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.
Try not to be robotic about choosing your topic, though; it’s still best to pick something that you’re personally interested in. Ideally, you’ll find a topic that satisfies both requirements, something that provides a suitable amount of content and also keeps you engaged.
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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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.
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.
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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.
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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TIP Sheet HOW TO START (AND COMPLETE) A RESEARCH PAPER
You are a re-entry student and it's been fourteen years since you've written a paper. You coasted through high school on your charm and good looks and never actually wrote a research paper. You have written research papers, but every time is like the first time, and the first time was like a root canal. How do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach to starting and completing a research paper.
- Choose a topic.
- Read and keep records.
- Form a thesis.
- Create a mind map or outline.
- Read again.
- Rethink your thesis.
- Draft the body.
- Add the beginning and end.
- Proofread and edit.
You may read this TIP Sheet from start to finish before you begin your paper, or skip to the steps that are causing you the most grief.
1. Choosing a topic: Interest, information, and focus Your job will be more pleasant, and you will be more apt to retain information if you choose a topic that holds your interest. Even if a general topic is assigned ("Write about impacts of GMO crops on world food supply"), as much as possible find an approach that suits your interests. Your topic should be one on which you can find adequate information; you might need to do some preliminary research to determine this. Go to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in the reference section of the library, or to an electronic database such as Proquest or Wilson Web, and search for your topic. The Butte College Library Reference Librarians are more than happy to assist you at this (or any) stage of your research. Scan the results to see how much information has been published. Then, narrow your topic to manageable size:
Once you have decided on a topic and determined that enough information is available, you are ready to proceed. At this point, however, if you are having difficulty finding adequate quality information, stop wasting your time; find another topic.
2. Preliminary reading & recordkeeping Gather some index cards or a small notebook and keep them with you as you read. First read a general article on your topic, for example from an encyclopedia. On an index card or in the notebook, record the author, article and/or book title, and all publication information in the correct format (MLA or APA, for example) specified by your instructor. (If you need to know what publication information is needed for the various types of sources, see a writing guide such as S F Writer .) On the index cards or in your notebook, write down information you want to use from each identified source, including page numbers. Use quotation marks on anything you copy exactly, so you can distinguish later between exact quotes and paraphrasing. (You will still attribute information you have quoted or paraphrased.)
Some students use a particular index card method throughout the process of researching and writing that allows them great flexibility in organizing and re-organizing as well as in keeping track of sources; others color-code or otherwise identify groups of facts. Use any method that works for you in later drafting your paper, but always start with good recordkeeping.
3. Organizing: Mind map or outline Based on your preliminary reading, draw up a working mind map or outline. Include any important, interesting, or provocative points, including your own ideas about the topic. A mind map is less linear and may even include questions you want to find answers to. Use the method that works best for you. The object is simply to group ideas in logically related groups. You may revise this mind map or outline at any time; it is much easier to reorganize a paper by crossing out or adding sections to a mind map or outline than it is to laboriously start over with the writing itself.
4. Formulating a thesis: Focus and craftsmanship Write a well defined, focused, three- to five-point thesis statement, but be prepared to revise it later if necessary. Take your time crafting this statement into one or two sentences, for it will control the direction and development of your entire paper.
For more on developing thesis statements, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
5. Researching: Facts and examples Now begin your heavy-duty research. Try the internet, electronic databases, reference books, newspaper articles, and books for a balance of sources. For each source, write down on an index card (or on a separate page of your notebook) the publication information you will need for your works cited (MLA) or bibliography (APA) page. Write important points, details, and examples, always distinguishing between direct quotes and paraphrasing. As you read, remember that an expert opinion is more valid than a general opinion, and for some topics (in science and history, for example), more recent research may be more valuable than older research. Avoid relying too heavily on internet sources, which vary widely in quality and authority and sometimes even disappear before you can complete your paper.
Never copy-and-paste from internet sources directly into any actual draft of your paper. For more information on plagiarism, obtain from the Butte College Student Services office a copy of the college's policy on plagiarism, or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
6. Rethinking: Matching mind map and thesis After you have read deeply and gathered plenty of information, expand or revise your working mind map or outline by adding information, explanations, and examples. Aim for balance in developing each of your main points (they should be spelled out in your thesis statement). Return to the library for additional information if it is needed to evenly develop these points, or revise your thesis statement to better reflect what you have learned or the direction your paper seems to have taken.
7. Drafting: Beginning in the middle Write the body of the paper, starting with the thesis statement and omitting for now the introduction (unless you already know exactly how to begin, but few writers do). Use supporting detail to logically and systematically validate your thesis statement. For now, omit the conclusion also.
For more on systematically developing a thesis statement, see TIP sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
8. Revising: Organization and attribution Read, revise, and make sure that your ideas are clearly organized and that they support your thesis statement. Every single paragraph should have a single topic that is derived from the thesis statement. If any paragraph does not, take it out, or revise your thesis if you think it is warranted. Check that you have quoted and paraphrased accurately, and that you have acknowledged your sources even for your paraphrasing. Every single idea that did not come to you as a personal epiphany or as a result of your own methodical reasoning should be attributed to its owner.
For more on writing papers that stay on-topic, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay." For more on avoiding plagiarism, see the Butte College Student Services brochure, "Academic Honesty at Butte College," or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
9. Writing: Intro, conclusion, and citations Write the final draft. Add a one-paragraph introduction and a one-paragraph conclusion. Usually the thesis statement appears as the last sentence or two of the first, introductory paragraph. Make sure all citations appear in the correct format for the style (MLA, APA) you are using. The conclusion should not simply restate your thesis, but should refer to it. (For more on writing conclusions, see the TIP Sheet "How to Structure an Essay.") Add a Works Cited (for MLA) or Bibliography (for APA) page.
10. Proofreading: Time and objectivity Time permitting, allow a few days to elapse between the time you finish writing your last draft and the time you begin to make final corrections. This "time out" will make you more perceptive, more objective, and more critical. On your final read, check for grammar, punctuation, correct word choice, adequate and smooth transitions, sentence structure, and sentence variety. For further proofreading strategies, see the TIP Sheet "Revising, Editing, and Proofreading."
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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 the Alephcatalog. 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
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How to Write a Research Paper
Last Updated: January 31, 2023 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, PhD . Chris Hadley, PhD is part of the wikiHow team and works on content strategy and data and analytics. Chris Hadley earned his PhD in Cognitive Psychology from UCLA in 2006. Chris' academic research has been published in numerous scientific journals. There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 45 testimonials and 80% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 4,114,435 times.
Whether you’re in a history, literature, or science class, you’ll probably have to write a research paper at some point. It may seem daunting when you’re just starting out, but staying organized and budgeting your time can make the process a breeze. Research your topic, find reliable sources, and come up with a working thesis. Then create an outline and start drafting your paper. Be sure to leave plenty of time to make revisions, as editing is essential if you want to hand in your best work!
Sample Research Papers and Outlines
Researching Your Topic
- For instance, you might start with a general subject, like British decorative arts. Then, as you read, you home in on transferware and pottery. Ultimately, you focus on 1 potter in the 1780s who invented a way to mass-produce patterned tableware.
Tip: If you need to analyze a piece of literature, your task is to pull the work apart into literary elements and explain how the author uses those parts to make their point.
- Authoritative, credible sources include scholarly articles (especially those other authors reference), government websites, scientific studies, and reputable news bureaus. Additionally, check your sources' dates, and make sure the information you gather is up to date.
- Evaluate how other scholars have approached your topic. Identify authoritative sources or works that are accepted as the most important accounts of the subject matter. Additionally, look for debates among scholars, and ask yourself who presents the strongest evidence for their case.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- You’ll most likely need to include a bibliography or works cited page, so keep your sources organized. List your sources, format them according to your assigned style guide (such as MLA or Chicago ), and write 2 or 3 summary sentences below each one.  X Research source
- Imagine you’re a lawyer in a trial and are presenting a case to a jury. Think of your readers as the jurors; your opening statement is your thesis and you’ll present evidence to the jury to make your case.
- A thesis should be specific rather than vague, such as: “Josiah Spode’s improved formula for bone china enabled the mass production of transfer-printed wares, which expanded the global market for British pottery.”
Drafting Your Essay
- Your outline is your paper’s skeleton. After making the outline, all you’ll need to do is fill in the details.
- For easy reference, include your sources where they fit into your outline, like this: III. Spode vs. Wedgewood on Mass Production A. Spode: Perfected chemical formula with aims for fast production and distribution (Travis, 2002, 43) B. Wedgewood: Courted high-priced luxury market; lower emphasis on mass production (Himmelweit, 2001, 71) C. Therefore: Wedgewood, unlike Spode, delayed the expansion of the pottery market.
- For instance, your opening line could be, “Overlooked in the present, manufacturers of British pottery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries played crucial roles in England’s Industrial Revolution.”
- After presenting your thesis, lay out your evidence, like this: “An examination of Spode’s innovative production and distribution techniques will demonstrate the importance of his contributions to the industry and Industrial Revolution at large.”
Tip: Some people prefer to write the introduction first and use it to structure the rest of the paper. However, others like to write the body, then fill in the introduction. Do whichever seems natural to you. If you write the intro first, keep in mind you can tweak it later to reflect your finished paper’s layout.
- After setting the context, you'd include a section on Josiah Spode’s company and what he did to make pottery easier to manufacture and distribute.
- Next, discuss how targeting middle class consumers increased demand and expanded the pottery industry globally.
- Then, you could explain how Spode differed from competitors like Wedgewood, who continued to court aristocratic consumers instead of expanding the market to the middle class.
- The right number of sections or paragraphs depends on your assignment. In general, shoot for 3 to 5, but check your prompt for your assigned length.
- If you bring up a counterargument, make sure it’s a strong claim that’s worth entertaining instead of ones that's weak and easily dismissed.
- Suppose, for instance, you’re arguing for the benefits of adding fluoride to toothpaste and city water. You could bring up a study that suggested fluoride produced harmful health effects, then explain how its testing methods were flawed.
- Sum up your argument, but don’t simply rewrite your introduction using slightly different wording. To make your conclusion more memorable, you could also connect your thesis to a broader topic or theme to make it more relatable to your reader.
- For example, if you’ve discussed the role of nationalism in World War I, you could conclude by mentioning nationalism’s reemergence in contemporary foreign affairs.
Revising Your Paper
- This is also a great opportunity to make sure your paper fulfills the parameters of the assignment and answers the prompt!
- It’s a good idea to put your essay aside for a few hours (or overnight, if you have time). That way, you can start editing it with fresh eyes.
Tip: Try to give yourself at least 2 or 3 days to revise your paper. It may be tempting to simply give your paper a quick read and use the spell-checker to make edits. However, revising your paper properly is more in-depth.
- The passive voice, such as “The door was opened by me,” feels hesitant and wordy. On the other hand, the active voice, or “I opened the door,” feels strong and concise.
- Each word in your paper should do a specific job. Try to avoid including extra words just to fill up blank space on a page or sound fancy.
- For instance, “The author uses pathos to appeal to readers’ emotions” is better than “The author utilizes pathos to make an appeal to the emotional core of those who read the passage.”
- Read your essay out loud to help ensure you catch every error. As you read, check for flow as well and, if necessary, tweak any spots that sound awkward.  X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source
- It’s wise to get feedback from one person who’s familiar with your topic and another who’s not. The person who knows about the topic can help ensure you’ve nailed all the details. The person who’s unfamiliar with the topic can help make sure your writing is clear and easy to understand.
Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.
- Remember that your topic and thesis should be as specific as possible. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- Researching, outlining, drafting, and revising are all important steps, so do your best to budget your time wisely. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to write your paper. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 5 Not Helpful 1
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- ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/planresearchpaper/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/evaluating-print-sources/
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/research_overview/index.html
- ↑ https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/writing/graduate-writing-lab/writing-through-graduate-school/working-sources
- ↑ https://opentextbc.ca/writingforsuccess/chapter/chapter-5-putting-the-pieces-together-with-a-thesis-statement/
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/developing_an_outline/index.html
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/introductions/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/essay-structure
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/counterarguments
- ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/ending-essay-conclusions
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/formandstyle/writing/scholarlyvoice/activepassive
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/index.html
About This Article
To write a research paper, start by researching your topic at the library, online, or using an academic database. As you conduct your research and take notes, zero in on a specific topic that you want to write about and create a 1-2 sentence thesis to state the focus of your paper. Then, create an outline that includes an introduction, 3 to 5 body paragraphs to present your arguments, and a conclusion to sum up your main points. Once you have your paper's structure organized, draft your paragraphs, focusing on 1 argument per paragraph. Use the information you found through your research to back up your claims and prove your thesis statement. Finally, proofread and revise your content until it's polished and ready to submit. For more information on researching and citing sources, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Writing a Research Paper
This page lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.
Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.
Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
- Try to find a topic that truly interests you
- Try writing your way to a topic
- Talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
- Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved
Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
You will need to look at the following types of sources:
- library catalog, periodical indexes, bibliographies, suggestions from your instructor
- primary vs. secondary sources
- journals, books, other documents
Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
The following systems will help keep you organized:
- a system for noting sources on bibliography cards
- a system for organizing material according to its relative importance
- a system for taking notes
Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
Consider the following questions:
- What is the topic?
- Why is it significant?
- What background material is relevant?
- What is my thesis or purpose statement?
- What organizational plan will best support my purpose?
Writing the Introduction
In the introduction you will need to do the following things:
- present relevant background or contextual material
- define terms or concepts when necessary
- explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
- reveal your plan of organization
Writing the Body
- Use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
- Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don’t let your sources organize your paper)
- Integrate your sources into your discussion
- Summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
- Move up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization
Writing the Conclusion
- If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.
- Perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research.
Revising the Final Draft
- Check overall organization : logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
- Paragraph level concerns : topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
- Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.
- Documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited.
Academic and Professional Writing
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- A Research Guide
- Research Paper Guide
How to Write a Research Paper
- STEP 1. How to start research topic?
- STEP 2. Find information
- STEP 3. Make your thesis statement
- STEP 4. Make research paper outline
- STEP 5. Oganize your notes
- STEP 6. Literature review
- STEP 7. The research question(s)
- STEP 8. Research methodology
- STEP 9. Writing the results, analysis, discussion, and conclusion
- STEP 10. The process of writing a research paper
- STEP 11. Write your first draft
- Checklist One
- Checklist Two
- STEP 13. Tools for research paper help
- STEP 14. Some words of encouragement
What is a research paper? A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on its author’s original research on a particular topic and analysis together with interpretation of research findings. Writing a research paper can be a little intimidating at times. Students, especially those new to the rigors of academia, often feel anxious about the process especially that the paper often gets assigned a big chunk of the final grade by a conscientious professor.
This article provides a detailed guide on how to navigate the challenge of writing a reliable research paper. It talks about recommended steps to be followed and elements to be covered in the paper. It offers tips on selecting a good topic and gathering the right information which can set research up for success. Finally, this article provides some guidelines on citation as well as on how to use free online tools, which can help deliver a sharp and clear final copy. Start writing an A+ research paper now!
Get Help with Paper
How to start a research paper?
Choose a research paper topic that interests and challenges you the most. Your attitude towards the topic may well determine amount of effort, enthusiasm you put into your research. Focus on a limited aspect, narrow it down from “Religion” to “World Religion” to “Buddhism.” Obtain teacher approval for your theme idea and thesis before making full-scale research. It will also help save time and effort.
Finding the right topic and making paper stand out
It is essential for students to examine and write about a topic they like and know better. Students who are invested and involved in the subject pay attention to details in making sure that paper is as strong as it could be. Achieving this goal means addressing requirements of each paper section such as research questions, methods, analysis, and discussion, among others. Surf the internet to get inspired by various research paper topics .
One of the initial steps you should perform in making a paper stand out is doing a bit of initial exploring to see what is out there already, think about future outline, thesis or hypothesis. Ask what has already been done about this particular issue in the past. Are there pathways that have not yet been explored, which student should shed light on? Indeed, one can make paper stand out by ensuring that some new or novel insights are explored, no matter how small. This will make research paper not only publishable or presentable at academic venues, but it’ll also receive high grades from professor assessing it.
Narrowing your topic
After going through the necessary amount of information, data and literature available on your desired topic, it is time to narrow the research down. It’s not appropriate if chosen issue is very broad as there may be several important aspects within this very theme. It won’t be a good solution to cover them all in one research paper as it’ll turn out vague or generic.
Pursue the unique pathway that caught your interest, and that’ll occupy a niche as well as advance the value of the conversation regarding the subject. At this stage, you should explain the reasons why your research study is essential and describe in detail the significance of your research.
For general or background information needed for an outline creation, check out useful URLs, general information online, using search engines , or encyclopedias online such as Britannica . Use search engines or other search tools as a starting point. Pay attention to domain name extensions , .edu (educational institution), .org (non-profit organization) or .gov (government). These sites represent institutions and are more reliable, however, be aware of possible political bias on some government sites.
Be selective of .com (commercial) sites. Many of these sites are excellent; although, a large number of them contain advertisements for products and links to outer irrelevant sources. Network Solutions provides link where you can find out what some of the other extensions stand for. Be wary of millions of personal home pages on the Net. Quality of these personal homepages varies greatly. Learning how to evaluate websites critically and search effectively on the Internet will help you eliminate irrelevant sites and waste less of your time.
The recent arrival of a variety of domain name extensions such as .biz (commercial businesses), .pro, .info (info on products / organizations), .name, .ws (WebSite), .cc (Cocos Island) or .sh (St. Helena) or .tv (Tuvalu) may create some confusion as you won’t tell whether .cc or .sh or .tv site is in reality .com, .edu, .gov, .net, or .org site. Many new extensions have no registration restrictions and are available to anyone who wishes to register a distinct domain name that has not already been taken. For instance, if Books.com is unavailable, you can register as Books.ws or Books.info via a service agent such as Register.com.
If you need books for your research in the Library, use the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).
CHECK OUT OTHER PRINT MATERIALS AVAILABLE IN THE LIBRARY:
- Almanacs, Atlases, AV Catalogs;
- Encyclopedias and Dictionaries;
- Government Publications, Guides, Reports;
- Magazines, Newspapers;
- Vertical Files;
- Yellow Pages, Zip or Postal Code and Telephone Directories.
CHECK OUT ONLINE RESOURCES, WEB-BASED INFORMATION SERVICES, OR SPECIAL RESOURCE MATERIALS IN AUDIO FORMAT:
- Online reference materials (SIRS, ProQuest, eLibrary, etc.);
- Wall Street Executive Library;
- Index to Periodicals and Newspapers (MagPortal.com, OnlineNewspapers.com);
- Encyclopedias (Britannica, Canadian Encyclopedia);
- Google Scholar;
- Magazines and Journals;
- International Public Library;
- Subject Specific software (discovering authors, exploring Shakespeare).
Check out public and university libraries, businesses, government agencies, as well as contact knowledgeable people in your community. Read and evaluate, outline them. Bookmark your favorite Internet sites. Printout, photocopy or take notes of relevant information.
As you gather your resources, note down full bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) on your worksheet, printout, or enter the information on your laptop or desktop computer for later retrieval. If printing from the Internet, set up the browser to print the URL and date of access for every page. Remember that an article without bibliographical information is useless since you cannot cite it as a source.
Make your thesis statement
Most research papers normally require a thesis, even on the step of outline creation. If you are not sure, ask your teacher whether your paper requires it and what they expect to see in your research paper thesis statement. In short, a thesis is the main idea, a central point of your research paper. The arguments you provide in your paper should be based on this central idea, that is why it is so important. Do some critical thinking, write your thesis statement down in one sentence. Your research paper thesis statement is like a declaration of your belief. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments for support and defend this belief.
A thesis statement should be provided early in your paper – in the introduction part, or in the second paragraph if your paper is longer. It is impossible to create a thesis statement immediately when you have just started fulfilling your assignment. Before you write a thesis statement together with outline, you should collect, organize and analyze materials and your ideas. You cannot make a finally formulated statement before you have completed your research paper. It’ll naturally change while you develop your ideas.
Stay away from generic, too fuzzy statements and arguments. Use a particular subject. The paper should present something new for audience, make it interesting and educative for your readers. Avoid citing other authors in this section. Present your own ideas in your own words instead of simply copying from other writers.
A THESIS STATEMENT SHOULD DO THE FOLLOWING:
- Outline and explain readers how you interpret research subject.
- Tell readers what to expect from your paper.
- Answer the question you were asked.
- Present your claim which other people may want to dispute.
Make sure your thesis is strong. If you have time and opportunity, show it to your instructor, receive some revision comments, work on improvement of weak points. Otherwise, you may estimate it yourself.
YOU MUST CHECK:
- Does my statement answer the question of my assignment?
- Is my statement precise enough? It should not be too general and vague.
- Does the body of my paper support my thesis, or are they different things? Compare them and change if necessary. Remember that changing elements of your work in the process of writing and reviewing is normal.
- Can my position be disputed or opposed? If not, maybe you have just provided a summary instead of creating an argument.
- Does it pass a so-called “so what” test? Does it provide new/interesting information for your audience or does it simply state a generic fact?
A well-prepared thesis means well-shaped ideas. It increases credibility of paper and makes a good impression of its author. More helpful hints about Writing a Research Paper .
Make a research paper outline
A research paper basically has the following structure:.
- a. Overview of an issue you are examining – include your main assertion or argument (thesis statement)
- b. Offer a short justification - why your readers or target audience should care about your research paper (study importance)
- c. Brief explanation of paper’s scope and planned method to be used in examining your issue
- a. History behind the issue
- b. How this issue impacts society
- c. Critical factors impacting this issue
- d. Possible solutions to be explored in your study
- i. Describe related theories used to explain issue or theories used to propose a solution to the issue
- ii. How were concepts or theoretical constructs defined?
- iii. Describe relevance of major theories used to explain the issue
- i. Overview of relevant empirical studies done to date
- ii. Summary of methodology
- iii. What were the major findings of your study?
- iv. What were limitations raised regarding findings of the study?
- i. Whose concept(s) and definition(s) are you going to borrow or use in your own research (if applicable)?
- ii. Describe unique aspect(s) of issue that you will be examining
- iii. Based on what you read so far, describe method that suits best for your own research
- a. State specific research questions that you are examining
- b. Describe research method – data and information collection process
- c. Justify or provide a rationale - why you chose this specific method
- a. Describe or list major findings
- b. Use tables, charts and graphical illustration to help explain findings
- c. Discuss relevance of findings in light of previous studies
- d. Did any results surprise you? Was there anything that supported previous finding(s)?
- e. What was the main limitation of your study?
- a. A brief recap of issue examined, method used and major finding(s)
- b. Briefly remind readers about original goal of this study and what you accomplished in your research work
- c. Describe how future researchers can expand or build on your work
A research paper outline might be formal or informal. An informal outline (working outline) is a tool helping authors put down and organize their ideas. It is subject to revision, addition and canceling, without paying much attention to form. It helps authors make their key points clear and arrange them.
Sometimes students are asked to submit formal outlines with their research papers. In a formal outline, numbers and letters are used to arrange topics and subtopics. The letters and numbers of the same kind should be placed directly under one another. The topics denoted by their headings and subheadings should be grouped in a logical order.
All points of a research paper outline must relate to the same major topic that you first mentioned in your capital Roman numeral.
Paper Title: An un-presidential rhetoric? A content analysis of Ex-President Obama’s tweets
- a. Power of presidential speech – bully pulpit
- b. Power of the president to set tone and agenda of public conversation
- c. Case of un-presidential speech – Obama is first president to deviate from norms of tone, manner and demeanor of conversation
- d. Study examines manner, tone, and keywords during Obama first term
- e. Justify importance of study
- a. Review of popular theories in political communication: agenda-setting theory, framing theory, etc.
- b. Review of studies done on presidential communication and social media communication: strengths and weaknesses of methodologies used
- c. Identify gaps and areas that should be filled in presidential communication and social media strategy
- a. Use content analysis software: Timeframe is Obama tweets during one-year period
- b. Code and classify them into positive, negative, and neutral language
- c. Manner and keywords used: Formal, informal/slang; attacking, defending, etc.
- a. Describe results of content analysis – use tables to present figures about positive, negative and neutral tone
- b. Present tables about manner: formal, informal, attacking, defending, neutral
- c. How does Obama speech via social media significantly differ from the previous president(s)?
- d. Is there a method to the strategy? Using agenda-setting theory, describe whether media outlets or personalities follow his messaging lead.
- e. Limitation of the study: Content analysis can only describe content but cannot offer in-depth cause-effect or correlations of things or variables.
- a. Study sought to measure tone and nature of presidential speech using content analysis
- b. Study found Obama language is positive, formal, likable and friendly
- c. Study found common keywords used in his tweets (mention common keywords)
Researcher recommends that this study be expanded by using other method to measure perception of presidential tweets such as a random survey of undecided voters Purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. A good outline is the most important step in writing an excellent paper. Check your outline to ensure that points covered flow logically from one to the other. Include in your outline an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. You may create the first outline as a draft and edit it while writing a research paper.
Introduction — State your thesis and purpose of your research paper clearly. What is the chief reason you are writing the paper? State also how you plan to approach your issue. Is this a factual report, a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem? Explain briefly the major points you’ll cover in your paper and why readers should be interested in your theme.
Body — This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. This section is divided into many parts, that may vary, depending on your discipline, teachers’ requirements, etc. Usually, the body comprises a literature review, methodology, analysis, results, and discussion.
Conclusion — Restate or reword your thesis / research question. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this particular conclusion. Why your research is valuable and how acquired results can be used for future researches.
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Organize your notes
Organize materials you have gathered according to your outline. Critically analyze your research data. Using the best available sources, check for accuracy and verify that information is factual, up-to-date, and correct. Opposing views should also be noted if they help support your thesis. This is the most important stage in writing a research paper. Here you’ll analyze, synthesize, sort, and digest info you have gathered and hopefully learn something about your topic which is real purpose of doing a research paper in the first place. You must also effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, insights, and research findings to others through written words as in a report, an essay, a research or term paper, or through spoken words as in an oral or multimedia presentation with audio-visual aids.
Do not include any information that is not relevant to your issue under discussion, and do not include information that you do not understand. Make sure information that you have noted is carefully recorded and in your own words, if possible. Plagiarism is definitely out of question. Document all ideas borrowed or quotes used very accurately. As you classify your notes, jot down detailed bibliographical information for each cited paragraph and have it ready to transfer to your Works Cited page. Devise your own method to organize your materials. One method may be to mark with a different color ink or use a marker to identify sections in your outline, IA3b – meaning that the item “Accessing WWW” belongs in the following location of your outline:
- A. What is the Internet
- b. Accessing WWW
Group your notes following the outline codes you have assigned to your notes, like, IA2, IA3, IA4, etc. This method will enable you to quickly put all your resources in the right place as you systematize your notes according to your outline.
Knowing what is out there – the literature review
Research act in itself is a cumulative process. This means that one is expected to contribute something to the body of knowledge. And because of this expectation, this is where literature review process becomes so helpful in narrowing down and also providing background information about the topic. Engaging in a literature review helps determine what’s already known about problem that you are interested in exploring. No doubt doing a comprehensive literature review will save you time down the road by having clarity about the specific research questions that you want to explore.
- Keyword Internet search. An excellent place to start with a review of related literature is by going online and doing some preliminary search using specific keywords related to topic or your outline. Perhaps a student can begin by looking at general information published on well-known sites and general publications before delving into specific journal articles and academic papers. Although these two receive the highest trust as sources because they are referred to as independent peer-reviewed work. Nevertheless, goal at this stage of the process is really to get that preliminary information.
- Check previous researches. The next step of search process is to look at the work done by credible and respectable organizations about subject matter. What have they found, and what are they sharing and publishing online? Are the research works privately or publicly funded? Are the researchers affiliated with a company or foundation, or do they belong to university research institutions? It is essential to look at sources of funding or potential conflict of interest because the inherent bias in the findings needs to be considered in weighing credibility of research work.
- Visit university library. Now that you have quite a bit of background information to work with, the time has come for you to spend the right amount of effort doing some searching and sleuthing at university libraries. Use research databases to look for journal articles or other primary and first-hand sources about your research topic. This type of library research is the stage where you’ll probably get a lot of information as to the institutions and scholars researching the specific theme (from specialties to sub-specialties) that you are interested in exploring.
- Use academic sources. Remember that peer-reviewed academic journals tend to receive the highest credibility in academic research papers primarily because of the critical and often blind peer-review process, which is gold standard in judging the quality of research work. Furthermore, you’ll be well served if you use some books published by well-known researchers and academics on the topic that you are researching and writing about. If your work gets published or accepted at a conference, you have a good chance of being quoted or cited in subsequent work by other researchers in the area that you are pursuing.
After conducting a thorough lit review, you now have at least a comprehensive background information and understanding of various contours and nuances of your topic. Many of thesis questions that you may have already been answered, and you should have an idea as to where the gaps in knowledge are and what needs to be done to advance inquiry process and therefore contribute to the body on the topic that you have chosen.
The research question(s)
Research questions and research method that you will use to find answers are important because there are specific criteria that might be satisfied for them to be valid. First, your research questions should be specific in scope and timeframe. In scientific research, for example, research questions lend themselves to being measurable using a wide variety of methodology, be they quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.
If your research question, for example, pertains to how individual voters view women candidates for president, perhaps the best method is by doing field interviews or by conducting a phone survey of these voters using a random sampling method. There are many ways that may help you derive answers to your questions. It is crucial, however, to be aware that each method has an inherent set of strengths and weaknesses.
There exist various research paper methods that you may use while preparing information for your paper. Check the most popular methods and decide which suits you better:
- Focus group. It is a great method to use if the goal is to obtain a lot of information from a small group of people without much investment in time and money. Just gathering them in one place (typically up to a dozen people) and asking them to provide insights into your research questions is often enough.
While it is suitable for convenience sake, findings from a focus group method, however, might not necessarily be generalizable to overall population, because participants were selected somewhat arbitrarily. A researcher can only make a valid conclusion or inference about their findings to the general population if everyone or every voter was given an equal chance to be chosen for the study in the form of random sampling.
- Survey. Those conducted using a large sample with participants chosen randomly tend to be viewed highly in the realm of peer-reviewed research. However, it is essential to remember that surveys also have weaknesses because participants might not necessarily give their honest opinion (i.e., giving ‘prestige’ or politically correct answers), and they are influenced by many factors in the way that they answer survey questions.
- Field experiments. Giving a specific group certain things while others experience a different situation these experiments are also employed to find answers to the impact of a treatment or a program on a community. Methods such as content analysis, experiments, direct observation, or participant observations are also conventional methods being used by researchers to find answers to research questions. Every student researcher should be familiar with standard research methods available for use and understand strengths and weaknesses that these methods bring to the study.
A note about replication: In writing the methods section of your research paper, it is crucial to be as precise and detailed about the methodology as possible. Other researchers should replicate the method that you employed to see if they can come up with the same findings that you arrived with. Replication is a critical component in the process of validating results and strengthening body that we have accumulated on specific research topics.
Writing the results, analysis, discussion, and conclusion
After collecting data via research methods part, it is time to make sense of information you have. Results, analysis, discussion, and conclusion section help provide a space for you, as researcher, to interpret findings of your study and juxtapose it with previous findings and potential implications for future research work.
- Results. First, it is important to talk about findings of your study. It is helpful to ask the following questions: Were research questions in your research answered? If you created a series of hypothesis statements (or educated guesses), were they supported or rejected? As well, it’ll be helpful if you provide support for your research findings in the form of tables, graphs, statistical figures, and other visual representations to aid reader in trying to understand and make sense of your data and information.
- Analysis. In conducting analysis, you, as a writer and researcher, will play an important role in interpreting findings of your study to readers. Some thoughts must be provided in the following questions, for example: Are your results significant? Did findings support or reject previous research findings? With available evidence, it behooves you as a researcher to provide context and explain significance of information that you uncovered. It involves comparing and contrasting how your findings hold up against previous findings in similar studies.
- Discussion. After laying out findings and doing analysis, it is only fitting to acknowledge some of the major or minor limitations of your study. Doing this part provides a necessary disclosure and a sense of transparency to the reader in terms of potential weakness or weaknesses of your research. Doing this part might even help future researchers design new methods as a way to deal with or solve the limitations of your study.
- Conclusion. This section provides a chance for writer to summarize and tie everything together into a coherent narrative. A summary typically touches on the main points beginning with the main research question, methods employed, results, including findings. Conclusion section gives way for readers to remember the gist of your study. This section is especially helpful when readers don’t have enough time or when they are doing preliminary research and are trying to assess your research paper content quickly.
The process of writing a research paper
Flow and organization are two of the most important elements of writing. This means that your research paper must be structured well in such a way that every content element or sections that you write contribute to an overall message or an overarching theme. Often, it is helpful to write a simple one-sentence thesis statement stating what your research is all about. As you write, thesis statement helps serve as a reminder and as a compass to what are you trying to achieve with research paper.
It is smart to create a comprehensive outline with thesis statement to help with the clarity and article’s organization. For it to be helpful, your outline should indicate the sections that you want to cover in the research paper. For each section, use some bullet point statements to guide and remind you what you should say or what ideas you should express in that particular section. A good outline allows researcher to work in chunks (especially when you have flow in your thinking), and it helps prevent you as a writer from getting overwhelmed by the whole task. It is highly recommended that researchers write in bursts of time, typically two to three hours at a time, to maximize energy and focus.
Remember, as is true in any piece of writing, a good research paper is the one that is finished. Perfection and procrastination are enemy of good in writing process. Be sure to have enough discipline to dedicate time, a regular schedule, for doing the writing regardless of whether you have ‘writer’s block’ or not. This is the only way that you’ll meet deadline and complete project.
Write your first draft
Start with the first topic in your research paper outline. Read all relevant notes you have gathered that have been marked, example, with the Roman numeral I. Summarize, paraphrase or quote directly for each idea you plan to use in your essay. Use a technique that suits you, for example, write summaries, paraphrases or quotations on note cards, or separate sheets of lined paper. Before you know it, you have a well-organized term paper completed exactly as outlined.
After you have completed draft, it is worthy to remind everyone that a first draft is never perfect. You would go through at least three reviews and iterations making sure it follows thesis before it can be ready for submission. Consider asking somebody, a friend, or a professional to read your draft and help you identify some gaps or passages that reader has difficulty understanding. Also, be sure you put the draft aside, get some fresh air or do something else for a few hours before going back and reading it again.
After the draft – reviewing your work
Here are some useful tips that every student should follow while working on research paper draft. It is better to check all aspects twice and submit an excellent paper for grading.
Read your paper for any content errors. Double-check facts and figures. Arrange and rearrange ideas to follow your outline format. Reorganize your outline if necessary, but always keep your paper’s purpose and your readers in mind.
- Is my thesis statement concise and clear?
- Did I follow my outline? Did I miss anything?
- Are my arguments presented in a logical sequence?
- Are all sources properly cited to ensure that I am not plagiarizing?
- Have I proved my thesis with strong supporting arguments?
- Have I made my intentions and points clear in essay?
Re-read your paper for grammatical errors. Use a dictionary or a thesaurus as needed. Do a spell check. Correct all errors that you spot and improve overall paper’s quality to the best of your ability. Get someone else to read it over. Sometimes only a second pair of eyes is managed to see mistakes that you missed.
- Did I begin each paragraph with a proper topic sentence?
- Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
- Any run-on or unfinished sentences?
- Any unnecessary or repetitious words?
- Varying lengths of sentences?
- Does one paragraph or idea flow smoothly into the next?
- Any spelling or grammatical errors?
- Are quotes accurate in source, spelling, and punctuation?
- Are all my citations accurate and in correct format?
- Did I avoid using contractions? Use “cannot” instead of “can’t”, “do not” instead of “don’t”?
- Did I use third person as much as possible? Avoid using phrases such as “I think”, “I guess”, “I suppose”
- Have I made my points clear and interesting but remained objective?
- Did I leave a sense of completion for my reader(s) at the end of the paper?
Use “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk
For an excellent source on English composition, check out this classic book by William Strunk, Jr. on the Elements of Style. Contents include Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders: Place yourself in the background, Revise and rewrite, Avoid fancy words, Be clear, Do not inject opinion, Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity, and much more. Details of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. partially available online.
Apply correct citation and formatting
There is also a particular formatting style you must follow. It depends on the field of your studies or requirements of your University supervisor. There are several formatting styles typically used. The most commonly used are APA style and MLA style. However, there are such style guides as, Harvard, Chicago Manual of Style, American Medical Association (AMA) Style, APSA (American Political Science Association), ASA (American Sociological Association), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and more. Check informative style guides before completing formatting.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is mostly used to cite sources within social sciences field. The detailed information is in Publication Manual of American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used for liberal arts and humanities. The most recent printed guide on it is MLA Handbook (8th ed.). Instead of providing individual recommendations for each publishing format (printed, online, e-books, etc.), this edition recommends a single universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any kind of source. Also, remember to use parenthetical citations for MLA research paper format correctly.
Tools for research paper help
After you’ve done your review and did a few rounds of iterations for your research report, it is time to subject your paper to copy editing. Thanks to artificial intelligence-driven (AI) sites, copy editing is no longer such an expensive and onerous task. And professional copy editing can be done free of charge with the set of tools that can be found online.
Grammar checkers offer a chance to scan paper and find spelling mistakes, lexical or grammar issues. Even if paper’s content is good, misspelled words and errors in tenses may result in a low grade that will be very disappointing.
Plagiarism checkers provide excellent service such as text scan to make sure that your paper did not miss any crucial citation or did not fail to give credit to specific quotations and passages. Plagiarism is a plague that must be avoided at all costs. Researchers must take great care in giving credit where credit is due. Doing otherwise may lead to not only failing grades but also ruined careers and reputations.
Citation generators. Writing the research report, researchers should follow certain conventions of citing other people’s work in final paper of the study. The most common citation styles include American Psychological Society (APA), Harvard Citation, Chicago Manual of Style, and a few others that can be easily generated with help of free tools. Use it to transform one citation style to another. This is especially helpful if you are trying to submit your research report for peer-review or publication consideration with various publication outlets prescribing different citation styles.
Title page generators. A title page is the first thing your professor sees upon grading research paper. So, it should be formatted perfectly. Many college students find it difficult to memorize all indents, title case letters, and spaces that are specific for each standard. Use a generator to create title pages and format your citations in APA, MLA, Chicago and other styles.
When you have a research report ready, it is time to submit it for publication consideration or for peer-review for a potential presentation at a conference. It is important for researcher to read and follow carefully prescribed editorial guidelines of publication that you are submitting it to. Not following guidelines could prove detrimental — rejection of otherwise solid research work.
Some words of encouragement
Writing a research paper need not be a daunting and frustrating task. There is a set formula that a student or researcher follows to succeed with this scholarly endeavor. The best place to start with this process is to think about the topics that you are passionate about. Being invested and motivated in subject goes a long way in producing a strong quality research paper.
Next is to conduct a thorough literature review to see what’s already been done in the area that you are interested in doing research. This process helps you narrow your scope and will help set you up for success in finding the niche contribution that you want to achieve in doing the research. Finally, it is important to create a guiding thesis statement and an outline where you may work in chunks without losing the big picture and with a clear understanding as to how each element of paper contributes to flow and a strong organization of your final document.
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