How to Write a Research Paper: 10 Steps Resources

Academic Databases

Your instructor may require you to use peer-reviewed academic articles as some or all of the sources for your research paper. As a college student, you probably have access to a number of academic databases that you can use to find scholarly articles.

If you are unsure of how to search for articles in an academic database, it’s worth asking your professor or a research librarian to help you learn. This skill will be a useful one to have, and you will be easily finding trustworthy, interesting sources in no time.


If you are crafting a paper from scratch, start by reading through the above steps to learn how to write a strong research paper. If you have already written a paper, go over this checklist to ensure that it is ready to turn in.

  • Does your paper fulfill all of the requirements that the assignment asked for? (If not, or if you are unsure, look back at Step 1.)
  • Did you stick to a topic that fits the assignment? (Reference Step two as you think through topic selection.)
  • Are your sources credible, reliable, and logical? (Look at Steps three and four for help reflecting on your research.)
  • Do you have a clear, arguable thesis statement? (For help with thesis statements, take a look at Step 5.)
  • Is your paper organized in a logical way that is easy to understand? (When thinking about outline and structure, see Step 6.)
  • Did you plagiarize? (If you have any doubts, check out Step 7.)
  • Did you proofread for content and grammar improvements and errors? (See Steps eight and nine for more information about proofreading and editing.)
  • Is your paper properly formatted? (See Step one and check out the resources section for information about being sure your paper is formatted correctly.)
  • Are you prepared to submit correctly? (Read Step 10 for a few last pieces of advice before you turn in your research paper.)

Last Updated: September 18, 2018

Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself

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    • 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

    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

    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

    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?
    • 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.

    We’ll break down the writing process into easy steps to help you understand how to write a research paper fast no matter how long it must be.

    Start writing an intro. The introductory paragraph should begin with an attention grabber that may be:

     ★ a provocative question;

     ★ statistics;

     ★ an anecdote;

     ★ unusual facts, etc.

    You are writing an academic paper but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Next, you need to provide the background information, explain your goals, and how you plan to approach your research paper topic.

    Your outline will help you to complete this part of your paper. But you shouldn’t think that you must strictly follow it. It may evolve and you are free to revise it and make changes. The key thing is to stay on your track and focus on your thesis. You should provide your points and support your main idea.

    Start each body paragraph with a topic sentence and provide arguments and relevant evidence to support it. You should write as many body paragraphs as you have the key points.

    Most research papers end with restarting their thesis statements. You can also do it but you shouldn’t repeat it word for word. Paraphrase it or summarize the key points of your paper. You may emphasize the significance of your findings as well.

    Your rough draft is ready. Wondering what to do next? Go on reading to find some tips on how to revise your research paper.

    No one can write their first draft perfectly. So, if you want to make a good impression on your professor and earn a high grade, you should revise your draft to make sure that your project is on point.


    Grammarly is like a super-powered spell checker. It’s a free Chrome extension that allows you to edit your writing. You can copy and paste your paper into the Grammarly editor and get spelling and grammar advice that is easy to implement.

    If you’re looking for additional help or want to use the software without leaving Microsoft Office, check out Grammarly Premium or Grammarly for Microsoft Office. However, it’s important to remember when using this software (or any spelling or grammar checker!

    ) that it is a computer and therefore doesn’t always understand your writing. You need to go over each suggestion made by the software and make sure that it is indeed correcting an error or improving a sentence and not changing something that you meant to say.

    OWL at Purdue

    This is not a nocturnal bird that lives at a university in Indiana, but rather the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University. This online resource offers a number of helpful writing materials, including information on how to cite sources, grammar rules, choosing a topic, and even how to write a research paper.

    Research Librarians

    Another often-overlooked resource is the research librarian. Did you know that, in addition to tons of books and online materials, college and university libraries often have staff whose job it is to help answer your questions?

    Research librarians specialize in research (it might sound obvious, but take a second to get excited about how much this could help you and your research paper!). These librarians usually specialize in particular fields and subjects, so you can get specific, expert help that pertains to your topic.

    Step 4. Make a Good Outline

    This may sound obvious, but it’s very important to understand what your teacher or professor is asking for before you start writing your research paper. Many students skip this step, and then wonder why they receive a low grade on a paper they worked hard on or were excited about. It’s often because they didn’t read the instructions.

    Spend time going over the assignment. Look at everything your instructor has provided you with. Carefully read the writing assignment, prompts, grading rubric, or any other materials you’ve received. It might even be helpful to highlight and take notes on the assignment.

    Take time to understand exactly what you are being asked to write and how you will be graded on it. And if you aren’t sure, ask! Ask your teacher for clarification before you even pick a topic. That way, you will be sure you are on the right track.

    Once you understand what you’re being asked to write in your research paper, it’s time to decide what to write about. This can be daunting, but don’t get too bent out of shape. It can be very helpful to write about something you’re interested in or passionate about, but don’t worry about choosing the perfect topic.

    In many cases, a controversial topic can be ideal, so that you can exercise your ability to objectively explain differing positions, and even defend one if the assignment calls for that.

    Use the guidelines given by your instructor to help pick your paper topic. If you have a topic that you love, but you’re having trouble fitting it into the guidelines, choose another topic. It will be easier on you in the long run to write about a topic that fits the assignment.

    It’s important to be engaged in the topic you’re writing about it, but you don’t have to love it. It’s also good to realize that you can use this research writing assignment as an opportunity to learn about something new.

    And now what you have been waiting for — research! This step is pretty flexible; different people will research for a paper in different ways. However, it’s important to stay focused and move pretty quickly. After all, you still have to write your research paper.

    Several key things to remember as you research are: 1) skim, 2) find reliable resources, and 3) don’t ignore information.

    First off, skimming. You don’t have to read in-full everything ever written about your topic. In fact, you probably can’t. Get comfortable reading through things quickly. Learn how to identify key points and arguments without getting bogged down and reading every word.

    Next, find reliable resources. Although this may run contrary to what you’ve been told, you can use Wikipedia to write a research paper. But, you cannot use that as a final source. You can use general sources like Wikipedia to get familiar with a topic, find keywords that can further drive your research, and quickly understand large amounts of information. But, for the information you use in your paper, you have to find reliable resources.

    Take what you have learned from a Google search or Wikipedia article and dig deeper. Check out the sources on the article, use keywords from your internet search to search an academic database, or ask an expert whether or not what you learned is valid and if it is, where you can find a reliable source stating the same thing.

    Finally, don’t ignore information. You can find an article that says anything you want it to say. Did researchers recently discover that octopus DNA is made of alien DNA from outer space? Are the spires on the Cinderella Castle at Disney World removable in case of a hurricane?

    Did a cook attempt to assassinate George Washington by feeding him poisoned tomatoes? You can find articles testifying that all three of the previous claims are true; however, when you dig deeper, it’s clear that they’re not.

    Work to understand all of the different viewpoints and schools of thought on your topic. This can be done by reading a variety of articles, reading a book or article that gives an overview of the topic and incorporates different points of view, or talking to an expert who can explain the topic in depth.

    So you have all of this information, now what to do with it? Step four is all about getting organized. Like research, different people have different preferences here. It can also depend on your assignment.

    If your teacher requires you to turn in a bibliography with your research paper (think back to step #1; you ought to already know exactly what the assignment is by now!), create a bibliography that meets the requirements for the paper.

    If you are just making one just for yourself, think about how you would like to organize your research. It might make sense to bookmark resources on your web browser or make a digital bibliography that allows you to link the resources you found.

    You might prefer a printed list of your resources or you might want to write down all you have learned that is relevant to your project on notecards or sticky notes and organize your research paper on a table or the floor.

    Now that you understand what you’ve been asked to do, have chosen a topic that fits the assignment, and have researched and organized that research, you’re ready to articulate your own opinion, argument, or assertion.

    Even if you aren’t arguing for or against anything, your paper needs a thesis. A thesis is a short statement that you — as researcher and author — put forward for the readers of your paper as what you are trying to explain or prove.

    A starting point when writing a thesis might be to write a one-sentence answer to the question: what is your paper about? The answer might be something like the following examples:

    • My paper explains the relationship between dogs and humans.
    • It’s about university policies on freshman living on campus.
    • I wrote about views on marriage in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

    See, that wasn’t so hard. But, what is important to remember, is that this is just a starting point. Many students stop right there, and then don’t understand why their instructor graded them poorly on their thesis statement.

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