filler words and phrases ?
- Have you checked for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
Some people find it useful to read their paper out loud to catch problems they might miss when reading in their head. Another solution is to have someone else read your paper and point out areas for improvement and/or technical mistakes.
Revising is a separate skill from writing, and being good at one doesn’t necessarily make you good at the other. If you want to improve your revision skills, read our guide on self-editing , which includes a more complete checklist and advanced tips on improving your revisions.
Technical issues like grammatical mistakes and misspelled words can be handled effortlessly if you use a spellchecker with your word processor, or even better, a digital writing assistant that also suggests improvements for word choice and tone, like Grammarly (we explain more in the Tools and resources section below).
Tools and resources
If you want to know more about how to write a research paper, or if you want some help with each step, take a look at the tools and resources below.
This is Google’s own search engine, which is dedicated exclusively to academic papers. It’s a great way to find new research and sources. Plus, it’s free to use.
Zotero is a freemium, open-source research manager, a cross between an organizational CMS and a search engine for academic research. With it, you can browse the internet for research sources relevant to your topic and share them easily with colleagues. Also, it automatically generates citations.
Writing long research papers is always a strain on your attention span. If you have trouble avoiding distractions during those long stretches, FocusWriter might be able to help. FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor that removes all the distracting icons and sticks only to what you type. You’re also free to choose your own customized backgrounds, with other special features like timed alarms, daily goals, and optional typewriter sound effects.
This useful and free tool from Google lets you create simple charts and graphs based on whatever data you input. Charts and graphs are excellent visual aids for expressing numeric data, a perfect complement if you need to explain complicated evidential research.
Grammarly goes way beyond grammar, helping you hone word choice, checking your text for plagiarism, detecting your tone, and more. For foreign-language learners, it can make your English sound more fluent, and even those who speak English as their primary language benefit from Grammarly’s suggestions.
Research paper FAQs
A research paper is a piece of academic writing that analyzes, evaluates, or interprets a single topic with empirical evidence and statistical data.
When will I need to write a research paper in college?
Many college courses use research papers to test a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or their research skills in general. While research papers depend on the course or professor, you can expect to write at least a few before graduation.
How do I determine a topic for my research paper?
If the topic is not assigned, try to find a topic that’s general enough to provide ample evidence but specific enough that you’re able to cover all the basics. If possible, choose a topic you’re personally interested in—it makes the work easier.
Where can I conduct research for my paper?
Today most research is conducted either online or in libraries. Some topics might benefit from old periodicals like newspapers or magazines, as well as visual media like documentaries. Museums, parks, and historical monuments can also be useful.
How do I cite sources for a research paper?
The correct formatting for citations depends on which style you’re using, so check the assignment guidelines. Most school research reports use either MLA or APA styles, although there are others.
This article was originally written by Karen Hertzberg in 2017. It’s been updated to include new information.
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Writing Research Papers
- Research Paper Structure
Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.
Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style
A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1 Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices. These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2
What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors. The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page. In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.
One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.
What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.
What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed. It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section. A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.
What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed. It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.
What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper. The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings. Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.
List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source). Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).
Tables and Figures
Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither). In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References. Tables are included first, followed by Figures. However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).
Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided. This is often placed in an Appendix.
Variations of Research Papers in APA Style
Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern. These variations include:
- Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section.
- Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered. Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References. Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.
Departures from APA Style
In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). Such deviations may include:
- Placement of Tables and Figures – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first).
- Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun). In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research. Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
- Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely. You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.
Workshops and Downloadable Resources
- For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).
- How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
- Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]
- Writing Research Paper Videos
APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines
- Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
- Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.
- Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
- How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
- WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
- Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
- Sample APA Formatted Paper
- Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style
1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
2 geller, e. (2018). how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.
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- What Types of References Are Appropriate?
- Evaluating References and Taking Notes
- Citing References
- Writing a Literature Review
- Writing Process and Revising
- Improving Scientific Writing
- Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
- Writing Research Papers Videos
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Steps in Writing a Research Paper
- Critical Reading and Writing
- Writing Exercises
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A series of steps, starting with developing a research question and working thesis, will lead you through writing a research paper. As you move through these steps and actually create the research paper, you may find that you can't move through all of them in chronological order, and that's o.k. In fact, you may change the order of the steps depending on the subject, your knowledge of the subject, and your sources. For example, sometimes you need to do just a bit of background research and reading before you can develop a research question. Sometimes you need to go back and find additional sources to corroborate your viewpoint. The research writing steps that we offer represent a general, ideal, movement through the research writing process. In reality, writers often repeat or circle back as needed.
Hey, wait a minute . . . why did we say "ideal?" In our opinion, these steps represent the best way to move through the writing process because they ask you to think and develop a research question before you actually do a lot of research. The one big mess that you can get into, as a student, comes from doing too much unfocused research before identifying your own viewpoint, the one that you will eventually need to support. If you do too much unfocused research first, then the tendency is to try to include all of it in the paper. The result is a hodgepodge of information that's not focused, developed fully, or indicative of your own thoughts. It's also not efficient to do too much research before you really know what you're looking for. Try it our way--develop that research question first--to cut out a lot of research paper mess.
These steps will lead you through writing a research paper:
- One Big Mess...
- Developing a Research Question
- Thesis Characteristics
- Finding Sources
- Evaluating Sources
- Taking Notes
- Working with Quotations
- Writing Summaries & Paraphrases
- Building the Essay Draft
- Documentation Formats
- Revising and Proofreading the Draft
If you would like assistance with any type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing [email protected].
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8 Important Steps in Writing Research Paper
How to Write Research Article?
Table of contents
2. abstract, 3. introduction, 4. methodology, 5. conclusion, 6. review of related studies, 7. recommendations, 8. bibliography.
Writing a research paper is the most essential part of our research process. research publication will explain to the world about our research work, our contributions, and impact of the work. It also helps other researchers to understand the benefits and research gaps from the research area. In this article, we are going to find out the 8 important steps in writing research paper.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” -Terry Pratchet
Selecting a perfect title to our work is the first important step which also defines what our paper is all about. The title should be more informative and included all our major keywords in it.
Statistics say, more than 90% of researchers read the abstract next to the title. It is a very important step defines writing a research paper. abstract is a summary of our research work it usually was written 100-150 words, this should be very crisp and clear about the research, what the whole paper is going to talk about.
The introduction sets the first stage of our analysis and also predicts the tone and direction of our research paper. It helps readers to understand the paper even they don’t have any prior domain knowledge.
Methodology describes our research paper’s goals and the procedures that what we carried out in the research work. a proper research methodology helps journal reviewer and readers to understand the entire concept of our research.
The fifth most important step to writing a research paper is the conclusion. it is a final summary of the results that we managed to achieve through our research. this also should explains why and how we arrived to this particular conclusion.
Review of Related Studies places our research to define existing data and information about the previous research papers. It is very importat to clearly explain about our existing research experiment carried out in the same area that we used as a reference or base.
In the recommendation, carefully explain what needs to be done next and enumerate the possible steps that are needed to be taken. a proper recommendation will helps readers and other researchers to carry out their own research.
The last and eighth important step in writing a research paper is a bibliography. In this, we have to list the source materials we used or consulted in making our research paper.
Whenever you start to write a new research paper make sure these 8 important steps in order to help the readers to be more comfortable and easy understanding.
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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 1. Getting Started
- 1. Getting Started
- 2. Topic Ideas
- 3. Thesis Statement & Outline
- 4. Appropriate Sources
- 5. Search Techniques
- 6. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources
- 7. Evaluating Sources
- 8. Citations & Plagiarism
- 9. Writing Your Research Paper
Let's Get Started
We are here to help.
Writing research papers is an important part of your college learning experience, training you to research and write effectively. However, if you don't know how to start, writing a research paper can be a daunting task. Don't worry! We will guide you through the process. The sections in this step-by-step guide allow you to learn at your own pace. Revisit the information as much as you need. Let's get started!
What Is a Research Paper?
A research paper is an expanded essay that presents your investigation and argument on a focused topic based on the information you gathered. It demonstrates not only your understanding of available information from experts in the area of your research, but also your evaluation and insight on the subject matter through an orderly and logical presentation of your argument.
What Are the Qualities of a Good Research Paper?
Make sure you know the requirements of your specific assignment. But in general, a good research paper will have the following qualities:
- A strong and focused thesis statement
- Logically organized a rguments and main points
- Each main point is supported by persuasive facts and examples
- Opposing viewpoints are included and rebutted, showing why the author's argument is more valid
- The paper shows the author's understanding of the topic and the material being used
- The work is original, not plagiarized
- Every source is correctly documented and credited in a recognized citation style
- The paper is written in clear language in a style suitable for college research
Need help with your research paper? A librarian can help guide you through the process of research.
Here are ways to contact a librarian:
- Email the library at [email protected]
- Find the librarian best suited for your subject area
- Use our 24/7 chat service (use the chat box on the right)
Ebooks on Writing
Looking for a really detailed guide? Try these ebooks:
Research Paper Process
Following the research process will help you with your paper.
Select a Topic
Find Background Information
Formulate a Thesis Statement
Create an Outline
Locate and Retrieve Materials
Write the Paper
Review Paper and Citations
- Next: 2. Topic Ideas >>
- Last Updated: Apr 18, 2023 12:12 PM
- URL: https://butte.libguides.com/ResearchPaper