Step-by-Step Tips to Writing a Research Paper: Basic Guide

Page content

Covering the Basics

All students at some point in their education will have to write a research paper. This could be a term paper on the causes of the Civil War, a persuasive essay on the benefits of using solar power or an analytical piece arguing for the legalization of marijuana. Whatever the case, writing a research paper shows you how to find information and use it to support your point of view on a particular topic. Below are some basic tips to help get you started.

Plan Your Time

Because research papers require many tasks such as selecting a thesis, finding sources, and writing drafts, you’ll need ample time to plan. Teachers know this, which is why they assign it several weeks before it’s due. Pace yourself by assigning a deadline to complete each part of the project. For example, if the research paper is due 10 weeks out, allow the first week or two for brainstorming a topic and applying your point of view (your thesis). Use the next week for collecting source material to support that thesis and use the following weeks for writing and editing your paper. To keep on task, post a calendar next to your laptop or in your notebook and check off each section as you complete it.

Select a Topic and Thesis

For some students, choosing what to say about a topic can be more difficult than writing the paper. Some teachers provide a list of possible topics or a writing prompt to get you started. Select a topic that you are interested in or one you know something about. This will make it easier to develop a point of view or thesis about that topic. This way, you can build on what you already know and use sources to back up this point of view. Don’t be tempted to dive into research without first deciding on a workable thesis - otherwise you’ll be inundated with information and your paper will have no real focus.

Gather Resources

Once you have a thesis, you can start gathering resources to support it. Your public library can provide books, academic periodicals and commercial magazines for you to check out, copy or print. If most of your research is web-based, use reputable sources for information - websites that end in .gov, .org., or .edu. are government agencies and education institutions and are more reliable and accurate than commercial websites and blogs. Google scholar offers access to professional journals online with abstracts or summaries of articles. You can also type in keywords with .doc or .ppt for word documents or Powerpoint slide shows on your topic. Remember to also spell keywords correctly or your search will yield few results.

Start Writing

Do all your pre-writing first. Make a web-chart highlighting key points you want to cover. For example, if you’re doing a paper on the causes of childhood obesity, write out possible reasons extending from that topic such as inactivity, junk food, genetic reasons, etc. If your theme favors genetic reasons as the primary cause for obesity, then start gathering facts from your research to support this. Note on an index card each supportive fact you find with its source. Once you have primary facts to back up your thesis, start writing. If it’s difficult to write a lead paragraph, begin with your thesis statement - even if you plan to put it in the middle paragraphs. Your first and second draft will be far from perfect and more about organizing your content then writing. Expect to revise your copy several times. Check for appropriate margin spaces and word count (it’s always easier to pare down a paper than flesh it out which may require additional research!) Then do a final review for correcting spelling and grammar.

Credit Your Sources

Find out from your teacher the preferred method for citing sources. Many teachers request their students put bibliographies at the end using the Modern Languages Association (MLA) Handbook for Writer’s Research Papers as a guide for annotating sources. If you use web sources, it is helpful to post the website’s URL address as well as the date accessed.