How to Write a Research Paper Step by Step
A research paper is one of the most complex tasks assigned to students. It requires a good set of writing skills, excellent research skills, time, and concentration to get right.
Often, working on such assignments, students feel helpless and stuck. Luckily, you don’t have to feel this way, and you won’t, if you use the following guide.
What Is a Research Paper and How does It Differ from a Research Proposal??
A research paper is based heavily on in-depth research and analysis. It is used to evaluate a student’s research skills, as well as the ability to document information and provide original, useful insights on the research matter. The primary purpose of a research paper is to express your view on the research you found throughout the research process.
How is a research paper different from a research proposal, you may ask? Students often confuse these two terms, though they are very different. A research proposal is a concise description of your motivation and objectives for a specific topic. It explains why you decided to research a particular matter, and what you want to achieve. It also highlights how your research can contribute to an expansion in its relevant area, and, finally, gives a brief description of how you plan to conduct this research.
A research paper, on the contrary, is a detailed paper that describes your research. It is much longer than a research proposal. Unlike a proposal, it also includes a detailed description of the results of your research.
Compared to a regular essay, writing a research paper requires thinking outside of the box, being open to experiments, and analyzing the results. Here are some of the key features that define a research paper:
- A research paper is usually longer than other written assignments;
- The paper is based on extensive research of a particular problem;
- Your insights should be based on your experiments and thoughts, but you are allowed to use references from literature as well;
- Usually, a writer is supposed to find some novel solution or approach throughout the research process;
- Support the information with evidence (like your experimental studies, samples, and documents).
Use these features as a reference point when writing your research paper.
How to Start a Research Paper
When you are assigned to write a research paper, it’s naive to believe that you can immediately begin to start writing. Before you can get started, you need to undertake a few preparatory steps.
You need to get familiar with the assignment in the first place, to ensure that you have a clear idea of what is expected from you. Many students underestimate the importance of this step. Read the instructions carefully, to understand what exactly your professor asks you to do. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for any clarification if necessary. This will help to ensure that you are on the right track!
The next vital step to take is choosing a topic, because your whole research, as well as the scope of work and your results, will depend heavily upon it.
Why the Topic Choice Is Vital
If you pick a topic you are not interested in, you will probably have a hard time finding the motivation for writing your paper. Besides, the enthusiasm and effort you put into your research will often reflect upon the quality of your paper—so, it can influence your grade as well. If a topic is too broad, it can be hard to manage. It is always easier to study and analyze a narrower topic.
The most common topics are relevant social, political, cultural or technological issues. If you want to see more of those, we have a separate research paper topics post.
Finally, the complexity of the chosen subject also matters. It is important to make sure that you have enough knowledge and skills to manage it. Otherwise, you may get stuck and begin to feel unable to complete the assignment.
As you can see, the topic you choose does have a direct impact on your research. Here are a few tips to make the right decision:
- Pick a topic that you are genuinely interested in;
- Narrow down the chosen subject;
- Pick a subject that you can manage;
- Make sure that there are enough resources (information) to work with on that specific topic.
When you have a clear understanding of your assignment and have a great topic in mind, it is the right time to start researching your subject. As a rule, the research process can be divided into several stages:
Get Familiar with Your Topic
Before you can shape your own opinion on a specific topic, you have to study it thoroughly. A good tip to simplify your research is to use general sources like Wikipedia to get your research going. Yes, you won’t be able to use any information from there for your references—as wikipedia is not a credible source. However, it can give you a good starting point and help drive your research further.
To succeed, you will need to find enough material for your work. At this stage it is vital to distinguish different types of sources to find valid information you can rely on. There are two main types of sources:
- Primary Sources – statistical data, interviews, surveys, and historical and legal documents;
- Secondary Sources – books, articles, etc.
It is better to focus on finding as many valid primary sources as possible. A great starting point for this would be your school’s library, and official government websites. Also, you can use academic journals like Google Scholar to your benefit. Just like a library, academic journals will also help you to find reliable primary sources.
Skim and Narrow Down Your List of Sources
As you delve deeper into your research, you will come across a large number of sources and information. It is barely possible to read everything related to your subject in-full. That’s why you should get comfortable with skimming through information, and learn to identify key ideas quickly. After skimming through the sources you have, you can determine which of them are most useful and focus on them.
As you research the topic, it is vital to keep track of all the information you find. Some of the best ways to do this are by using Bibliography cards or Note cards.
1. Bibliography Cards
Bibliography cards can help you keep track of your sources. Write your source on them, in MLA format, and number them for reference. Put source numbers on your note cards, so you know which source every note is from.
2. Note Cards
Note Cards can help you keep track of information from your sources. Take a note card and write down relevant information on the front, with the source number on the back. This will help you with organizing your facts and writing your paper later.
Organize Your Research
Finally, you have to group your sources and organize them. One of the best ways to do this is to order them from most to least critical. Also, you can organize sources based on the order of your arguments.
Writing your Research Paper Outline and Thesis
Now, when you have finished your research and have organized it, you can begin writing your research paper.
First of all, you have to form a thesis. A thesis is a brief statement that the researcher puts forward for the readers to describe what the paper will be about. It should emphasize what you are going to prove or explain in your research paper.
To form a clear and relevant thesis, ask yourself: what is my paper about? The answer to this question is exactly what your thesis statement should be.
For example, this is how your answer might sound:
“My paper is about the reasons that pushed both the North, and South, to fight in the Civil War.”
This sentence reveals the main topic of your paper. However, if you make it your thesis statement just as it is, it will be weak, which in turn, will influence your grade. Therefore, you should only consider your answer as a starting point, and then evolve it to make a powerful, definitive statement. A good example of a thesis statement based on the topic mentioned above would be:
“While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons, while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.”
As you can see, a good thesis should be impersonal, definitive, clear, and straight to the point. Also, it should be arguable – meaning that someone could disagree with it. This is the formula for a strong statement.
Once you think you have formed a good thesis, don’t hesitate to check in with your professor to get feedback.
Now, let’s move on to the next stage. Writing an outline is what will help you begin to build your research paper and ensure a logical flow of ideas. In a nutshell, the key purpose of an outline is to structure your paper. It should include a detailed plan for each section of your paper. If done right, it will help you to:
- Understand the flow of information and how your ideas are related;
- Organize your thoughts in a logical sequence;
- Ensure that you won’t miss anything while writing.
Here is a good example of how a research paper outline should look:
Topic: Measles and the vaccination debate
- Definition of measles
- Rise in cases of recent years in places the disease was previously eliminated or had very low rates of infection
- Figures — the number of cases per year on average, and number in recent years. Relate to immunization
II. DANGERS OF MEASLES
- Symptoms and timeframes of disease
- Risk of fatality, including statistics
- How measles is spread
III. PREVENTATIVE MEASURES AND RECENT DOUBTS
- Immunization procedures in different regions
- The immunization debate, addressing two sides: why immunization is recommended and why groups are questioning its validity
- Different regions, focusing on the arguments from those against immunization
IV. SPECIFIC CASES OF NOTE RELATED TO IMMUNISATION DEBATE
- Outbreaks in USA, Australia, and Thailand
- Immunization figures in affected regions
- High number of cases in non-immunizing regions
V. MEASLES AND OTHER DISEASES
- Dangers presented by measles and its link to other diseases
- Illnesses that can result from the measles virus
- Fatal cases of other illnesses after patients contract measles
- Summary of arguments of different groups
- Summary of figures and relationship with recent immunization debate
- Concluding statement based on data gathered
- Which side of the argument appears to be correct?
Finally, you can move on to writing your research paper. An approximate structure for your paper should look as follows:
- Abstract and Keywords
- Previous related works (not mandatory)
- Detailed section of the main topic
- Experimental Results
While writing, it makes sense to form your paper in the same sequence, gradually moving from the abstract all the way to your conclusion section. That’s when following your outline should come in handy. By now, you should already have a detailed plan, so all that is left to do is to add more words to it and fill in the information.
As a rule, in the course of writing, you may face certain pitfalls. One of the most common ones is getting stuck on a specific section, trying to formulate your thoughts appropriately. Here is a tip: at this stage, there is no need to worry about the flawless grammar and word choices. After all, now, you are just writing your first draft. Later, you will have enough time to polish your text and bring it to perfection.
Proofreading and Editing
Many students don’t realize the importance of proofreading and editing. They believe that once they finish writing their research paper, it is all set and ready to be submitted. However, that’s the wrong approach. These two steps are vital for ensuring the overall success of your paper. Thus, they should not be neglected.
One of the most effective methods of proofreading is the following idea. As a rule of thumb, the idea is to re-read your draft every few days to see if it reads naturally. This way, you will have a few days to distract yourself and pull back from the content of your research to look at it with a fresh perspective later on. Consequently, you should be able to notice flaws that were previously invisible to you.
Another good idea is to ask your parents or peers to proofread your paper as well. It never hurts to hear an opinion of someone who wasn’t directly involved in the research paper. Ask them if the paper is exciting and straightforward. Then, use their feedback to polish your paper.
It is recommended to create your first draft as early as possible—yet, not to rush the process. Proofreading and editing can take a lot of time, so you should ensure that you have enough time to do everything before the deadline.
What should you pay attention to when proofreading? The most obvious purpose of this step is to identify any grammatical mistakes in the text. However, there is much more to it than there seems. When proofreading your work, it is vital to check the logical flow of ideas and structure. Readability also matters. You should make sure that your thoughts are presented in a simple and understandable language. Finally, you need to check compliance with the given instructions, analyze the coherence and in-depth examinations in body paragraphs, and ensure that you have a valid conclusion.
To make proofreading and editing a bit faster and easier, you can use tools like Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, etc. Such tools can come in handy when checking the grammar, structure, style of writing, clarity, and prevalence of plagiarism. These tools can speed up the whole process significantly. However, do not rely on such tools completely. After all, a computer is not always as accurate as a real proofreader.
Research Paper Examples
It can seem quite hard to write a research paper that deserves a good grade. As you will be gradually moving from one section of a paper to another, you will probably come across numerous questions and pitfalls. Overcoming these challenges can be uneasy, especially if this is the first time you are dealing with this type of task. That is why it is always a great idea to keep a high-quality example of a research paper at hand. Below are a few examples of how a top-notch research paper should look. Study the examples to have an idea of how to write yours:
Business ethics refer to the principles that guide the way businesses are carried out. They basically imply the distinction between right and wrong in conducting business (Shaw 2). This, however, begs the question of what can be considered wrong, and what might be the right, ways of doing business. To this effect, business ethics refer to the accepted code of conduct employed by the company, to all, and any, concerned stakeholders.
Recently, youth gang connected attacks have been occurring in an increasing prevalence, with some even causing deaths, such as the killing of a college student at Suburbs East. Such occurrences have made a lot of people to wonder about the origin of those violent actions, with much of the extent of guilt being put on the parents of such adolescents. In any event, one has to question whether the parents should be penalized for the offenses of their kids.
You have finally finished working on your research paper, what’s next? Now, the last thing you should do is to double-check everything to ensure that your paper is ready to be turned in. Our checklist should help you with this:
- Does it meet all the given requirements and instructions?
- Does your paper stick to the chosen topic and disclose it fully?
- Have you chosen credible, logical, and reliable sources of information?
- Is your thesis strong, clear, and arguable?
- Are the sections of your paper (as well as ideas you presented there) well-organized and easy to understand?
- Is your research paper unique?
- Did you proofread and edit your paper?
- Is it formatted properly?
- Are you ready to turn it in?