Writing a Research Paper

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What's a research paper?[edit]

A paper involving hands-on or library-based research, or both. Expectations for research papers differ depending on discipline.

For specific guidance for history, see How to Write a Research Paper in History.

Selecting a Topic[edit]

  • Step One: Things to Consider
    1. What do you really care about (in school or out of school)?
    2. If you had all the time in the world, what would you spend your time doing? Studying?
    3. What do you want to learn more about?


Your answers may range from the very academic (e.g., plant science, Gettysburg Address) to non-academic subjects (e.g., car mechanics, basketball, etc.).


  • Step Two: Pose an Analytical Question

Once you have narrowed down a subject matter to study more thoroughly, you need to pose an analytical question about the subject or topic. Using “why” or “how” often works much better than “what,” and promotes better critical thinking. Use open-ended questions, such as:

      • I have always wondered why _________________________________________.
      • I have always wondered how _________________________________________.
      • I wonder why/how ______________________ about _____________________.
      • What about __________________________would you like to learn more about?


  • Step Three: Take it a Step Further

Fill in the blanks for the subject, and then focus on the content to be learned. For example:

    • I wonder how ___________________________________________ about the Civil War.


Student Response: I wonder how soldiers on one side of the battle were able to gain information about the other side during the Civil War when computers, radar and military intelligence were not available as they are today.


Now we are getting somewhere.


  • Step Four: Finding the Current “Academic Conversation”

Whatever the subject, there is probably a conversation occurring about it (or a conversation has occurred sometime in the past). Whether the topic is highly academic or only slightly in the academic circle, there is most likely something people have already said about the issue. Find it! Research!


  • Step Five: Drawing Conclusions/Making Inferences

As you read your research, you are drawing conclusions and making inferences; ultimately you are forming an opinion – a position! You will defend your position in a thesis statement.

Doing research[edit]

Thesis statements[edit]

Structure of the paper[edit]

Body Paragraphs[edit]

Introductions[edit]

Conclusions[edit]

Citing your sources[edit]

Citing your sources serves several purposes: it shows where you drew information from, it enables interested readers to find out more by giving them the tools to find those sources, and it gives credit to the authors whose work you used. It is also a crucial part of preventing plagiarism.

Parenthetical Documentation[edit]

Works Cited section[edit]