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The Research Paper | Webster University

What is a Research Paper?

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Home Academic Resource Center Writing Center Writing Tips > The Research Paper

The Research Paper

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What is a research paper?

The best way to describe what a research paper is may be to describe what a research
paper is not. A research paper is not an encyclopedia that lists every detail you
have discovered about a topic. Nor is it a “literature review” that summarizes the
current body of knowledge about a subject. Rather, a research paper is a piece of analytical
writing, an essay in which you survey what experts know or have said about a topic
and then compare or synthesize their thoughts with your own insights or opinions.

A research paper gives you the opportunity to contribute to a field, to add your voice
to the ongoing conversation. How do you do that? By presenting your own analysis,
interpretation, or argument backed up with solid evidence gleaned from your research.

What kind of research is expected?

Most college courses expect you to do secondary research–that is, research designed
to find out what other people know or have written about a subject. Some common techniques
of secondary research include reading books or journals, interviewing experts, and
using audio-visual materials.

Some undergraduate and many graduate courses may require you to do primary research—that
is, research of your own, designed to discover something original. For example, scientists
often conduct primary research by making observations and performing experiments,
while social scientists often engage in field research, such as making observations,
collecting opinions (by means of polls, questionnaires, surveys), and interviewing
individuals for case studies. In the humanities, primary research methods may include
reading and critiquing original documents or sources, looking at works of art, and
listening to music.

NOTE: Academic writing frequently involves combining primary and secondary research.
In any case, you need to ask the professor the same questions: What research methods
or techniques am I expected to use? What types of sources should I consult? How many
sources am I supposed to consult? What analytical approaches to my source materials
are permitted or required?

What kind of paper should result from the research?

The two main types of research papers are analytical and argumentative.

In the analytical research paper (also known as exploratory or informational) you
should learn about the topic and inform your reader about what you have learned. If
there are different opinions, you should report all of them; if there is a controversy,
you should explain what both sides believe. Although analytical papers are governed
by athesis—a sentence that establishes the controlling idea or main point of your
paper—they do not take sides on an issue.

In the argumentative research paper, however, you should take a stand on an issue
and try to persuade your reader to adopt or concur with your position. Like the analytical
research paper, an argumentative paper should be driven by a thesis, but in this case,
your thesis statement should establish your position on a debatable topic. You should
support your argument with evidence gleaned from your research.

  • Sample analytical thesis statement: “Fast food companies have responded to the American
    public’s concern about their weight by offering more salads and vegetables, reducing
    portion sizes, and providing nutritional information about their products.”
  • Sample argumentative thesis statement: “Obese Americans should not be allowed to sue
    fast-food restaurants for their condition, because overweight people who scarf down
    French Fries and milkshakes have only their own lack of will-power and poor eating
    habits to blame.”

In either case, your paper should present your thoughts and ideas about a subject,
supported by the knowledge and opinions of experts in the field. And remember: Just
because something is in print or on the Internet, it is not necessarily “the Truth.”
Whether you are writing an analytical or an argumentative research paper, you should
think critically, not only about the subject, but also about the sources you find.
Analyze your sources by evaluating their authority, credibility, accuracy, and objectivity.

What are the professor’s other expectations? Ask:

  1. How long should the paper be?
  2. How is your secondary research supposed to be documented?
  3. Is there anything else you should know about this assignment?

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& Data Analysis







gel analysis

a lab notebook

Writing research

Dimensions & units
figures (graphs)

of graphs



Principles of microscopy

Solutions & dilutions

Fractionation & centrifugation
and detection

Writing research papers

Quick tabs to parts of a research paper (this page)

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials & Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Literature Cited

Other resources

  • Common errors in student research papers
  • Selected writing rules

This page is available in:

Vietnamese , courtesy of Julia Duong ( )

Russian and Ukrainian , courtesy of Viktoriya Parnak
( )

by Fatcow )

Indonesian, , provided by

Writing Research Papers

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank
sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
— Gene Fowler

A major goal of this course is the development of effective
technical writing skills. To help you become an accomplished
writer, you will prepare several research papers based
upon the studies completed in lab. Our research
papers are not typical "lab reports." In a
teaching lab a lab report might be nothing more than
answers to a set of questions. Such an assignment hardly
represents the kind of writing you might be doing in
your eventual career.

Written and oral communications skills are probably
the most universal qualities sought by graduate and professional
schools as well as by employers. You alone are responsible
for developing such skills to a high level.

Resources for learning technical writing

Before you begin your first writing assignment, please
consult all of the following resources, in order to gain
the most benefit from the experience.

  • General form of a typical research
  • Specific
    guidelines (if any) for the assignment – see the
    writeups on individual lab studies
  • McMillan, VE. "Writing Papers in the Biological
    Sciences, Third Ed." New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s,
    2001. ISBN 0-312-25857-7 (REQUIRED for Bioc 211, 311,
    recommended for other science courses that include
  • Writing
    portfolio examples (pdf)

As you polish up your writing skills please make use
of the following resources

  • Instructor feedback on previous assignments
  • Common errors in student
    research papers
  • Selected writing rules (somewhat
    less serious than the other resources)

For Biosciences majors the general guidelines apply
to future course work, as can be seen by examining the guidelines
for the advanced experimental sciences research paper (Bioc

General form of a research paper

An objective of organizing a research paper is to allow
people to read your work selectively. When I research
a topic, I may be interested in just the methods, a specific
result, the interpretation, or perhaps I just want to
see a summary of the paper to determine if it is relevant
to my study. To this end, many journals require the following
sections, submitted in the order listed, each section
to start on a new page. There are variations of course.
Some journals call for a combined results and discussion,
for example, or include materials and methods after the
body of the paper. The well known journal Science does
away with separate sections altogether, except for the

Your papers are to adhere to the form and style required
for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, requirements
that are shared by many journals in the life sciences.

General style

Specific editorial requirements for submission of a
manuscript will always supercede instructions in these
general guidelines.

To make a paper readable

  • Print or type using a 12 point standard font, such
    as Times, Geneva, Bookman, Helvetica, etc.
  • Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2" x 11" paper
    with 1 inch margins, single sided
  • Number pages consecutively
  • Start each new section on a new page
  • Adhere to recommended page limits

Mistakes to avoid

  • Placing a heading at the bottom of a page with the
    following text on the next page (insert a page break!)
  • Dividing a table or figure – confine each figure/table
    to a single page
  • Submitting a paper with pages out of order

In all sections of your paper

  • Use normal prose including articles ("a", "the,"
  • Stay focused on the research topic of the paper
  • Use paragraphs to separate each important point (except
    for the abstract)
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph
  • Present your points in logical order
  • Use present tense to report well accepted facts –
    for example, ‘the grass is green’
  • Use past tense to describe specific results – for
    example, ‘When weed killer was applied, the grass was
  • Avoid informal wording, don’t address the reader
    directly, and don’t use jargon, slang terms, or superlatives
  • Avoid use of superfluous pictures – include only
    those figures necessary to presenting results

Title Page

Select an informative title as illustrated in the examples
in your writing portfolio example package. Include the
name(s) and address(es) of all authors, and date submitted.
"Biology lab #1" would not be an informative title, for


The summary should be two hundred words or less. See the
examples in the writing portfolio package.

General intent

An abstract is a concise single paragraph summary of
completed work or work in progress. In a minute or less
a reader can learn the rationale behind the study, general
approach to the problem, pertinent results, and important
conclusions or new questions.

Writing an abstract

Write your summary after the rest of the paper is completed.
After all, how can you summarize something that is not
yet written? Economy of words is important throughout
any paper, but especially in an abstract. However, use
complete sentences and do not sacrifice readability for
brevity. You can keep it concise by wording sentences
so that they serve more than one purpose. For example, "In
order to learn the role of protein synthesis in early
development of the sea urchin, newly fertilized embryos
were pulse-labeled with tritiated leucine, to provide
a time course of changes in synthetic rate, as measured
by total counts per minute (cpm)." This sentence
provides the overall question, methods, and type of analysis,
all in one sentence. The writer can now go directly to
summarizing the results.

Summarize the study, including the following elements
in any abstract. Try to keep the first two items to no
more than one sentence each.

  • Purpose of the study – hypothesis, overall question,
  • Model organism or system and brief description of
    the experiment
  • Results, including specific data – if the
    results are quantitative in nature, report quantitative
    data; results of any statistical analysis shoud be
  • Important conclusions or questions that follow from
    the experiment(s)


  • Single paragraph, and concise
  • As a summary of work done, it is always written in
    past tense
  • An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer
    to any other part of the paper such as a figure or
  • Focus on summarizing results – limit background information
    to a sentence or two, if absolutely necessary
  • What you report in an abstract must be consistent
    with what you reported in the paper
  • Corrrect spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases,
    and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant
    figures) are just as important in an abstract as they
    are anywhere else


Your introductions should not exceed two pages (double
spaced, typed). See the examples in the writing portfolio

General intent

The purpose of an introduction is to aquaint the reader
with the rationale behind the work, with the intention
of defending it. It places your work in a theoretical
context, and enables the reader to understand and appreciate
your objectives.

Writing an introduction

The abstract is the only text in a research paper to
be written without using paragraphs in order to separate
major points. Approaches vary widely, however for our
studies the following approach can produce an effective

  • Describe the importance (significance) of the study
    – why was this worth doing in the first place? Provide
    a broad context.
  • Defend the model – why did you use this particular
    organism or system? What are its advantages? You might
    comment on its suitability from a theoretical point
    of view as well as indicate practical reasons for using
  • Provide a rationale. State your specific hypothesis(es)
    or objective(s), and describe the reasoning that led
    you to select them.
  • Very briefy describe the experimental design and
    how it accomplished the stated objectives.


  • Use past tense except when referring to established
    facts. After all, the paper will be submitted after
    all of the work is completed.
  • Organize your ideas, making one major point with
    each paragraph. If you make the four points listed
    above, you will need a minimum of four paragraphs.
  • Present background information only as needed in
    order support a position. The reader does not want
    to read everything you know about a subject.
  • State the hypothesis/objective precisely – do not
  • As always, pay attention to spelling, clarity and
    appropriateness of sentences and phrases.

Materials and Methods

There is no specific page limit, but a key concept is to
keep this section as concise as you possibly can. People
will want to read this material selectively. The reader
may only be interested in one formula or part of a procedure.
Materials and methods may be reported under separate subheadings within
this section
or can be incorporated together.

General intent

This should be the easiest section to write, but many students
misunderstand the purpose. The objective is to document all
specialized materials and general procedures, so that another
individual may use some or all of the methods in another study
or judge the scientific merit of your work.
It is not to be a step by step description of everything you
did, nor is a methods section a set of instructions. In particular,
it is not supposed to tell a story. By the way, your notebook
should contain all of the information that you need for this

Writing a materials and methods section


  • Describe materials separately only if the study is so complicated
    that it saves space this way.
  • Include specialized chemicals, biological materials, and
    any equipment or supplies that are not commonly found in
  • Do not include commonly found supplies such as test tubes,
    pipet tips, beakers, etc., or standard lab equipment such
    as centrifuges, spectrophotometers, pipettors, etc.
  • If use of a specific type of equipment, a specific enzyme,
    or a culture from a particular supplier is critical to the
    success of the experiment, then it and the source should
    be singled out, otherwise no.
  • Materials may be reported in a separate paragraph or else
    they may be identified along with your procedures.
  • In biosciences we frequently work with solutions – refer
    to them by name and describe completely, including concentrations
    of all reagents, and pH of aqueous solutions, solvent if


  • See the examples in the writing portfolio package
  • Report the methodology (not details of each procedure that
    employed the same methodology)
  • Describe the mehodology completely, including such specifics
    as temperatures, incubation times, etc.
  • To be concise, present methods under headings devoted to
    specific procedures or groups of procedures
  • Generalize – report how procedures were done, not how they
    were specifically performed on a particular day. For example,
    report "samples were diluted to a final concentration
    of 2 mg/ml protein;" don’t report that "135 microliters
    of sample one was diluted with 330 microliters of buffer
    to make the protein concentration 2 mg/ml." Always think
    about what would be relevant to an investigator at another
    institution, working on his/her own project.
  • If well documented procedures were used, report the procedure
    by name, perhaps with reference, and that’s all. For example,
    the Bradford assay is well known. You need not report the
    procedure in full – just that you used a Bradford assay to
    estimate protein concentration, and identify what you used
    as a standard. The same is true for the SDS-PAGE method,
    and many other well known procedures in biology and biochemistry.


  • It is awkward or impossible to use active voice when documenting
    methods without using first person, which would focus the
    reader’s attention on the investigator rather than the work.
    Therefore when writing up the methods most authors use third
    person passive voice.
  • Use normal prose in this and in every other section of
    the paper – avoid informal lists, and use complete sentences.

What to avoid

  • Materials and methods are not a set of instructions.
  • Omit all explanatory information and background – save
    it for the discussion.
  • Omit information that is irrelevant to a third party, such
    as what color ice bucket you used, or which individual logged
    in the data.


The page length of this section is set by the amount and types
of data to be reported. Continue to be concise, using figures
and tables, if appropriate, to present results most effectively.
See recommendations for content, below.

General intent

The purpose of a results section is to present and illustrate
your findings. Make this section a completely objective report
of the results, and save all interpretation for the discussion.

Writing a results section

IMPORTANT: You must clearly distinguish material that would
normally be included in a research article from any raw data
or other appendix material that would not be published. In
fact, such material should not be submitted at all unless requested
by the instructor.


  • Summarize your findings in text and illustrate them, if
    appropriate, with figures and tables.
  • In text, describe each of your results, pointing the reader
    to observations that are most relevant.
  • Provide a context, such as by describing the question that
    was addressed by making a particular observation.
  • Describe results of control experiments and include observations
    that are not presented in a formal figure or table, if appropriate.
  • Analyze your data, then prepare the analyzed (converted)
    data in the form of a figure (graph), table, or in text form.

What to avoid

  • Do not discuss or interpret your results, report background
    information, or attempt to explain anything.
  • Never include raw data or intermediate calculations in
    a research paper.
  • Do not present the same data more than once.
  • Text should complement any figures or tables, not repeat
    the same information.
  • Please do not confuse figures with tables – there is a


  • As always, use past tense when you refer to your results,
    and put everything in a logical order.
  • In text, refer to each figure as "figure 1," "figure
    2," etc. ; number your tables as well (see the reference
    text for details)
  • Place figures and tables, properly numbered, in order at
    the end of the report (clearly distinguish them from any
    other material such as raw data, standard curves, etc.)
  • If you prefer, you may place your figures and tables appropriately
    within the text of your results section.

Figures and tables

  • Either place figures and tables within the text of the
    result, or include them in the back of the report (following
    Literature Cited) – do one or the other
  • If you place figures and tables at the end of the report,
    make sure they are clearly distinguished from any attached
    appendix materials, such as raw data
  • Regardless of placement, each figure must be numbered consecutively
    and complete with caption (caption goes under the figure)
  • Regardless of placement, each table must be titled, numbered
    consecutively and complete with heading (title with description
    goes above the table)
  • Each figure and table must be sufficiently complete that
    it could stand on its own, separate from text


Journal guidelines vary. Space is so valuable in the Journal
of Biological Chemistry, that authors are asked to restrict discussions
to four pages or less, double spaced, typed. That works out to
one printed page. While you are learning to write effectively,
the limit will be extended to five typed pages. If you practice
economy of words, that should be plenty of space within which
to say all that you need to say.

General intent

The objective here is to provide an interpretation of your
results and support for all of your conclusions, using evidence
from your experiment and generally accepted knowledge, if appropriate.
The significance of findings should be clearly described.

Writing a discussion

Interpret your data in the discussion in appropriate depth.
This means that when you explain a phenomenon you must describe
mechanisms that may account for the observation. If your
results differ from your expectations, explain why that may
have happened. If your results agree, then describe the theory
that the evidence supported. It is never appropriate to simply
state that the data agreed with expectations, and let it drop
at that.

  • Decide if each hypothesis is supported, rejected, or if
    you cannot make a decision with confidence. Do not simply
    dismiss a study or part of a study as “inconclusive.”
  • Research papers are not accepted if the work is incomplete.
    Draw what conclusions you can based upon the results that
    you have, and treat the study as a finished work
  • You may suggest future directions, such as how the
    experiment might be modified to
    accomplish another objective.
  • Explain all of your observations as much as possible, focusing
    on mechanisms
  • Decide if the experimental design adequately addressed
    the hypothesis, and whether or not it was properly controlled.
  • Try to offer alternative explanations if reasonable alternatives
  • One experiment will not answer an overall question, so
    keeping the big picture in mind, where do you go next? The
    best studies open up new avenues of research. What questions
  • Recommendations for specific papers will provide additional


  • When you refer to information, distinguish data generated
    by your own studies from published information or from information
    obtained from other students (verb tense is an important
    tool for accomplishing that purpose).
  • Refer to work done by specific individuals (including yourself)
    in past tense.
  • Refer to generally accepted facts and principles in present
    tense. For example, “Doofus, in a 1989 survey, found that
    anemia in basset hounds was correlated with advanced
    age. Anemia is a condition in which there is insufficient
    hemoglobin in the blood.”

The biggest mistake that students make in discussions is to
present a superficial interpretation that more or less re-states
the results. It is necessary to suggest why results
came out as they did, focusing on the mechanisms behind the

Literature Cited

Please note that in the introductory laboratory course, you
will not be required to properly document sources of all of
your information. One reason is that your major source of information
is this website, and websites are inappropriate as primary
sources. Second, it is problematic to provide a hundred students
with equal access to potential reference materials. You may
nevertheless find outside sources, and you should cite any
articles that the instructor provides or that you find for

List all literature cited in your paper, in alphabetical
order, by first author. In a proper research paper, only primary
literature is used (original research articles authored by
the original investigators). Be cautious about using web sites
as references – anyone can put just about anything on a web
site, and you have no sure way of knowing if it is truth
or fiction. If you are citing an on line journal, use the journal
citation (name, volume, year, page numbers). Some of your papers
may not require references, and if that is the case simply
state that "no
references were consulted."

Vietnamese translation:

Russian translation:

and Intended Use
Visitors: to ensure that your message is not mistaken for
SPAM, please include the acronym “Bios211” in the subject line
of e-mail communications
Created by David R. Caprette ( [email protected] ), Rice University 25 Aug 95
Updated 11 Apr 16

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How to Write a Research Paper

Five Methods: Choosing Your Topic Researching Making an Outline Writing Your Paper Sample Research Papers and Outlines Community Q&A

When studying at higher levels of school and throughout college, you will likely be asked to prepare research papers. A research paper can be used for exploring and identifying scientific, technical and social issues. If it’s your first time writing a research paper, it may seem daunting, but with good organization and focus of mind, you can make the process easier on yourself. Writing a research paper involves four main stages: choosing a topic, researching your topic, making an outline, and doing the actual writing. The paper won’t write itself, but by planning and preparing well, the writing practically falls into place. Also, try to avoid plagiarism.



Choosing Your Topic

  1. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 1

    Ask yourself important questions. Although you may be limited by specific classroom or work related guidelines, choosing your topic is the first and most important step in your research paper project. Regardless of whether your topic can be anything you want or has rigid requirements, it is important to keep a few questions in mind: Is there enough research available on this topic? Is the topic new and unique enough that I can offer fresh opinions? Is it pertinent to my class/occupation?

  2. Image titled 9768 2

    Pick something you love. Whenever possible, choose a topic that you feel passionate about. Writing about something you enjoy certainly shows in the final product, making it more likely that you will be successful writing a paper about something you enjoy.

  3. Image titled 9768 3

    Stay original. If you are writing a research paper for a class, consider the other students. Is it likely that they will also be writing about your topic? How can you keep your paper unique and interesting if everyone is writing about the same thing?

  4. Image titled 9768 4

    Get advice. If you are struggling to come up with a topic that feels “just right,” ask your professor or coworkers/classmates for advice. They will likely have great ideas that, even if they aren’t options for you to choose, can inspire you with new ideas. Asking a professor for help may seem frightening, but if they are worth anything as a professor, they want you to be successful with your work, and will do what they can to make that happen.

  5. Image titled 9768 5

    Don’t be afraid to change your topic. If you choose a topic, begin researching, and realize that it isn’t the right decision for you for some reason, don’t fret! Although it requires a bit more time, you have the ability to change your topic even after you begin researching others.



  1. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 3

    Begin your research. With a topic selected, the next step is to begin research. Research comes in numerous forms including web pages, journal articles, books, encyclopedias, interviews, and blog posts, among others. Take time to look for professional resources who offer valid research and insight into your topic. Try to use a minimum of five sources to vary your information; never rely on only 1-2 sources. [1]
  2. Image titled 9768 7

    Image titled 9768 11

    Look for empirical research. Whenever possible, look

    for peer-reviewed empirical research. These are articles or books written by experts in your field of interest, whose work has been read and vouched for by other experts in the same field. These can be found in scientific journals or via an online search.

  3. Image titled 9768 8

    Visit the library. Take a trip to your local library or university library. Although it may seem old fashioned, libraries are chock full of helpful research materials from books to newspapers and magazines to journals. Don’t be afraid to ask the librarian for help either – they are trained in research and know where everything about your topic is located.

  4. Image titled 9768 9

    Look online. Using a search engine and picking the top three results isn’t necessarily the best method of researching; use critical thinking to thoroughly read every source and determine if it is legitimate. Websites, blogs, and forums online aren’t required to publish facts only, so make sure that the information you find is trustworthy.

    • Typically, websites that end with .edu, .gov, or .org contain information that is safe to use. That is because these websites belong to schools, the government, or organizations dealing with your topic.
    • Try changing your search query often to find different search results for your topic. If nothing seems to be coming up, it could just be that your search query isn’t matched well with the titles of most articles dealing with your subject.
  5. Image titled 9768 10

    Use academic databases. There are special search engines and academic databases available that search through thousands of peer-reviewed or scientifically published journals, magazines, and books. Although many of these require a paid membership to use, if you are a current student in college you have free access through your university’s membership.

    • Look for databases that cover your subject only. For example, PsycINFO is an academic database that holds nothing but works done by authors in the field of psychology and sociology. This will help you to get more tailored results than a very general search would. [2]
    • Most academic databases give you the ability to ask for very specific information by presenting multiple search query boxes as well as archives containing only a single type of resource (such as only journal articles or only newspapers). Take advantage of this ability to ask for specific information by using as many of the query boxes as you can.
    • Visit your school library and ask the librarian for a full list of the academic databases they subscribe to, as well as the passwords for each.
  6. Image titled 9768 11

    Get creative with your research. If you find one really awesome book or journal that fits your topic perfectly, try looking in the works cited/bibliography/reference list at the end of it. This should contain many more books and journals that are about your topic as well.


Making an Outline

  1. Image titled 9768 12

    Annotate your research . Once you’ve gathered all your research, print it out (if it is an online source) and gather post-its or anything you need to mark notes in the books/magazines you are using. This step is very important: read through your research, take notes on what you think is important, and highlight key facts and phrases. Write directly on copies you’ve made, or use slips of paper tucked into pages to mark places of importance. [3]

    • Do a thorough job annotating to make your outlining and paper-writing easier in the end. Make marks on anything that you think might be remotely important or that could be put to use in your paper.
    • As you mark off important pieces in the research, add your own commentary and notes explaining to yourself where you might use it in your paper. Writing down your ideas as you have them will make writing your paper much easier and give you something to refer back to.
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    Organize your notes. Annotating your research can take quite a bit of time, but needs to be taken one step further in order to add a bit more clarity for the outlining process. Organize your notes by collecting all of your highlighted phrases and ideas into categories based on topic. For example, if you are writing a paper analyzing a famous work of literature, you could organize your research into a list of notes on the characters, a list of references to certain points in the plot, a list of symbols the author presents, et cetera.

    • Try writing each quote or item that you marked onto an individual note card. That way, you can rearrange and lay out your cards however you would like.
    • Color code your notes to make it easier. Write down a list of all the notes you are using from each individual resource, and then highlight each category of information in a different color. For example, write everything from a particular book or journal on a single sheet of paper in order to consolidate the notes, and then everything that is related to characters highlight in green, everything related to the plot mark in orange, et cetera.
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    Construct a preliminary bibliography/references page. As you go through your notes, mark down the author, page number, title, and publishing information for each resource. This will come in handy when you craft your bibliography or works cited page later in the game.

  4. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 2

    Identify the goal of the paper. Generally, speaking, there are two types of research paper: an argumentative research paper or an analytic research paper. Each requires a slightly different focus and writing style which should be identified prior to starting a rough draft.

    • An argumentative research paper takes a position on a contentious issue and argues for one point of view. The issue should be debatable with a logical counter argument.
    • An analytic research paper offers a fresh look at an important issue. The subject may not be controversial, but you must attempt to persuade your audience that your ideas have merit. This is not simply a regurgitation of ideas from your research, but an offering of your own unique ideas based on what you have learned through research.
  5. Image titled 9768 16

    Determine your audience. Who would be reading this paper, should it be published? Although you want to write for your professor or other superior, it is important that the tone and focus of your paper reflect the audience who will be reading it. If you’re writing for academic peers, then the information you include should reflect the information you already know; you don’t need to explain basic ideas or theories. On the other hand, if you are writing for an audience who doesn’t know much about your subject, it will be important to include explanations and examples of more fundamental ideas and theories related to your research. [4]
  6. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 4

    Develop your thesis . The thesis statement is a 1-2 sentence statement at the beginning of your paper that states the main goal or argument of your paper. Although you can alter the wording of your thesis statement for the final draft later, coming up with the main goal of your essay must be done in the beginning. All of your body paragraphs and information will revolve around your thesis, so make sure that you are clear on what your thesis is. [5]

    • An easy way to develop your thesis is to make it into a question that your essay will answer. What is the primary question or hypothesis that you are going to go about proving in your paper? For example, your thesis question might be “how does cultural acceptance change the success of treatment for mental illness?” This can then determine what your thesis is – whatever your answer to the question is, is your thesis statement.
    • Your thesis should express the main idea of your paper without listing all of your reasons or outline your entire paper. It should be a simple statement, rather than a list of support; that’s what the rest of your paper is for!
  7. Image titled 9768 18

    Determine your main points. The body of your essay will revolve around the ideas that you judge to be most important. Go through your research and annotations to determine what points are the most pivotal in your argument or presentation of information. What ideas can you write whole paragraphs about? Which ideas to you have plenty of firm facts and research to back with evidence? Write your main points down on paper, and then organize the related research under each.

    • When you outline your main ideas, putting them in a specific order is important. Place your strongest points at the beginning and end of your essay, with more mediocre points placed in the middle or near the end of your essay.
    • A single main point doesn’t have to be kept to a single paragraph, especially if you are writing a relatively long research paper. Main ideas can be spread out over as many paragraphs as you deem necessary.
  8. Image titled 9768 19

    Consider formatting guidelines. Depending on your paper rubric, class guidelines, or formatting guidelines, you may have to organize your paper in a specific way. For example, when writing in APA format you must organize your paper by headings including the introduction, methods, results, and discussion. These guidelines will alter the way you craft your outline and final paper. [6]
  9. Image titled 9768 20

    Finalize your outline. With the aforementioned tips taken into consideration, organize your entire outline. Justify main points to the left, and indent subsections and notes from your research below each. The outline should be an overview of your entire paper in bullet points. Make sure to include in-text citations at the end of each point, so that you don’t have to constantly refer back to your research when writing your final paper.


Writing Your Paper

  1. Image titled 9768 21

    Write your body paragraphs. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, writing your introduction first may be more difficult to accomplish than starting with the meat of your paper. Starting by writing the main points (focusing on supporting your thesis) allows you to slightly change and manipulate your ideas and commentary.

    • Support every statement you make with evidence. Because this is a research paper, there shouldn’t be any remarks that you make that cannot be supported by facts directly from your research.
    • Supply ample explanations for your research. The opposite of stating opinions without facts is stating facts with no commentary. Although you certainly want to present plenty of evidence, make sure that your paper is uniquely your own by adding commentary in whenever possible.
    • Avoid using many long, direct quotes. Although your paper is based on research, the point is for you to present your own ideas. Unless the quote you intend on using is absolutely necessary, try paraphrasing and analyzing it in your own words instead.
    • Use clear segues into adjacent points in your paper. Your essay should flow well, rather than stopping and starting in a blunt fashion. Make sure that each of your body paragraphs flows nicely into the one after it.
  2. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 7

    Write the conclusion . Now that you have carefully worked through your evidence, write a conclusion that briefly summarizes your findings for the reader and provides a sense of closure. Start by briefly restating the thesis statement, then remind the reader of the points you covered over the course of the paper. Slowly zoom out of the topic as you write, ending on a broad note by emphasizing the larger implication of your findings.

    • The goal of the conclusion, in very simplified terms, is to answer the question, “So what?” Make sure the reader feels like (s)he’s come away with something.
    • It’s a good idea to write the conclusion before the introduction for several reasons. First of all, the conclusion is easier to write when the evidence is still fresh in your mind. On top of that, it’s recommended that you use up your most choice language in the conclusion and then re-word these ideas less strongly in the introduction, not the other way around; this will leave a more lasting impression on the reader.
  3. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 8

    Write the introduction . The introduction is, in many respects, the conclusion written in reverse: start by generally introducing the larger topic, then orient the reader in the area you’ve focused on, and finally, supply the thesis statement. Avoid repeating exact phrases that you already used in the conclusion.

  4. Image titled 9768 24

    Document your paper. All research essays must be documented in certain ways in order to avoid plagiarism. Depending on the topic of your research and your field of study, you will have to use different styles of formatting. MLA, APA, and Chicago are the three most common citation formats and determine the way in-text citations or footnotes should be used, as well as the order of information in your paper.

    • MLA format is typically used for literary research papers and uses a ‘works cited’ page at the end. This format requires in-text citations.
    • APA format is used by researchers in the social sciences field, and requires in-text citations as well. It ends the paper with a “references” page, and may also have section headers between body paragraphs.
    • Chicago formatting is used mainly for historical research papers and uses footnotes at the bottom of each page rather than in-text citations and works cited or references page.
  5. Image titled Write a Research Paper Step 10

    Edit your rough draft. Although it is tempting to simply read over your essay and use the spell-check tool, editing your paper should be a bit more in-depth. Have at least one, but preferably two or more, person/people look over your essay. Have them edit for basic grammatical and spelling errors as well as the persuasiveness of your essay and the flow and form of your paper.

    • If you edit your own paper, wait at least three days before returning to it. Studies show that your writing is still fresh in your mind for 2-3 days after finishing, and so you are more likely to skim over basic mistakes that you would otherwise catch.
    • Don’t ignore edits by others just because they require a bit more work. If they suggest that you rewrite a section of your paper, there is probably a valid reason for their request. Take the time to edit your paper thoroughly.
  6. Image titled 9768 26

    Create the final draft. When you have edited and re-edited your paper, formatted your work according to the subject matter, and finalized all the main points, you are ready to create the final draft. Go through your paper and fix all mistakes, rearranging information if necessary. Adjust the font, line spacing, and margins to meet the requirements set by your professor or profession. If necessary, create an introduction page and a works cited or references page to bookend your paper. The completion of these tasks finalizes your paper! Make sure to save the paper (in multiple places, for extra security) and print out your final draft.

Sample Research Papers and Outlines

Community Q&A


Add New Question

  • Question
    Does making a research paper require me to invent something new or it is just about gathering information?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    It can be for the both, whether you invent something new to implement or you gather some sort of data based valuable information and synthesize it.

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    Helpful 76

  • Question
    What about can I write for the introduction?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    The introduction should set out what you intend to discuss and prove in the research paper, and outline the approaches per topic or heading section. It is also nice to open the topic and lead into it in an interesting way that helps the reader to want to read on.

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    Helpful 69

  • Question
    How do we know what topic is better than the other ones?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    To be honest there is no rule book or a set of formulas which will give you the best or better topic. Once you have a number of topics in hand you need to evaluate as to which topic interests you and your audience more.

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    Helpful 33

  • Question
    How do I make a questionnaire?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    See Make a Questionnaire for the method needed.

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    Helpful 41

  • Question
    Where can I go for publishing a research paper?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    You can publish a research paper through established journals or you can use open source online publishing sites, such as SSRN or Researchgate. If your research paper is long enough, you could also publish it as a small book or an ebook, and disseminate it via book sales sites and stores.

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    Helpful 39

  • Question
    Do you need to number the second and third pages?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    If you are numbering the pages, then yes, the second and third pages should be numbered.

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    Helpful 31

  • Question
    Can you use contractions in a research paper?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    Yes, but it is best to write a research paper without contractions. If you must use them, make sure they are spelled correctly and used in the right places.

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    Helpful 21

  • Question
    Where should we attach our questionnaire in the research paper?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    I believe that the questionnaires are attached in the appendix section of the paper with the survey forms, raw data, documentations and other tables.

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    Helpful 10

  • Question
    What should be the length of the research paper?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    Long enough to strongly answer your thesis. If you can cover it in 10 pages wonderful. If you need to utilize 50 pages that is great too. If you are forcing a specific number of pages than your work may come off as too repetitive or poorly written. You don’t want to over exhaust the topics or include unless information just to get a page count.

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  • Question
    How can I write correct English words for other languages such as Thai?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    There should be a standardized way of writing Thai words in English. If there is more than one convention, you can choose one and state which one you’re going to use in the preface to your paper.

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    Quick Summary

    To write a research paper, start by researching your topic at the library, online, or using an academic database. Once you’ve found at least 5 reputable sources, outline the information you’ve learned through your research. Then, come up with a 1-2 sentence thesis to base your paper off of. Include the information you found through your research in your paper to back up your thesis statement. For more help writing a research paper, like how to organize it, read the article!

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    • Be sure to get your assignments done on time.
    • Do not wait until the last minute to do so.
    • Look for the important themes, questions and key issues when researching. Try to home in on what you really want to explore rather than having too many broad ideas in the paper.
    • Make sure that the information matches the topic and is accurate.

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    Featured Article

    Categories: Featured Articles | Research Papers

    In other languages:

    Italiano:  Scrivere una Tesina di Ricerca , Español:  escribir un trabajo de investigación , Português:  Escrever uma Pesquisa , Deutsch:  Eine wissenschaftliche Arbeit schreiben , Русский:  написать научно–исследовательскую работу , Français:  écrire un rapport de recherche , 中文:  写一篇研究论文 , Čeština:  Jak napsat výzkumnou práci , Bahasa Indonesia:  Menulis Naskah Penelitian , Nederlands:  Een onderzoeksverslag schrijven , ไทย:  เขียนรายงานวิจัย , العربية:  كتابة الورقة البحثية , हिन्दी:  एक शोधपत्र (Research Paper) लिखें , Tiếng Việt:  Viết một bài nghiên cứu , 한국어:  리포트 쓰는 방법 , 日本語:  研究論文を書く

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