How to Write a Research Paper

Once you transition from high school to college,  you must learn how to do a research paper at a much more advanced level. College professors have much higher standards when it comes to what they will accept when you write a research paper. They will expect everything to be well researched, perfectly written, and properly cited. Fortunately, the following guide will go over how to write a research paper step by step. Bookmark this page as it is a reliable guide on how to do a research assignment.

Steps For Choosing a Writing Topic

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the subject you will write your research paper on. Depending on the assignment, you  might have your choice of any topic. You may also be required to choose from a limited list. The other option is that  you are stuck with the topic that your professor gives you.

Even if you must use the topic provided to you, there is still some flexibility in how you choose to approach your topic. You learn how to write a great research paper, by focusing on these steps for choosing a writing topic:

  1. Start With Relevant Topics That Are Familiar And Interesting

Not only will you have an easier time if you choose a topic that you find interesting or on which you have some advanced knowledge, you might enjoy the work a bit more. Even if the subject is fairly new for you, think back on the lectures. What did your instructor cover that you found to be most interesting.

Just keep in mind that knowing a subject doesn’t give you a pass from doing proper research. You will still need to read online and go to the library to find academically appropriate sources.

  1. Review Your Class And Study Notes

Before you choose a topic, spend a bit of time going over your notes. Some potential topics may become clearer as the choice that is easier, more interesting, or that allows you to dig into something a bit more in depth.

  1. Make General Topics More Specific

As you narrow down your selections, try making topics that are too general a bit more specific. When you do this, you will be able to choose a topic that is focused and truly interesting. For example, the research paper topic, ‘the development of the mental health system in America’, is way too broad.

On the other hand, ‘The development of public mental health systems in rural and urban areas in the United States’ might be a bit more doable.

  1. Do a Scholarly Database Search on Each Potential Subject

Forget about Google (unless you’re using Google scholar). Instead,  hit up the scholarly databases you have access to through your school and local library. You will quickly learn which topics have plenty of valid sources and which do not. Remember, the better the resources, the better you will do.

  1. Discuss Topic Selection in a Study Group

If you have joined a study group for the class in question, start a discussion on topic selection. Exchanging ideas with other students in the same position that you are can be a great way to kickstart some great topic ideas. If you have an idea of what your topic is going to be, this is a great way to get a bit of validation (or critique).

  1. Ask a TA or Your Instructor For Their Thoughts

If you are really struggling to cement a great topic idea, consider approaching your TA or even the instructor. More than likely, they will be happy to give you some guidance. Just don’t go to them empty handed. Show them that you have done some work, and at the very least  have cultivated a starting list of topics.

  1. Make a List of Pros And Cons

Once you have narrowed your list, it’s time to start analyzing your final choices. This is best done by creating a list of pros and cons. For example, if your topic is ‘Does a consumer review for a product have more influence than an advertisement?’ for a marketing research paper, your list of pros and cons might look like this:


  • Lots of Online Resources on This

  • Perfect Topic For a Persuasive Paper

  • I Can Cite Plenty Examples of Research Papers on This Topic


  • May be Too Generic

  • Too Much Data From Promotional Sources

  • Difficult to Follow Instructions to Write in Chronological Order

Key Points to Consider

Before you sit down to write your first college research paper, please consider the following:

  • Structure is key. Knowing how to structure a research paper allows you to build the framework upon which you will argue your points and prove your thesis statement.
  • Your introduction is very important. Check out the Do’s and Don’ts section below!
  • Your concluding paragraph should synthesize the evidence you have presented. You want to show that the totality of what you have written supports your thesis. Don’t simply repeat your points.
  • Stay organized throughout the entire process
Do and Don’t
  • Use an app like EasyBib to automate citations
  • Research how to start off a research paper with an anecdote, quote, or compelling fact
  • Find a great research paper example and study how arguments are presented
  • Focus on scholarly articles and academic research databases
  • Ensure that  you turn in all of your deliverables. You won’t be graded on  just the final draft.
  • Cite a website in a paper without verifying that it is a valid source
  • Forget to use Evernote or other similar app to organize your notes
  • Fail to make backup copies of your work
  • Miss opportunities to get needed help from your instructor or student learning center
  • Turn anything in without double checking spelling, grammar, and formatting
Common Mistakes And How to Fix/Avoid Them

One of the pitfalls of writing a research paper is that their are many common mistakes that are too easy to make. Here is a list of a few them along with some ways to avoid making these errors yourself.

  • Many websites that are commercial or that have a social/political agenda do a very good job of making their content look well-researched and academically reliable. They may even cite studies supporting their position.

  • Do your research. Don’t just get out the source you are going to use. Trace back to the sources that they use until you are at the original source material. If that passes the truth test, you have a reliable source. Likewise, sticking with online resources from government and academic websites is a good idea.

  • Because most student’s written communication is quite casual (think social media), many tend to use abbreviations, slang, contractions, and acronyms. You know that this type of writing isn’t appropriate for academia. However, many students can slip into these habits without realizing it. Be a bit vigilant to avoid this.

  • On the other hand, overly stilted writing can be a turnoff as well. Using needlessly complex terminology or big words can make it appear as if you are trying to cover up for a lack of research or subject matter knowledge. Keep writing simple, straightforward, and audience appropriate.

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