Your Ultimate Guide for How to Write a Research Paper

More times than many students can count they’ve found themselves searching terms online like “write my paper for me” and “how to write a research paper example”. Don’t worry, it’s entirely understandable! Even the most seasoned student knows that the term research paper is often synonymous with challenging.

What is a Research Paper and How to Tackle It

Getting started on a research paper can be an overwhelming task. Whether it’s the complex topic or the multitude of steps of a research paper, even beginning to write can be harder than expected.

Thankfully, resources like ours exist to facilitate the process and ensure you not only meet your deadline, but also deliver a solid and compelling paper. By breaking down some key tips and truly understanding what a research paper is you’ll find that it does not have to be so overwhelming. Over the course of this article we will define a research paper, provide advice, and ensure you walk away ready to tackle the challenge of any paper.

To begin, let’s discuss the 8 steps to writing a foolproof research paper every time.

Select the Topic You Will Focus on While Writing a Research Paper

This step, more often than not, will be guided by the assignment instructions you receive from your professor. For example, you may be required to focus on one topic area or even be provided with a thesis.

However, there are other times when a subject choice is a lot broader and you, the writer, are required to narrow the scope and select your topic. It’s important to think critically about what topic you choose because while you can change it at a later time, it can often require backtracking and result in spending more time overall on writing a paper.

The bottom line here is to understand that while meeting assignment requirements is important, so too is selecting a topic that matters to you and can provide valuable insight to those reading it. So, as crazy as it sounds, try to have fun with this! Be creative and select a topic you feel like you can stick with for a while.

Take Stock of Existing Resources

You may be surprised to find that there is either a ton of information or none at all on the topic you have decided to go with on your research paper. This may either lead you back to the drawing board or let you know that you’ve made a good decision. Having a wealth of existing resources can serve as a major head start and source of assistance.

A good way to find resources is to conduct a broad search online and then filter down the subject using key words and advanced search methods. Additionally, going to a local library or records office can be a great way to discover primary resources in your community. Make sure to keep track of resources you want to include in your paper along the way. It’s a great idea at this stage to be as organized as possible and label research for the next step where you will analyze all the valuable materials you have collected.

Analyze the Resources and the Key Takeaways

Now that you’ve done the hard work of collecting and compiling the resources you want to use, it’s time to dig in and see how they can help write a research paper. As you analyze the materials you have collected, keep in mind the question that you are trying to answer with your research. Additionally, make sure to remind yourself of your target audience. There can be an abundance of information at this stage, but now is the time to pare it down and see what makes the cut.

As you review, highlight and take notes as you analyze resources so you have easy reference points when writing your paper, as this will save you time in the long run. As you go through this process, it’s not a bad idea to also check the credibility and biases of the sources, to make sure they are worth including in an academic paper.

Write Your Thesis Statement

This step is the one that often trips students up the most. Yet, in reality, it can be fun and easy if you just follow some simple advice. A thesis statement typically takes a strong stance regarding a topic. Other times, the thesis may just provide an overarching statement about the topic you are planning to cover and serve as a preview for what the reader should expect in your paper.

Now that you’ve had the chance to select and narrow down your topic, with the guidance of research, formulate one strong thesis statement. Your statement should be decisive, informative, and express one main idea. This is a good time to be specific in discussing the themes your paper will address. This lets the reader know whether or not the information will pertain to them, and often is the reason they will decide to read your paper. Make sure to follow any assignment guidance for writing your thesis to ensure you abide by what your professor has asked.

Create an Outline for Your Paper

This is the time to start creating an outline for your paper. While it can be tempting to skip this step and dive right in, having an outline allows creativity to flow and for an outlet when you feel stuck or hit with a bout of writer’s block.

The outline can start very broad with maybe just a general layout of the paper including title, number of paragraphs, conclusion, and the sources. From there, you can decide what you want each paragraph to be about and sprinkle in key details you want to reference and where they should go in the paper.

Unless there is a specific outline assignment or template from your professor, remember that an outline is not an exact science. Use this as a means of getting organized so that once you start writing you have a point of reference for your progress and direction.

Start Writing and Filling in the Blanks

At last, you get to start actually writing the paper. If you’ve followed the guidelines above, you should not be staring at a blank page at this point. This is relieving because you really have already made significant progress, and now you get to fill in the blanks.

It’s a good idea to minimize distractions as you write and consider the appropriate voice for your paper and the tone you want to use to address your target audience. While grammar and syntax do matter, try to focus less on those elements at this stage and prioritize getting the words on paper. There will be time for review after this first initial draft and you can supplement your paper with sources along the way.

Also, don’t be afraid to include ideas you aren’t sure will work out in the end. This is a first draft! If you feel inspired, include it, you can always take it out or modify it later.

Get Feedback and Apply Corrections

Now that your first draft is on paper, it’s time to get some feedback. Start by scanning your paper and reading it through while attempting to imagine yourself as a reader. Are any parts unclear? Do you have grammatical or syntax errors? Does it feel like something is missing? These are all key questions to ask as you scan your first draft and seek to improve.

After implementing any obvious edits, seek out peers to get their feedback on their paper. Let them know what type of feedback you are looking for and make sure you keep an open mind when asking their advice. Many resources exist today for sharing and tracking edits to documents. If you have any doubts about what has been requested, simply follow up respectfully. As time goes on and you get a few extra sets of eyes on your paper, make relevant changes that will shape your final draft.

Review Your Final Paper and Double Check Your Sources

While you may almost be tired of looking at your paper at this point, it’s important to give it a thorough final review before turning it in or publishing it. Review your paper in its state and make sure the message is clear and the tone is consistent. By this point, there should be no glaring errors, but feel free to run it through a spell/grammar checking program for ease of mind.

While we will dive into this more in the next section, this is also a great time to check that you have cited all areas of your paper that are not in your own words and are not your original ideas. Check these sources, ensure they are included throughout, and review the citation page for your document. While it may seem excessive, plagiarism can pose a serious academic issue even when not intentional. Taking the extra time to check sources can save you a lot of turmoil in the long run and ensure your paper is taken seriously.

Take the Guesswork Out of Properly Citing Sources

One of the most daunting parts of writing your research paper can be ensuring proper citation of sources. Not only does this bolster the integrity of your finished product, but it also ensures you will not face any consequences of plagiarism. Additionally, learning proper citation can also instill a foundation for future research papers and make the process go more smoothly. In the following section, we will review some key recommendations for citations. While it may be overwhelming at first, standardization has come a long way and with due diligence, you can learn how to accomplish this task in no time.

Follow these recommendations to make including citations in your paper a breeze!

Understand the Citation Requirements

Before you get started writing citations for your research paper, make sure you clarify what the person assigning the paper is requesting regarding citation format. There are a variety of approved citation formats that range in style and credibility. These styles have evolved throughout the years and some professors can be more particular than others regarding which style is used and how closely the writer adheres to said style.

Once you’ve established what style the person assigning the paper wants to use, make sure you understand not only how to cite these sources in bibliography but also throughout the paper. The citations throughout the paper are also commonly referred to as in text citations. Determine the information required and note it down somewhere easily accessible, this will make it easier to quickly gather the source information so you do not have to duplicate efforts once you’ve finished the paper.

Leverage Online Resources Whenever Possible

In the past, professors have recommended against using online citation engines due to their tendency to include errors, but technology and programming has evolved quite a lot over the last few years. These citation engines can be a great starting point for creating your bibliography. When in doubt, review them for errors against formal materials on the citation guides.

The great news is that even the official websites covering a lot of these citation requirements are now including their own engines that you can trust. Of course it is worth time to review what is generated, but this can be great if you feel overwhelmed by user error and starting the task with little to no guidance. Additionally, these sites often provide articles explaining the reasoning behind the citation requirements and providing more insight on what to do in unique situations when information for the source is either missing or unclear. Feel free to lean on them when citing to ensure you are providing credit where it is due throughout your research paper.

When in Doubt, Include More Information,Not Less

When it comes to source citation, there can be a lot of pressure to follow an assigned format to exact detail with little error, but don’t let this methodical approach cause you to shy away from including sources when appropriate. While sources can influence original ideas, any time an idea is directly from someone else, it’s critical that you sight it. A good mantra to remember is that if you have any doubt, you should be citing a source.

Remember, you don’t have to include a source every single sentence. If a paragraph encompasses an idea heavily influenced or owned by another source, you can add the citation at the end to be clear that the idea influenced that whole paragraph. The bottom line is to be as honest as possible and lean on the side of heavy citations. It may seem distracting throughout the text, but the reality is professors are used to this and would rather that you over cite than unintentionally steal from a source!

Ask a Peer to Double Check Your Work

While you alone are responsible for the research paper you deliver, that doesn’t mean you are alone in the entire process of writing this paper. More often than not, the professor will even encourage cooperating with peers as you write and iterate on this paper. Citations are notorious for being intimidating, which means that if you are nervous, there’s a good chance you are too. Combining mental resources can make this process less painful and develop a more accurate end result!

A great way to start with this process, is to compare your citations with your peers’ side by side. Even though the sources themselves may be different, this is a great way to see if the format is lining up at a very granular level. It can also put another set of eyes on your citations, which can begin to become mundane when you’ve been staring at them yourself for too long. At the very least, working with a peer can’t hurt and can result in catching errors that could have an impact on your final grade.

Don’t be Afraid to Clarify Expectations With Your Professor

While professors do their best to be clear in their syllabus and assignment information, it’s impossible for them to anticipate every qualm and question that may arise. Even with the aforementioned resources online for generating citations and considering unique scenarios, situations may arise where you may need clarification from your professor. It can be intimidating, but asking a question may make the difference in your final grade.

The worst case scenario is you don’t get an answer, but the more likely case is that you can get clarification and modify your paper to make your citation more accurate and impactful. Plus, you may help your grade in the long run. Professors teach because they care about both students and the subject, so while your question may feel nagging or mundane, it likely fulfills them to help out and ensure you comprehend the assignment.

Use Consistency Throughout Your Paper and Bibliography

A simple, but often overlooked, recommendation is to just make sure you’re being consistent. Review and understand the required approach for your paper, and stick with it! As you review your paper for syntax and grammatical issues, make reviewing citation consistency a standard element you review and ensure is accurate.

This applies not only to in text citations, but to the bibliography as well. Elements as specific as punctuation, capitalization, spacing and more can be the parts that make or break your final grade on your paper. Plus the consistency adds to the overall validity and professional appeal of the final result. You will be glad you spent a few extra seconds or minutes in the long run to avoid lingering errors you may regret in the end. You have heard it before and will likely hear it again: consistency is key! So keep it in mind as you write, as you review, and when you deliver the final product.

Double Check the Validity and Biases of Your Sources

You can have perfectly formatted, spaced, and typed citations but still fall short if your sources are not considered valid by the academic community. With more information available at our fingertips than ever, online links and scams have been formulated to look like reliable information. Always ensure that when you’re including an academic source that it comes from a legitimate site. Typically these sites have suffixes such as “.edu” or “.gov” rather than the standard “.com”.

Additionally, consider the entire source and what its message and origin are. If you are writing a paper that compares viewpoints, feel free to pull from multiple extremes. However, if you are looking for a holistic, unbiased paper, make sure your source material is just that. Often, you can check the author and overall site to see if there are biases. Don’t panic if there is a slight sway, just make sure to appropriately address that in your paper and ensure your message stays consistent and professional.

Look at Your Sources Holistically

When it comes to including sources throughout your paper, you want to ensure you do not heavily rely on one source but rather incorporate a variety of academic resources that bolster the validity of one another. Even if a source says something entirely different than another one, you should make sure they are presented with appropriate importance and pay special attention to the order in which you introduce and prioritize these sources.

While you must credit the sources you use, give yourself credit as well. Research papers that are already out there can get your wheels turning, but you also may come up with entirely unique ideas based on careful review and inclusion of these sources. In fact, this is where the magic of a really great research paper happens. Going the extra mile to ensure you have a great pool of research to draw from is worth the time spent given its overall impact on the solid foundation of your assignment.

Let’s Answer the Question of How to Start a Research Paper

With all that we’ve gone over, you may be excited to hit the ground running. Honestly, you probably are! We have gone over most of the essentials regarding writing your research paper and citing sources. Plus, we have included details on formulating a thesis, which is traditionally found at the beginning of your paper.

Yet, starting this process can be daunting. So we want to review five key tips for starting your paper before we go any further. In the following section we will discuss what you should have when you arrive at the starting line of your project.

Follow these tips for the perfect start to your academic paper.

Make Your Research Paper Topic Clear

Your top priority for starting your research paper should be to introduce the topic. All else aside, this is the most important thing for the reader to know so that they can quickly scan and decide if this paper is relevant to them, and if they should continue to read. While a topic can seem extremely broad, you should challenge yourself to summarize in it a concise yet effective manner. After all is said and done, you have the entire paper to go on about this topic! So, don’t get ahead of yourself, but do make sure you are clear and upfront about what the paper concerns.

Provide Any Relevant Context or Historical Information

Just as existing resources can offer help writing a research paper, your inclusion of context can also help set the stage for your reader. Keep in mind that even if this is for an assignment, you need to develop a paper that is digestible and impactful for all levels of readers. Take a moment at the beginning of your paper to truly set the stage for where things are in the present with your topic and why now is the time to be discussing this. This also serves as a great time and opportunity to define any key terms or clarify why you are approaching the topic the way that you are in light of any background or historical information.

Tell the Reader Why This Topic is Important

Now that you’ve got your reader’s attention, it is on you to keep that focus going! Sure, your professor may have to read the paper to grade it, but why not make the experience educational and impactful? Also, keep in mind that your paper may some day go beyond the desk of your professor. Write as though anyone in the world could see this and you want your paper to educate them and inform their perspectives on this topic from here on out. Clearly articulate and define the importance of the topic and why you want to write on it and a professional manner.

Lay Out a Clear Guideline

Just like you created an outline for yourself before writing your paper, you should create a guideline for the reader as they embark on the journey of reading it. Use signposting to let them know what topics will be covered and the general flow of what they should expect.

Not only does this aid in comprehension of your paper, but it can also boost reader interest if a particular point later in the paper is one they’re looking forward to learning more about. Plus, it is very common for professors to require and grade on this being a part of your paper; so it’s really a win-win!

Establish Your Tone

From the get-go, you need to make the tone of your paper clear because, ideally, it should be used throughout the entire document. Whether your paper is strictly informative or taking a very controversial stance, you should establish your voice as a writer upfront and ensure that the voice does not interfere with the educational value and integrity of your research and the paper’s message. If you have doubts about the tone, ask a peer to read it and give their perception just as we advised in the previous sections. You may find out you sound right on point or that you may need to make some adjustments.

Let’s Discuss What NOT to Do

While you can try your very best to follow every single guideline and create a perfectly compelling paper, there are often simple mistakes that many students fall victim to when constructing their research paper. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this next section we will go over five key things to avoid when writing your research paper to ensure not only that you get a solid great but that your research paper really hits the mark for your target audience. Keep reading to discover what not to do as you go through the process.

These guidelines are essential for knowing what NOT to do when writing your paper.

Stealing Ideas or Quotes

While it may seem like we have harped on this idea nonstop, that is because the importance of avoiding plagiarism cannot be overstated. If you find yourself questioning if an idea or phrase truly belongs to you, it’s likely that you need to cite your source. This simple tip can save you enormous amounts of frustration and heartache later. So, when in doubt, cite your sources. The worst case scenario is you over-cited, which honestly is not a real thing.

Neglecting a Clear Order of Research Paper

While it can be tempting to cut corners and speed up the research paper, do not neglect creating a clear outline for your paper. The order of your paper creating an appropriate flow sets the tone for the reader and ensures it is easy to follow and does its job which is to present research in a meaningful way. By taking the time to make an order not only for yourself, but also the reader, you are ensuring your research paper does its job and gets its message across to the intended audience. So, please don’t skip this step!

Overlooking Simple Mistakes

In the rush to get your paper done with or turn it in by the deadline, it can be tempting to avoid a final reread for grammatical or spelling issues. However, do not skip this step. Errors like these, as small as they may seem, can make a huge difference when it comes to the perceived professionalism of your paper. By running your paper through a programming tool or having a peer review it, you can prevent issues like this and make sure you don’t lose points or the trust of your reader in your professionalism.

Taking Controversial Stances Without Evidence

If you have been tasked with taking a stance on one side or another regarding your research topic, by all means do make this stance clear and commit to it. However, the key is to avoid doing so without sufficient evidence to back up your claims Particularly, if you are on an extreme end of the spectrum, evidence is more important than ever to ensure your readers are open minded when it comes to hearing what you have to say and believing in your credibility throughout. So make sure to keep this in mind and use reliable sources to solidify these claims.

Using Inconsistent Tone or Voice

As readers, humans are dialed in to recognize a voice of an author. When the tone changes, even slightly, this change can be very jarring and distract from the overall educational value of the paper. Make sure you keep a consistent tone and have this tone vetted by others when you write research papers. Not only will this help your existing paper, but it will make you more comfortable on the whole and help establish your voice as an author for any papers you may write in the future.