The Commons
Student writing paperMost students cringe with even the thought of a research paper.

With these helpful tips you will be able to successful write a worthy paper and not have to stress about it.

10 Tips for Writing a Research Paper arrow View
Break it down - schedule sub-deadlines. Bite-sized pieces are easier to complete. Set sub-deadlines for topic choice (10% of the time until the due date), research (25%), outline (20%), first draft (25%) and revision (15%). Write them in your daytimer, and meet them!

Decide on a topic. If you have a choice, pick a topic you like. Get your instructor’s approval before doing any work on it!

Initial research. Check books, databases, on-line sources to see if there is enough information. Encyclopedias can be dated, but can be good for an overview. Be cautious with on-line sources:
  • edu or .gov (ending of their URL address) are usually reliable
  • org it depends on the organization’s bias
  • com - these are sites trying to sell something. Beware!
Keep track of ALL sources as you go. Write down reference info or cut & paste URLs on to a spare page for every idea you might use. It’s easier to keep track than to find these again.

Write a thesis statement. This is a one-sentence description of what your paper’s about. It’ll help focus your in-depth research and save you time wasted digressing.

Prepare an outline! This is your “map” for your paper, a huge time-saver. This point form list of ideas for each paragraph in your paper will make writing so much easier.

Do your in-depth research. Now you can focus on information that supports your thesis, and fills in any gaps you may have noticed.

Write a first draft. At this stage, just write, following your outline - don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or the perfect words. Include citations whenever you use someone else’s ideas, photos or

Revise, Revise, Revise! Now you can fix spelling, grammar, formatting, etc. Check next for sense - reading it out loud catches most sense errors. Leave it overnight, and you’ll spot a bunch of other errors!
Submit a rough draft. If your instructor allows it, always submit a draft - it’s like getting the instructor’s help in writing! It’s almost always a mark-raiser!

Bonus Tip: The internet makes it easier to plagiarize … and easier to get caught! If you cut & paste information during your research, always cut & paste the URL so you can later give credit. Use quotation marks in your paper if you’re not changing it into your own words too!
Outline - On Index Cards! arrow View
For planning your outline, try putting your ideas for each paragraph on to individual index cards.

  • This lets you experiment to find the best order of ideas for your outline.
  • You can keep track of sources that support that idea right on the index card
Citations & References arrow View
These can be your easiest marks in a paper because all you have to do is match your source information to a specific format like:
Style guides for each of these formats are available in the Library. If you’re not sure how to use the style guides, just ask the knowledgeable staff members.

Citing your sources is very important to avoid charges of plagiarism, by giving credit to authors or creators of information. It doesn’t matter whether you intended or accidentally plagiarized - the result can still be a zero on the paper or expulsion from college.