How to Write a Research Paper

Research paper–the very words send chills down the spines of students everywhere. If you’re a student, research papers are a reality of life and something you’ll be writing until your graduation day. There are some things you can do, and guidelines to follow that make writing a research paper little less painful.

Every good research paper begins with a good topic or idea. If possible, pick something that you’re interested in. Writing about something you enjoy can make all the difference. Also, consider the amount of information available on the topic. A topic can be too broad or too narrow–you want a topic you can cover fully, but not something so specific you aren’t able to find information from various sources.

You can conduct a quick search of books, encyclopedias, magazines, the Internet and journals to get an idea of how much information you can uncover on your topic. If sources become scarce, librarians can often help; take advantage of their knowledge.


Outlining is a good idea for anyone writing a research paper–it will help you brainstorm ideas and keep them organized so your paper flows well.

You can develop outlines based on chronological events, cause-and-effect relationship, the logic of a position or the process of accomplishing something. Most word processors have an outline feature making it easy to create and edit an outline. Or, check an MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook for its recommended format.

Writing Your Paper

Research papers have different parts including a title page, abstract, body, conclusion and reference page. Each part has a specific purpose. This article is based on MLA documentation guidelines. Before beginning any research paper, make sure you know what style you should use and any other preferences the instructor may have.


The purpose of your title page or heading is to state the name of your paper and include other important information like your name, the instructor’s name, the name of the class and the date. Unless directed otherwise, the heading should appear at the top of the first page of your paper in the left-hand margin. The title of you paper should be centered–capitalize the first and all principal words but do not underline or bold your title.


The purpose of the abstract is to give an overview of the paper. The abstract should contain the main thoughts and ideas of the paper but not be longer than a couple paragraphs.


The introduction’s main purpose is to introduce the research paper. This section should be captivating and incite the reader’s curiosity. The introduction can vary from a few paragraphs for a short research paper (3-5 pages) to a number of pages or even a chapter for a senior project or thesis.


The body of your research paper contains the majority of the information and facts. It should be the longest section of your paper. Some tips for writing a good body of a research paper are:

o Double space the entire paper including the works cited page.

o Avoid the phrases “I think” or “I feel.” Because you are the author, people already know the opinions expressed are yours.

o Avoid the passive voice. For example, instead of writing “America was discovered by Christopher Columbus” write, “Christopher Columbus discovered America.”

o Read your paper aloud. Do you stumble over the words? Do they flow nicely? Do the sentences sound natural? This is a great way to develop sentences and tell if you need revisions. You can also find grammatical errors by reading your paper aloud.

o Always have someone else read your paper. They will catch errors and provide useful advice.

o Use Spelling and grammar tools in your word processor.

o Avoid Plagiarism. If you use someone else’s ideas, even if you rephrase them in your way, you still need to give that person credit.

o Don’t Procrastinate. Good research papers take time and if you wait until the night before the paper is due, you’re in for a long night of ineffective writing.


The closing of your research paper should include your final statements and sum up the paper. It shouldn’t be any longer than your introduction. Many writers will refer back to the situation or story in their introduction to summarize the paper.

Works Cited/References

This section of your research paper should include all of the resources you used to gather information. It may include books, encyclopedias, magazine articles, journal articles, newspapers and even personal interviews. Below are a few common examples of how to cite a reference:


Authors Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Date

Article in a Monthly Magazine

Authors Last Name, First Name. “Title of Article.” Name of Magazine Month. Year: Pages on which the article appears.


Creator(s) of the site. Title of the site. Date of publication or latest update. Name of organization associated with the site.

One final thought–like anything, research papers become easier with practice. The more you write, the more efficient you’ll become.


Hacker, Diana, A Writer’s Reference, Fourth Edition. Bedford, St. Martin’s, (1998)

Stewart Library, WSU. Citing Print and Electronic Sources. [Ogden, 2002] 30 Sept. 2005>

Webster, A Guide to Research Paper Based on MLA Documentation. [2003] 30 Sept. 2005

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