Don’t let writing a research paper fill you with fear. Whether you are creating a term paper, Master’s thesis, or Doctoral dissertation, treat your paper as an expanded essay and enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate your own thinking about a subject.
Are you assessing the results of your own research or evaluating the work of others? This is your chance to show your knowledge by examining what experts have said and offering your own original argument.
Writing a research paper involves:
- Background reading and research
- Creating a thesis statement
- Making a detailed plan
- Writing the first draft
- Editing and proofreading before final submission
Writing a research paper takes time. Look at how long you have and manage your workload carefully to avoid handing in work that is less than perfect.
Your Research Paper Topic
Do you have a list of questions to choose from for your research paper? If this is the case, look for a question that interests you. Think about your opinion on the subject, brainstorm ideas for your argument and check there is a broad range of published research before committing yourself.
If you have been asked to create your own topic, look at a general area you are interested in and then refine to a specific question.
The perfect research paper question:
- Allows you to have an original opinion
- Is interesting and useful for you and others
- Has plenty of sources of information available
- Offers an overlooked perspective
- Explores a gap in current understanding
#1: Background Research
A wide range of relevant sources can make or break your research paper. Plan plenty of time to read and select the best online and print materials.
A great starting point for useful sources will be your course syllabus and recommended reading list.
You can also look at:
- Online publications
- Government guides and reports
- Periodicals and newspapers
Your research will provide the evidence needed to make your argument. Find out what has already been published and explore the viewpoints of current academics.
When you gather your background research, ask yourself:
- Do I understand this?
- Is this information relevant to my paper?
- How recent is this source?
- Is the information reliable?
The best sources are relevant to your paper and as recent as possible. Don’t dismiss research with opposing views to yours. You can explain why you think they are not significant in your argument.
Keep track of all the background research you intend to use. With online sources, choose from credible websites with biographical information you can cite accurately.
#2: Your Thesis Statement
After researching your general topic area, create a thesis statement. This is the central idea you are presenting in your research paper. Your claim should be a new idea or a different take on an existing viewpoint.
A good thesis statement is specific with plenty of relevant source materials available to support your position. If you have been given a general area to cover, consider different angles and choose one to focus on.
Research papers often fall into three categories:
- Analytical: Presenting an analysis of information
- Expository: Explaining information
- Persuasive: Arguing a position
It is important that your thesis statement reflects the type of paper you are writing.
Creating your thesis statement means you have a clear view of your central idea and allows you to organise your supporting arguments. It can be refined and developed whilst you are writing.
When you draft your research paper, include your thesis statement at the end of the introduction.
#3: Your Research Paper Outline
Creating a clear and detailed outline plan means never having to look in panic at an empty screen, wondering what to type.
Whether you need to submit a formal outline to your institution or decide to make an informal one just for yourself, a plan will make drafting the paper much easier.
How to Organize Your Research Paper Outline
Check your course notes for any specific requirements for your paper and the style guide you should use to present your sources.
Set out your outline plan in the following way:
Present the title of your research paper, your name, name of your college/university and publication date.
Use less than 250 words to summarize your paper. It is best to write this after completing your outline so that you can accurately describe the whole of your work.
In this section, you will explain current research about your topic, finishing with your thesis statement. Remember your introduction might change as you write, so be flexible and make sure it reflects the key points you are making.
- What are the current published views about my subject?
- What does the reader need to know?
- Why should anyone care about what I am saying?
- What are the major points I am making?
The first sentence of your introduction is your chance to grab the reader’s attention. Make it decisive and provocative for the biggest impact.
After the introduction, present your argument in a series of main points. Each point will need supporting evidence to back up your claims.
Organize this section by giving each main idea a number and use letters for your sub-points. Roman numerals are useful for smaller details.
First main point
a. First sub-point
i. Detailed point
ii. Detailed point
b. Second sub-point
i. Detailed point
ii. Detailed point
c. Third sub-point
i. Detailed point
ii. Detailed point
Second main point
Organize sources around your points and evaluate them rather than report what they say. Use a strong supporting argument first. Follow this with a stronger argument and finish with your strongest. This is called the ‘rule of three’ and makes your position more convincing.
A strong conclusion should start by paraphrasing your thesis statement. Don’t repeat it word for word. Use the conclusion to summarize your main ideas and highlight their significance.
If your results are inconclusive, explain why there should be further research carried out.
Include all your sources organized according to the style guide used by your institution. There are a range of different ways to format your citations, two of the most common being MLA format and APA format.
Add all the background sources of information you have used, whether directly quoting or paraphrasing, to avoid plagiarism and show the extent of your wider reading.
Include any tables, figures, and diagrams you have referred to in the main body of your research paper.
#4: Your First Draft
With such a detailed outline, writing the first draft will be easy. You already have all the information you need and a logical order for your arguments.
- Keep your writing to the third person
- Avoid using contractions such as don’t or can’t
- Use accurate quotations
- Make each point clearly
Your outline is a useful structure to follow but you may find your work changes as you write. Don’t feel that you must stick strictly to the plan you’ve created.
You may find it easier to write the main body of your paper first, leaving the abstract and introduction sections until last. This will allow you to have a clear overview of the points you have made and give you flexibility to make changes.
#5: Editing Your Research Paper
After writing the first draft, leave your work for a few days so you check it over with fresh eyes. Look back at the details given for the assignment to ensure you have delivered what they have asked for.
Check your argument is simple to follow and each opinion has been supported with proof. Read your thesis statement and ask yourself, is this delivering what I said it would?
Your writing should be a journey towards a definite conclusion. Every paragraph should link and flow to avoid sounding stilted. Eliminate repetitive words by using a thesaurus to find alternatives.
These simple proofreading tips will help you spot and correct common errors in your work:
- Read your work aloud
- Change the font and size of the text before reading it again
- Use an online grammar, style, and spell checker such as ProWritingAid
- Ask a friend to read your work for you
- Check the formatting of your paper
A Successful Research Paper
A great research paper is easily achievable if you manage your time well. This is a significant piece of work and there is no point trying to rush. Planning provisional dates to have finished different sections will help to keep you on track.
Most of your time should be spent gathering sources and creating a strong outline plan. Having robust evidence to back up your opinions is crucial. Wider reading about your topic area ensures you are fully informed about the latest thinking and previous research.
Avoid a last-minute rush by planning for editing and proofreading to spot simple errors. You may need to restructure paragraphs to make a strong and persuasive argument so don’t stick rigidly to your outline plan if changes need to be made.
Careful time management will make sure you hand in the perfect research paper within your deadline.