How to Write a Research Paper

A research paper is an essay or academic paper in which the content is supported by data or other sources. In other words, instead of just sitting down and writing something from the top of your head, you research about what other people have said about the subject and you then formulate your own ideas and theories on the basis of existing data and knowledge.

Steps to Write a Research Paper

In some ways, knowing how to write a research paper is similar to learning how to write any sort of paper. You will need to:

  • Come up with a topic
  • Do your research
  • Develop a thesis
  • Outline your paper
  • Write your paper
  • Edit your paper

Your teacher is sure to be impressed with your research and writing skills if you follow the steps and do your research correctly.

Choosing a Topic

Coming up with a topic is the first step, because until you know what you want to write about, it can be difficult to do research.

The topic you choose should be narrow enough that you can research or learn about it adequately, but not so narrow that you can’t find anything to say.

  • A topic “Europe” would be far too broad for most research papers, since there is a lot to say about Europe.
  • A topic “the history of events in British Columbia that took place at 2:00 PM on May 3” would be far too narrow because there simply would not be enough data about events at that exact minute and time for you to write a paper about (unless it was an extremely exciting minute in time).

You can pick a topic by brainstorming ideas, and then doing some preliminary research to make sure that information exists on the topic and that the scope of the topic is appropriate for your paper.

After you have come up with a topic or gotten a general idea of what you are going to write about, it is time to begin doing your research.


The next step to knowing how to write a research paper is to understand how to do research. Research occurs when you look up information about your topic. For example, if you are writing a paper on the Revolutionary War, you may want to read American history books that deal with the subject. You can then use information from those books to narrow your topic, say to a particular battle in the revolutionary war, and then find books (or sections of books) on that particular battle.

You can do research in a number of different ways. Using books is the traditional form, but even book research has become easier now that library card catalogs are all online. You can simply visit your local library and use the computer to see if they have any books on your topic. Find those books on the shelf and begin reading what the authors have to say about your subject.

Research has become even easier as a result of the Internet. You can type your topic into a search engine and likely get hundreds or even thousands or millions of results. Just be careful and remember that not everything on the Internet is reliable or true. If you are doing a research paper, you may want to stick to sites with a .org, .edu or .gov ending, since those tend to be more reliable. Regardless of which website you use, make sure you check the Internet source to ensure that they are reliable and that the facts are true.

Your research paper will have to include references, resources, and research. Therefore, you will be using citations in your paper. These can include:

  • Regular quotations
  • Paraphrasing
  • Block quotations
  • Graphs
  • Statistical data
  • Any other sort of information that you get from another resource

As you do research, write relevant notes and keep track of where you got the information. Write down all possible information you may need about your source to cite it correctly, whether you are using APA or MLA format. You’ll want to cite this source info in your paper.

The actual format for the research citation will change depending on which format (e.g. APA or MLA) you use. In general, most formats will require you to:

  • Underline titles of books, magazines and films
  • Use quotation marks around titles of poems, articles, and short stories
  • List authors by their last name first
  • Include the author’s name and page number of the quote on the works cited page


After you have done your research, continue writing your paper as you would any other.

Outline what you plan to say. In addition to helping you stay organized, creating an outline will also help to filter out any unnecessary information. Include notes to yourself in the outline about which research points you are going to use in each paragraph. Make sure:

  • The ideas flow smoothly
  • Your thesis is supported and explored in each paragraph
  • You properly cite the resources, giving credit for any ideas you draw from.

Now you are ready to write from your outline. Create your citations.

  • Some research papers require in-text citations, which means that you must attribute ideas right in your paper. For example, you might write “According to Your, the definition of…” or you could write “The definition of…” (Your Dictionary).
  • Be sure to include a works cited page at the end according to the style manual your teacher specifies (AP style or MLA style are common) so you can show just how much research you have done for your paper.

Follow the appropriate format as instructed by your professor for the citations and works cited page as well as all pages in the research paper to ensure that your research paper is formatted correctly and well received.

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