How To Write a Research Paper

Does your stomach feel nauseous when your instructor or professor assigns a 'research paper?'  A research paper can be an intimidating project - especially the longer ones.  Well, you can put the antacid away; your first aid for research paper woes is here.

This guide will take you step by step through the process, give you lots of options and provide helpful sites for revising your paper.

  1. Use POWER as your guide: Following the acronym, P-Plan, O-Organize, W-Write, E-Evaluate, R-Revise.
  2. Understand your topic: If you are given the option of choosing a topic, do so.  It is easier to write about something that you have some vested interest in or knowledge about.  If you are assigned a topic, familiarize yourself with general information on the topic.
  3. Develop a thesis statement: The research paper is written with a goal in mind - to educate and inform by gathering information.  Your thesis is a formal, complete statement of what you are presenting.  Frequently, in a research paper, you have a hypothesis to prove.  You gather information to support that point.  This hypothesis becomes your thesis.  It can generally be said in one sentence and it becomes part of your introduction.  Here are some examples:
    • Drivers under 21 pay higher rates for insurance; I will present statistics, data and survey information to support my position that this discrepancy in rates should not exist, as drivers under 21 have no worse driving records than drivers over 21.
    • This paper presents an up close and personal look at the daily life, customs and commerce of the Tlinget Indian tribe of southern Alaska.
  4. Choose 3-5 main points: Choose three- five main points, arguments, or areas to cover in your paper.  These are the 'legs' that your premise stands upon.  If it's a purely informative paper, these are the main areas of information you will cover. These points make up the body of the paper.
  5. Create an outline: Your outline organizes and prioritizes information in preparation for writing.  The three parts are the introduction, body and conclusion.  Place your 3-5 main points in the body.  Categorize the information you gather and will share under your main points.  Your word processing function has an outline maker in the 'tools' menu.  It also can be accessed from the toolbar with the icon showing a 1-2-3 list. 
  6. Gather data, statistics, quotes and information: The internet should provide you with a great deal of information, but there are always good ol' books and encyclopedias.  Check out books on your topic using your library's online catalog and the Dewey decimal organization system.
  7. Search online for information: Using Microsoft Encarta, Wikipedia, World Book,,, or any other online information site, you can pull up good up-to-date data on just about any subject.  Avoid pay sites.  Generally the first sites to come up in a Google search are advertising or pay sites. 

    Specific disciplines have online data banks as well: medicine, health, history, math, science, etc.  Be specific in your search terms.  Look for .org, .edu, or .gov sites for the better information.  Also look for colleges, universities, institutes, and government departments.  Recognized groups and affiliations will have sites designed to inform rather than to sell. They have access to better research (i.e.  AA, NIMH, WHO, CDC, AARP, DNR sites, etc.).

  8. Conduct surveys if necessary: Some research papers may require you to conduct research of your own.  You can do this by writing simple surveys and distributing them amongst your associates.  You can gather a random sample of the information you need by surveying a cross-section (different ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, etc.).

  9. Arrange your data: Place the data your gather into your outline under the main point to which it relates.  You can use your outline format to arrange information in order of importance.  The further you indent, the less important the information is. 

  10. Use your outline to write your paper: Your outlined is arranged chronologically in the order you will present your points.  The topics and subtopics become the paragraphs, sentences and details of the body of your research paper.

  11. Include footnotes or end notes: Follow the basic format in which you indicate each direct quote with a number. A footnote source will be listed at the bottom of the page.  End notes will be listed in order in a sheet at the end.  Use the link below for MLA or APA style.        
  12. Evaluate: Screen your paper for errors in syntax, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and organization.  Use your spell and grammar check. Review it yourself and ask a capable parent or friend to go over it also.  Computers can't replace human good sense.

  13. Revise: You should make at least 2-3 drafts of a paper before your final one.  Let your ideas, words and material 'gel' for a few days before you revise it for the final time and submit it.  Each time I revise my work, I find, even after several years, better techniques or resolutions.

  14. Write your bibliography: Make a list of resources that you used.  List the source, author, publisher and copyright. Organize your bibliography alphabetically.  Use the provided link for MLA guidance.

  15. Type it out, save it and print or copy:  Always keep a copy of your work in 'My Documents,' on a disk or a hard copy.  

This should give you a good format to follow for your research paper.  If you give it your best, your paper will be a success!


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