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How to Write a Research Paper: Student’s Practical Guide

Written by David Santana
Posted: November 26, 2021
Last update date: March 22, 2024
14 min read

Have you been wandering in the confusing maze of academic research, wondering where to turn for guidance on what should a research paper look like and how to set up a research paper? If so, you have landed in just the right spot. This article will discuss the intricate process of writing a top-notch academic research paper, providing step-by-step directions.

Our primary mission is to make the research paper writing journey accessible and stress-free for all the students. Here is a quick roadmap of what is ahead:

  • After reading the article, you will understand how to compose an outstanding research paper.
  • The article provides a step-by-step guide to structuring a research paper.
  • Clearly defining your research topic helps keep your paper focused.
  • When writing your first draft, don’t forget to think about your audience.
  • Citing sources as a crucial role in avoiding plagiarism.

Consider this article your trusted companion, offering practical research paper guidelines to make your research paper writing journey a breeze. Scroll down to learn everything you need to know about crafting a professional research paper without getting help from quick essay writers!

What is a Research Paper?

Unfortunately, many students begin their research paper writing journey without clearly understanding what a research paper is. Are you wondering, too? Well, think of it as a document where you dive deep into a topic, like becoming a detective for a while. You spend much time gathering information, evidence, and facts from various sources to understand and explain something.

Now, one question might pop into your mind – How does a research paper stand apart from others? The big difference is how you use all the gathered sources and facts. In a research paper, you use all your research to support your ideas, arguments, or theories. You are not just giving your opinion but backing it up with solid evidence from other experts.

Other papers, like essays, might focus more on your thoughts or feelings. They are often based on something different than your perspective and might not require you to conduct research. Research papers are like information-packed investigations, while other papers are more about expressing your thoughts.

Research Paper Writing Steps

Research paper writing can be an exciting journey, much like any adventure. Just like any trip, it is essential to have a roadmap to guide you through the process. Without the roadmap, you will sail aimlessly in a vast sea of information without a caption. Here are the steps you must follow to write research papers that impress your readers!

Understanding the Assignment

Imagine you are planning a road trip. Before you hit the road, you will want to know where you are headed, right? Similarly, when you start the research paper writing process, it is crucial to understand the scope of your journey.

Most research papers without a well-defined scope face the risk of rejection by academic journals or publishers. Identifying the scope of your journey is just like setting your GPS destination. It will help you stay on track, avoid getting lost, and reach your destination efficiently and timely. Here is why it matters a lot:

  • Keeps you focused: Imagine you are writing about climate change. If your paper’s scope is broad, like “Climate Change and its effects,” you might end up all over the place, discussing everything from carbon emissions to melting ice caps. However, with a clearly defined scope like “Impact of Climate Change on Polar Bear Habitats,” you will be more likely to stay focused.
  • Saves Much Time: With a well-defined scope, you will know where to look for information. It will further prevent you from gathering unnecessary information and save you much time during the research process.
  • Clarifies Your Purpose: Understanding the scope will help you determine the purpose of your paper. You will know whether your paper aims to inform, persuade, analyze, or compare.

Types of Research Papers

Once you are clear about the scope of your research paper, you will know what type of paper you want to write. Here are the most popular types of research papers:

  1. Argumentative Research Paper: An argumentative research paper for college requires you to take a stance on an issue and support it with solid evidence. Think of this like a courtroom. You are presenting a case and arguing for a particular viewpoint. For example, if your topic is “Should Vaccinations be Mandatory for School Children?” your thesis statement might be “Mandatory vaccinations are essential to prevent the spread of various diseases in school-going children.” Here, you are taking a stance and providing evidence to support your argument.
  2. Analytical Research Paper: Analytical research papers are focused on breaking the topic into its critical components to understand a target audience better. In an analytical paper, you are not required to take sides. Instead, you just have to break down the topic and examine all its parts. Let us say your topic is “The Industrial Revolution’s Impact on Society.” Your paper can explore the causes, effects, and societal changes without taking a stance on a specific viewpoint. It is like dissecting a complex machine to understand the workings of each part.

So, by clearly defining your scope, you ensure a focused and purposeful paper and determine whether it will be an argumentative journey or an analytical exploration.

Importance of a Relevant Topic and Tips for Choosing it

Think of your research paper topic as the starting point of your paper, like the first and main ingredient in a recipe. Choosing the right one will be like finding the perfect puzzle piece – it must fit just right. A relevant topic will keep your research and writing focused. Without it, you will end up writing a paper that is all over the place. Also, when you are interested in the topic chosen, the research and writing process becomes more enjoyable. Otherwise, it will just feel like a significant burden on your shoulders.

Moreover, a well-chosen topic will help your readers know exactly what to expect from your paper. It is like putting the correct label on the jar to tell people what is stored inside.

Tips for Choosing the Right Topic

Are you uncertain about what to write a research paper on? Here is how you can pick a good topic for a research paper:

  • Consider Your Interests: To write a good research paper, choosing a topic that genuinely interests you is important. If you are passionate about music, writing about “The Influence of Jazz on Modern Music” will be more engaging than a topic you have no interest in.
  • Start Broad, Narrow Down Later: Imagine you are writing about the “Impact of Technology on our Lives.” That is pretty broad, right? You could narrow it down to “Impact of Smartphones on Teenagers’ Social Lives’. By doing so, you are making your topic more specific and manageable.
  • Identify Research Potential: Before finalizing your topic, ensure enough information is available for research. If you cannot find any sources or data on the chosen topic, you must look for another.

Conducting Preliminary Research

Once you have your research topic in hand, it is time to gather the building blocks for your paper. The first rule of research is to find reliable sources. Think of it like baking a cake- you want the best ingredients. Credible sources are like high-quality ingredients that make your paper rich and flavorful.

Look for books, academic journals, articles from reputable websites, and research papers related to your topic. Libraries, online databases such as RefSeek, and university websites are great places to start your own research. However, avoid random websites, as most do not provide accurate or trustworthy information.

As you find valuable information, take notes of key facts, statistics, quotes, and source details. Also, take notes of where you found each piece of information. It will save you a lot of time and energy to cite sources later.

Once you have collected your information and notes, it is time to organize them. Think of this step as sorting your treasure into neat piles. Create categories or sections that match the structure of your paper.

Conducting preliminary research is like setting the stage for your research paper. Finding reliable sources ensures your paper is built on a strong foundation, taking notes helps you remember the valuable information you have discovered, and organizing your findings makes writing a research paper a breeze.

Formulate a Thesis Statement

Now that you have done your research and are starting to gather your thoughts, it is time to create the heart of your paper – the thesis statement. You might be wondering what exactly thesis statements are. They are like the main points or core ideas of your research papers. A sentence that tells your readers what your paper is about and your stance.

While formulating a thesis statement for your paper, keep it specific, arguable, concise, and connected to your research. Also, remembering that your thesis is not set in stone is worth remembering. As you continue to research and write, you can refine it to understand your topic better.

Create a Research Paper Outline

Imagine you are building a house. Before you start the construction work, it is important to have a blueprint, right? Well, think of creating a research paper outline as a blueprint for your paper. It will help you organize your thoughts and ensure your paper flows thoroughly. An outline will give your paper a better structure and provide clarity to readers.

Now, let us briefly discuss the parts of a research paper outline:

  1. Title & Abstract: Start a research paper with the title page. It is the first page of the paper shows the title of the research paper and the author’s name. It also shows affiliations, acknowledgments, and other specific information relevant to the paper. Next comes the abstract – a concise summary of the paper that includes the main problem, the research paper question, the study’s goal, the methods implemented, the findings, and the study’s contributions.
  2. Introduction: The introduction section is the first main section of your paper and sets the stage for what follows next. It offers readers the necessary background and context for your study. Also, the introductory paragraph provides an overview of the main points or technical arguments your paper will explore. The best research paper introduction section offers a concise presentation of your central topic while summarizing the existing state of research within the current scientific literature and community.
  3. Literature Review: In this part, we look at past research and previous studies to find gaps. We also discover new possibilities in the topic. A good literature review in a paper gives a wider view of the study and its language. It also helps the reader understand other related works better.
  4. Methodology: The methods section explains how the study was done, including the plan, who was involved, what materials were used, the steps taken, and how the data was analyzed. In a research paper, this section should contain all the steps and specifics used to find the research results. It must have detailed information enough so other researchers can repeat the study if needed.
  5. Results: The results section shares the study’s main findings through visuals like figures and tables. It should stick to facts and avoid interpretation or discussion.
  6. Discussion: The discussion section interprets the study’s results, explains how they relate to the research question and prior studies, mentions study limitations, and suggests implications or recommendations for future research or practice.
  7. Conclusion: The effective research paper conclusion sums up the main points, restates the research questions, and highlights key contributions without introducing new information or unnecessary repetition.
  8. References: The annotated bibliography summarizes all used materials, while the references section lists only cited sources in a specific citation style (like APA or MLA), excluding sources only read or consulted.
  9. Appendices: Appendices should include supplementary materials such as charts, statistics, and efficient mathematical solutions and formulas that enhance understanding.

Remember, the outline will be your roadmap for the research paper. It does not need to be too detailed, just a skeleton of your paper’s structure. It will help you stay organized and ensure your paper is well-structured, making it easier for you to write and for your readers to navigate. So, before you start building the walls of your paper, focus on creating a solid outline.

Writing a First Draft

Once you have gathered your research and created an outline, it is time to dive into the exciting process of writing your first draft. It might not be perfect, but it is the starting point for something great. Now, one thing you must remember while writing your paper’s first draft is the target audience.

Take a little time to understand your paper’s target audience. Who are you writing for? Is it experts in your field, classmates, or a general audience? Knowing your target audience before writing your first draft will help you choose the right tone and language for your message. Just like you would not use complicated jargon when talking to the senior members of your family about technology, you will have to tailor your writing to your target audience’s level of understanding.

Also, when writing the first draft of your research paper, do not worry too much about perfection. It is more like building the framework of your paper. You can refine and polish it in later drafts. Just let your ideas flow and consider your target audience’s preferences!

Proofreading for Grammar, Syntax, and Structure Errors

Proofreading your research paper will help you catch spelling mistakes, fix awkward topic sentences, and tidy up your paper’s overall structure. While proofreading, take enough time and read aloud to help yourself spot errors that you might miss when reading silently.

Moreover, you can use spell-check and grammar-check tools to catch common mistakes. However, do not rely on them entirely, as they often miss context-specific errors. When proofreading your final draft, concentrate on one type of error at a time. For example, look for grammar errors first, then syntax and structure errors. It will make the proofreading process more manageable and efficient.

Remember, proofreading is like giving your paper the last layer of polish. Therefore, take your time, be patient, and give your paper the finishing touch it deserves. Your readers will be thankful for it!

Citing Sources

Using information or ideas from other sources is like borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle to complete yours. Citing sources is crucial as it shows you have done your homework and gives credit to the original creators of the ideas or information you are using. Also, it makes your paper look more authentic and credible.

Now, different citation styles are like different languages for your citations. Each style has its formatting style, but they all serve the same purpose – making your sources clear and accessible.

Here are a few citation styles for research papers:

  1. APA (American Psychological Association): is often used in social sciences and psychology. APA Style typically includes the author’s name and publication year in parentheses, like (Smith, 2023).
  2. MLA (Modern Language Association): is commonly used in the humanities. In a Modern language association, you usually include the author’s name and page number, (Smith 45).
  3. Chicago Style: is used in history and other fields. It has two main styles: notes and bibliography (used for citations within the text) and author-date (used in the sciences).
  4. IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers): is often used in engineering and computer science. It uses numbers in square brackets, like [1].

Each style has its unique rules and formatting guidelines. Therefore, choose the style that fits your field and adheres to your professor’s or institute’s guidelines. However, if you still struggle to cite the sources, you can use PapersOwl’s helping tools. These free citation generators will help you generate a citation in any style you want.

Therefore, there is no need to spend your precious time memorizing all the rules and formatting guidelines for each style. Also, be sure not to overlook the inclusion of page numbers. Page numbers are essential for proper citation and referencing in research papers.

Creating a Bibliography or Works Cited Page

Creating a bibliography or references list for your research paper is like giving credit where it is due. It is essential to list all the sources you have used, like books or websites, following a specific citation style (APA, MLA, etc.). Organize the research paper’s citations alphabetically by the author’s last name and use hanging indents. This clear and organized reference list adds credibility to your paper and helps readers explore your sources faster.

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Tips on How to Write a Research Paper Fast

Do you wonder how to write a research paper fast without sacrificing quality? Here are a few tips on how to write a research paper fast:

  • Write in Sprints and Set Realistic Goals: Break your writing process into manageable chunks. Set aside specific blocks of time, like 30 minutes to an hour, and commit to focused writing during those periods. Also, you must set realistic goals for each sprint, like completing an outline or writing a specific section. By doing so, you will make steady progress without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Eliminate Distractions: For working on a research paper, you should find a quiet and comfortable space to work in. Turn off notifications on your phone or computer, and let your family or roommates know you need uninterrupted time. Distractions can interrupt your writing flow, so create a distraction-free zone.
  • Prioritize Sections of a Research Paper: When writing a research paper, start with the most interesting or comfortable sections. It will help build your momentum. Also, do not get bogged down if stuck on a particular part. Move to another section and come back to it later.
  • Revise and Edit Later: Do not obsess over perfection during your initial draft. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper. You can fine-tune and polish your writing while reviewing and editing your paper. Trying to write perfectly from the start can slow you down.
  • Use Academic Writing Tools: Take advantage of writing tools and software to help you stay organized and improve your writing. Tools like grammar and spell checkers, citation generators, and writing apps can save you time and reduce the chances of errors.

Final Thoughts on Your Journey to Research Paper Success

This step-by-step research paper guide on the steps to write a research paper has shown you the way to create a successful paper that meets research paper requirements and makes a good research paper. We’ve covered understanding your scope, picking interesting topics, doing research, making strong thesis statements, and organizing your ideas according to the format for research paper. We’ve also talked about writing with your readers in mind, checking for mistakes, and giving credit to your sources. With these tips, you’re ready to start your research paper journey. Remember, it’s not just about finishing; it’s about what you learn and share as you go. Happy writing!


How long should a research paper be?

The length of a research paper varies based on factors like field, research type, and institutional or publisher guidelines. Generally, high school papers range from 5-20 pages. Undergraduate papers typically span 10-30 pages. Graduate-level research, especially theses or dissertations, can be much longer, sometimes spanning hundreds of pages. However, academic journal articles, targeting professionals, usually fall between 3,000-12,000 words. Always consult specific guidelines or instructors for precise length requirements.

Why is it important to use citations within your research paper?

Using citations in a research paper is essential for acknowledging original ideas, giving credit to prior researchers. They enhance credibility by showing that the content is backed by reputable sources. Citations also allow readers to delve deeper into topics by consulting the original sources. Most importantly, proper citation prevents plagiarism in your research paper, ensuring that the work maintains academic integrity and respects intellectual contributions.

How many sources should a research paper have?

The number of sources for a research paper varies based on its length, depth, and academic level. For shorter high school or undergraduate papers, 3-5 sources may be sufficient. Longer undergraduate and graduate papers might require 10-30 sources or more. Complex topics, literature reviews, or theses demand comprehensive sourcing. It’s crucial to prioritize quality and relevance of sources over quantity, ensuring a well-researched foundation.

What steps can I take to make the process of writing a research paper less daunting?

First, ensure you have a clear grasp of the assignment and select a topic that resonates with you. Starting well in advance gives you the advantage of pacing your research. Organized notes and, of course, consistent effort, coupled with timely breaks, will help maintain your focus. In conclusion, focusing on the potential impact and outcome of your research can significantly reduce the daunting nature of the writing process.
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