Writing a Research Paper: The Definitive Guide

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Writing a Research Paper

Every college student faces the need to write at least one research paper before their graduation.

When it comes to the process of writing a good research paper, you should know that it can be pretty challenging.

This article can be really helpful for you.

Here, you can find the main steps you should follow if you want to write a good and really effective paper so you can get a good great.

Also, in this article, you can find a list of resources you can use while writing your research paper.

Moreover, we’ve prepared for you a checklist that will help you make sure that your work is really great.

Despite being a challenging process, writing a research paper just requires some practice.

In any case, it is an important part of higher education and you need to make sure that you are ready for it.

This guide walks you through everything you need to do to write an effective, impactful research paper . . . and get the good grade you’re after!

The Process

There are some steps that are required in case you want to write an excellent research paper.

These steps cover all the important stages of research paper writing.

Step 1: Learn Everything about the Assignment

It is clear but you need to start with revealing your teacher or prof requirements and expectations before starting your research paper.

Many students, unfortunately, completely forget about this point and as a result, get a low grade even if they’ve worked really hard on their paper.

It happens because they didn’t read the requirements and instructions properly.

First of all, you need to look through the assignment and learn all the instructions properly.

Read attentively the assignment as well as a grading rubric, prompts and any other provided materials.

Also, it can be very useful if you highlight some of the most important points and take some notes.

Make sure, you’ve understood everything properly including the way your paper will be graded.

If you have some doubts ask your teacher to explain and clarify the aspects you don’t understand as soon as possible.

Ir will help you to make sure that you are going the right way.

Step 2: Pick a Topic

After you’ve properly studied your assignment, it’s time to think about its topic.

It is a hard step but, try not to go too hard and choose something extraordinary.

It is better to choose something you are interested in or passionate about instead of choosing an absolutely perfect topic.

One other great option is a controversial topic so you can show your ability to explain various positions objectively and even defend one of them if needed.

Picking the topic, use your teacher’s guidelines.

In other words, if the topic you like doesn’t fit the requirements, choose something else.

The more your topic fits the assignment the easier it will be to you to write it properly.

Which means that you aren’t obliged to choose the topic you like just consider it as an opportunity to learn something new.

You may know almost nothing about your topic but in the end, you’ll be a real expert in it.

Step 3: Research

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Now, it’s time for the most important part of your work – research!

It is a flexible part of your work as you can choose the way to do it that fits you most of all.

Nevertheless, keep your focus and work steadily and quickly as you still need to write your paper and present the results of your research.

There are some aspects you need to keep in mind while writing your paper:

  • skim;
  • use reliable resources;
  • don’t ignore the information.

When it comes to skimming, you aren’t obliged to read all the information ever written about your topic.

To say the truth, you won’t even be able to do it.

You need to learn how to read info quickly while identifying the key aspects that can be useful for you.

Try not to bog down and try to catch every word.

Writing a paper, you need to use reliable resources.

Of course, you can use Wikipedia while making your research but you for sure cannot use it when it comes to writing the paper itself.

Such general resources as Wikipedia can be very useful when you need to get familiar with your topic, find some keywords and understand some essential points.

However, writing the final paper, you need to provide only reliable resources.

Use the info you’ve got form Google and Wikipedia as a basis and make some deeper research.

You can check the source used for the Wikipedia articles and keywords from your Google search for some search thought the academic database.

Also, it a good idea to ask experts for a piece of advice so they can help you understand whether the info you’ve found is valid and where you can get more data.

In other words, Wikipedia can be a good starting point but you shouldn’t cite it in your final paper.

Finally, don’t ignore or skip info.

You can find some articles that just claim everything they want without any proof.

There can be articles that say the octopus DNA is similar to alien DNA, or that the Cinderella Castle at Disney World can be removed if necessary, or that a cook tried to kill George Washington with some poisoned dishes.

However, if you dig deeper it may come out that they are just empty statements without any proof.

In other words, you shouldn’t rely on one article, look for some more info, check the facts and find out whether it’s valid or not.

Make sure to learn all the viewpoints and schools of thought on your subject.

To be able to do it, you need to read various articles and books or talk to some experts.

Also, you may use books that describe your topic from various points of view.

Step 4: Organize Your Research

After you’ve collected all the available info, it’s time to organize everything properly.

The process itself depends on your preferences and your research type.

Try to organize your bibliography first of all as it can be really helpful.

If the bibliography is one of your research paper requirements, make sure to creat it according to your assignment.

In case, it shouldn’t be included in your paper and are going to do one just for yourself, just figures out how you can organize it so it can be beneficial for you.

Also, it’s a good idea to make a digital version of your bibliography and bookmark some useful pages so you can add resources easily.

If it’s more comfortable for you, you can make a printed or handwritten version of your bibliography.

You can also use some sticky notes so you can organize your bibliography on a table or any other space.

Step 5: Form a Thesis

Now, when you’ve learned the requirements, selected the topic, made your research and organized everything properly, it’s time to work on your own opinion and arguments.

Even if there is no arguing for or against something in your paper, you still need a thesis.

A thesis – it is a short statement that is the main aspect of your research paper, your main subject that you are trying to explain in your paper.

If you need to write a thesis, first of all, you should answer a question of is your paper about?

The answer can be similar to one of the examples below:

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

In fact, it’s pretty easy but it is only a starting point.

Most students do the same mistake and stop at this point that leads to poor grades.

You need to keep in mind that your thesis should define your topic.

In other words, you need to transform your answer into something like:

  • The relationship between dogs and humans goes both ways; not only are dogs man’s best friend, but human interactions have influenced the way that modern dogs’ behavior and anatomy.
  • Many universities require freshmen students to live on campus for their first year, which keeps students out of trouble, helps students get better grades, and increases their likelihood of staying in school.
  • In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, marriage is seen as a number of things, including as a social mobility tool, as a mistake, and as a beneficial partnership.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the first set of statements and the second one.

It may require you some time to reveal the most appropriate option just keep in mind that must avoid such phrases as “I think,” or “My paper is about.”

Also, you need to make sure that your thesis isn’t too vague.

You shouldn’t be afraid of making a strong statement so you can highlight a specific point you paper concentrates on.

One other useful tip is that you need to be sure that your thesis is arguable.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that your topic is controversial but still, it means that there can be some other point of view on your topic.

For example, there can disagree with you that human had no influence on dogs or that it is not a good idea to make freshmen live on campus, or that marriage in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has only a romantic image.

If you want to make sure that your statement is arguable just check whether any controversial points of view can exist.

It is a good point that can prove that your research paper, as well as its thesis, is really strong or not.

Just keep in mind that a good thesis should guide you through your research.

After completing this step, just check it with your teacher or professor.

Ask their opinion about your thesis before you start working on your final paper.

Step 6: Create an Outline

As well as a bibliography, your outline creation process depends on your assignment.

If you have some specific requirements on your outline, make sure to follow them.

In the case in your assignment, there is nothing about the outline, it’s still a good ideat write it as it can be really helpful but you don’t need to do it in any specific way.

Just write your outline in the way you like and turn it into a useful tool that can help you make better research.

The process of creation of an outline is the way to structure your paper.

It doesn’t mean you need to follow some certain pattern but you need to make it comprehensive and useful.

You can use the same pattern you’ve used for your high-school essays but make sure it suits your needs and your research paper.

For example, if your paper is focused on two main aspects, the pattern that involves 3-5 main section doesn’t work for you.

In case, according to your assignment, your research paper should provide info on a topic, different opinions on it and your own position, your pattern should include at least three sections

When working on an outline, you need to understand properly what you want to tell with your paper and what outline structure can make it in the clearest and most organized way.

Among the typical elements of an outline, there is an introduction and a conclusion but everything else is up to you, your topic and your assignment.

Also, the outlining will help you to reveal some bad forms of argumentation, you need to avoid in your paper.

You need to use logical fallacies to make it properly.

If you aren’t familiar with it, make sure to learn about logical fallacies as it can have a big impact on your final paper and grade.

Step 7: Write

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Finally, it’s time to work on your paper itself.

All the previous steps created a perfect basis for the writing of your research paper.

Due to the work you’ve done before, you can write a strong, clear, and interesting work.

Just keep in mind that it shouldn’t be perfect.

Don’t try to use the best words, grammar, phrases.

Now, you need just to write the paper and you can improve it in the future when its time for editing.

Just keep in mind that you need to use your research data while writing a paper but you shouldn’t write everything directly from your research.

In other words, you need to write your own work and present your own ideas instead of copying someone else’s words.

The best option is to try to write you paper from memory just sometimes consulting your notes when you need to specify something or get a quote to support your statement.

It is the best way to avoid plagiarism which is the uncredited use of someone’s ideas whether it was done on purpose or not.

It may sound pretty hard but if you follow the steps from our guide, there is no reason to be scared as you can easily write your paper without having any problems with plagiarism.

You can use word-for-word quotations in your paper but their source should be cited.

Mention the source and don’t forget about the quotation marks, and everything will be OK.

Also, add more info about the sources on your Works Cited or References page.

When paraphrasing some info, you still use ideas created by someone else so you also need to give it credit.

The quotation marks aren’t required but you need to mention the source.

If you use some common facts like points that are stated without credit in more than 3 credible sources, the citation isn’t required.

For example, it’s a common fact that Bill Gates is a billionaire and he founded Microsoft.

This statement can be found in a whole bunch of credible sources.

In case you need to explain why Bill Gates is a wealthy and famous person, you need to use trustworthy resources and specific data as well as other available means that can help you to explain and support your point of view.

Step 8: Edit for Content

After completing your writing, you can take just a moment to congratulate yourself and then keep working.

You’ve already done lots of work but now you need to transform your draft into a real research paper.

Before when you were writing it, you’ve paid no attention to words and grammar but now it’s time to think about it.

First of all, you need to edit your content including such points as structure, organization, wording, and length.

You’ve carefully organized your outline and it’s time to understand whether it suits your paper or something should be changed.

If you need to change something, think over the way you can do it.

How you can move and change your sentences to make your paper better?

Does your paper present your ideas and intentions clearly?

Is there a way to make it more comprehensive and clearer?

Does your paper suits the assignment requirements and include all points your prof want to see there?

If your paper is too short or too long, it’s time to build it up or cut it down.

Just keep in mind that it’s not an option to delete your conclusion to make it shorter, or play with fonts and margins.

Look through your paper and think properly what can be cut out without ruining the whole paper and how it can be re-organized.

When it comes to lengthening your paper, don’t add some random words and the same phrases, and ideas.

Find the points that can be expended and data that can be added to your research paper.

As soon as you’ve completed this step, make sure to read your paper once again.

It will help you understand whether it makes sense and structured properly.

Also, it is a good idea to ask someone else to read your paper and ask them whether some other improvements should or can be done.

Step 9: Edit for Grammar

Don’t forget to work on your grammar.

Nowadays, there is a whole bunch of special tools and software, you can use for these purposes.

You can use such resources as Grammarly or Strunk and White’s Elements of Style that can help you with punctuation, sentence structure, and other related issues.

As well as a previous step, grammar editing can take a few run-throughs.

Just make a break if you need it.

It can be really helpful when you are out of focus as you need to be really attentive to catch the mistakes.

Step 10: Re-read and Submit your Research Paper

After completing 1-9 steps, you need to take a small break.

Just put your paper away for a little time and then re-read it once again.

If before you read your paper from a screen, it’s better to make a paper copy so you can notice some mistakes and formatting issues that have been missed before.

After reading it for the last time and making sure it meets your assignment requirements, you need to submit your paper.

First of all, make sure to learn the instructions about the way your paper should be given.

Also, make sure, you have some extra time as you never know what may happen.

There is always a possibility that your printer is out of order, or your Internet connection doesn’t work exactly when you need to submit your paper.

You need to have some spare time if you want to avoid all these problems.

In other words, don’t wait until the deadline itself to submit your paper, try to do it in advance as it can impact your grade significantly.

If there are some issues that can avoid you submitting your paper, get in touch with your teacher.

Just keep in mind, that you need to be reasonable and responsible.

If you try to submit your paper the day before the due time, contact your teacher and ask for help.

You just need to remember that your teacher will hardly be able to help you if you get in touch just right before the due time, or in the middle of the night, or on weekends.

If you made sure beforehand that you have enough spare time, you don’t need to worry that something goes wrong.


Your Teacher or Professor

Writing a research paper, first of all, you need to understand why your teacher asked you to write it.

In most cases, it is an opportunity to learn something new and of course, it involves, making mistakes and asking lots of questions.

In other words, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your instructor lots of questions.

Just keep in mind that you need to be respectful to your teacher in all ways including such aspects as personal time and space, as well as efforts.

You shouldn’t expect your teacher will do your work.

Use the provided guidelines and pieces of advice properly.

Most students forget about the fact that their instructor can be a helpful resource during research writing.

Don’t do the same mistake and take advantage of this option.

Research Librarians

One other great option is research librarians.

In most college and university libraries not only various printed and online resource but also some special staff that can answer your questions.

These people can offer lots of help when it comes to researches.

Their main responsibility is to assist with various researches.

Usually, they have a kind of specialization so you just need to address a certain staff member to get some specific, expert help with your topic.

Research librarians can help you find some great resources and help to get in touch with various experts in your sphere of interest, or suggest some interesting directions for your research.

Writing Centers

There are also writing centers in lots of universities and colleges.

There you can get help with the process of writing your paper.

Just make an appointment and a qualified instructor will assist you with any stage of the research writing process.

Whether you need help with the concept development, your research key points discussion, or editing, a writing center is a great helper in any case.

In some cases, profs can give students that applied for writing centers some extra credits.


As we’ve already said, don’t afraid to use Wikipedia for some introductory, basic research.

Just keep in mind that it cannot be considered as a reliable and credible resource because anyone can edit the articles.

It means that you cannot cite it in your paper.

Nevertheless, you can get some basic info there and use references that were used for Wikipedia articles.

It is a great opportunity to find a bunch of great resources such as various books, articles, schemes, and so on.

Academic Databases

In some cases, your prof may ask you to use some or only peer-reviewed academic articles for your research.

Most students have access to a whole bunch of academic databases where they can find numerous scholarly articles.

If you need help with an academic database search, you can always ask your teacher or a research librarian for some help and assistance.

In fact, it’s a great skill to have as you can find lots of reliable sources any time using academic database.

OWL at Purdue

OWL – it is the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.

There you can find a variety of useful writing materials online including various guides on how to cite sources, grammar rules, choosing a topic, so on.

You have an opportunity to search for materials by category or get some specific help.

It’s a free website so make sure to visit it when working on your research paper.


Grammarly is your perfect helping hand when it comes to editing and spelling check.

It’s a free Google Chrome extension that you can use for editing your writings.

Just copy and paste your paper into the editor and it will provide you with grammar and spelling advice that can be implemented easily.

If you need some extra help or prefer using the software using Microsoft Office, you can get Grammarly Premium or Grammarly for Microsoft Office.

Just keep in mind that it is just a software and sometimes it isn’t able to understand your writing so look through the very suggestion properly.

You must be sure that its corrections won’t change the meaning of your sentence.

In any case, Grammarly is a great option to check your grammar and spelling is it is good at catching errors and offers a great explanation of each of your errors.

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The Elements of Style — William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

In most cases, style guides can be considered as a thing of the past and most people nowadays don’t use them.

Nevertheless, “The Element of Style” book is really helpful and informative especially when you need to write a research paper.

There you can find a bunch of useful guidance that can help you edit your work.

The book contains a variety of sections about both general and specific rules of writing a text including such aspects as grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

If you don’t have an opportunity or feel like reading this book, just remember its rule # 17: “Omit needless words.”

It’s the main thing you need to keep in mind if you want to create a strong, clear paper.

Style Guides (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.)

It is one of the most significant resources when it comes to research paper writing.

As it was mentioned before, you need to understand clearly your assignment requirements including the formatting of your paper.

There is a variety of formatting styles like MLA, APA, and Chicago and each of them has its own specifications and guidelines.

In most cases, your teacher will indicate the style you should use or you can just ask what style is better to use.

Depending on it, you need to use different names for the list of sources, headers, page numbers, fonts and so on.

In most cases, if you don’t use the required style or don’t follow its rules properly, you’ll get a lower grade.

And, in some cases, your teacher may even not accept your paper.

If you need more info about a specific formatting style, you can use OWL at Purdue website to get the guidelines.


After completing your research paper writing you need to confirm that everything is done properly.

Use the checklist below to make sure that your paper is well-written and done according to all the rules.

Answer these questions to understand whether you did a perfect research paper:

  • Does your paper meet all of the requirements of your assignment?
  • Does your topic fit the assignment?
  • Are your sources credible, reliable, and logical?
  • Do you have a clear, arguable thesis statement?
  • Is your paper well-organized and easy to understand?
  • Is there any plagiarism in your paper?
  • Are your paper well-proofread and all the mistakes corrected?
  • Did you follow the formatting style guideline properly?
  • Are you prepared to submit correctly?

Good luck!

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