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Writing Center: Research Paper - General Guidelines

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

FAQs About Research Papers

What is a research paper? 

A research paper is an academic paper where the author has conducted research on a chosen topic and presented an argument about the topic using the sources they researched. 

What is the purpose of a research paper? 

The purpose of a research paper is to enhance the body of knowledge on a subject field. 

What are the types of research papers? 

While there are multiple types of research papers, argumentative and analytical research papers are the most common. In an argumentative research paper, the author selects an argument and uses research to persuade the audience towards their point of view. An analytical paper answers a question that the author has raised using sources. 

What sources can I use for research papers? 

You can use a variety of different sources for your research paper. You can use the Internet to find books, periodicals, electronic resources, and more. Google Scholar is often a helpful online resource. You can also use the campus library to conduct research. The campus library has physical resources, such as newspapers and books, and online resources, such as databases, e-books, and journals. 

What is the difference between a primary and secondary source? Which should I use in my research paper? 

A primary source is a source that comes from the original context and time of an event. A secondary source is written about primary sources. Both primary and secondary sources are useful for research papers. You should use sources that help explain and support your topic.  

What citation style is typically used for research papers? 

While research papers can adhere to any citation style, APA (American Psychological Association) is most commonly used for research papers. 

Tips For Writing Research Papers

  • To begin your research, you can: 
    • Brainstorm a question about the topic and seek answers to this question
    • Select a keyword or term and research the definition and conversation around it
    • Identify an argument about your topic and research the sides for and against it
  • Spend an ample amount of time conducting research 
    • Research is the key to a research paper. This process cannot be rushed or skipped over if you want to create an effective research paper
    • Utilize physical and online resources from the campus library as well online resources from other sources to conduct your research 
  • Ensure that the sources you use are credible and verifiable 
    • If you base your research on sources that are not credible, your research may be inaccurate and not regarded as useful by others
  • Think of your research as a scavenger hunt
  • Use a variety of resources 
    • Try to avoid using information from just one type of medium (i.e. books) 
  • Select a research topic that you are both interested in and can find a sufficient amount of academic sources on 
  • Understand that organization is an essential aspect of conducting research 
    • Keep all sources you find useful in a document
      • If a source seems even remotely useful, add it to the document. You may need it later and you do not want to search extensively for it later 
    • Take notes as you read and analyze sources
      • When you find an important quote or section, write down the source, the page number, and the author in your notes
    • Organize all the information you learn into an outline that you can modify as you continue your research 
    • Draw an outline for the paper before you begin writing to understand the structure you should take 
  • Balance your use of quotes  from sources with your own words 
    • Your research paper should mostly be your own words. While quotes are useful, you should not overuse quotes 
    • Quotes should be included when the information cannot be as accurately conveyed in a paraphrase or summary 
    • Professors usually recommend that around 10% of your paper is written in quotes
  • Cite your sources in-text and on the reference page as you enter the sources into your writing 
    • This will prevent you from losing sources or forgetting to cite sources later on
  • Adhere to the rules of the citation style as you write 
    • Avoid adding in the proper in-text citations or formatting of the paper after you finish writing 
  • Select a strong thesis statement and base your paper around this thesis
    • Your thesis statement is the backbone of your writing. Your introduction will provide context for your thesis, your body paragraphs will defend your thesis, and your conclusion will summarize the argument of your thesis. As such, your thesis should be strong
    • Ensure that your thesis statement is defended and supported by each of your body paragraphs 
  • Use transitions to help your audience follow the flow of your essay and understand how your ideas connect  
  • Focus on your title as it is the audience’s first impression of your paper
    • Your title should reflect the purpose and content of your research paper and should be engaging to the audience 

Checklist For Research Papers

  • The title accurately reflects the purpose and content of the paper in an engaging manner
  • The opening sentence is engaging and encourages the audience to keep reading 
  • An ample amount of background information on the topic is provided in the introduction
  • Keywords and terms are defined for the audience as needed
  • The chosen topic is narrowed and specific 
  • The thesis statement is easily identifiable 
  • The thesis statement is narrow and focused on a specific argument 
  • The thesis statement is adequately supported and developed in the body of the paper 
  • Each body paragraph begins with a strong topic sentence 
  • Each body paragraph contains a transition from the paragraph below it 
  • Clear evidence is provided in each body paragraph to defend the thesis 
  • Examples from outside sources are provided to support the arguments in the paper 
  • Use of sources reflects that you have conducted a sufficient amount of research on the topic
  • All claims are supported with evidence 
  • Evidence from sources is not simply stated, but rather analyzed and explained 
  • The conclusion restates the thesis 
  • The conclusion explains how the thesis was supported in the body paragraphs 
  • The conclusion explains the significance of the material 
  • Differing points of view are acknowledged and integrated 
  • Each source mentioned contains a proper citation in-text 
  • Each source mentioned in the body of the paper has an entry on the references page 
  • Every source used is credible and verifiable 
  • None of the sources used are inaccurate or irrelevant  
  • The reference page adheres to the rules of the citation style 
  • Proper in-text citations are used and adhere to the rules of the citation style
  • Proper formatting for the citation style is used throughout the paper
  • The paper follows a logical flow that the audience can easily identify 
  • The paper accomplishes what the thesis states that it will accomplish 
  • Free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors

Additional Resources For Research Papers