Steps to Writing an Excellent Research Paper

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Getting an assignment for a research paper can feel overwhelming, especially if it is your first semester. Although, even later semesters can bring on some stress.

The best way to tackle a research paper assignment is to step back from the stressful aspect of the task and instead break it down into segments. By looking at smaller pieces instead of looking at the task as a whole, students can work through each piece and feel less overwhelmed.

Want to learn how to write an excellent research paper? Read on.

Brainstorm to Choose Your Topic

If a topic is provided by the professor this step can be eliminated, however many professors give students either a range of ideas to choose from or give open choice on research paper topics. There are many approaches to brainstorming, and it is important to select a technique that works for you. The key idea is to get some interesting subjects listed and then connect the proverbial dots in order to come up with a concise topic that is relevant to the assignment.

Outline Ideas

After a topic is chosen, the next step is to outline all ideas for each section of the paper. This can be approached in a variety of ways, but one way which may work is to look at the main components of the assignment, open up a word processing document and then create a title for each section.

Once this is done, you can do some more brainstorming, but this time do it for ideas to include in each subsection of the topic you need to cover in research. Then place them in the document for saving. It is possible you may not use all your ideas, but it’s better to write down an iffy idea than to lose a good one all together because you can’t remember what it was. 


Research can be done numerous ways. The library and the Internet are likely going to be your primary sources for finding information on your topic. A good rule of thumb for any research paper is to use a combination of web references, periodicals and reference books to cover the breadth of information necessary to complete the topic.

It is important to use quality and reputable sources, document, cite and create a list of references as you do research; by doing the latter you can elude the pitfall of scrambling at the last minute to find all your sources for your bibliography or research page. Keeping careful documentation of research as you go along will prove invaluable towards the end of the project. 

When you look for references, be careful to choose ones which are credible, academic and provide strong information to back up the paper’s argument or thesis.  Another important factor is to pay close attention to college and professor expectations. Schools typically have guidelines they expect students to follow and this could include length of papers, source guidelines and citation format (i.e. MLA or APA – for more information see video below). Understanding these directives before writing the paper will save grief later on and ensure the paper is not marked down for not following citation directions.

Flesh Out Ideas

Once your paper is outlined and enough reference material has been gathered it is time to go back to the outline and begin to expand on those ideas which were jotted down earlier in the project. This is where the real writing is about to begin.


As the ideas are stretched out and become topical segments for the paper, writing begins to happen. When taking on the writing segment be sure to organize notes, categorize data and then pull it all together in draft form. At this point the project is a working document and it is OK to make changes, chances are you’ll make several editorial and content alterations before you are through. It is important to remember to include any citations or quotes you’ve used and attribute them to the author in the body of the paper. Also be sure to include any required portions which may include a title page, introduction, presentation of discussion, analysis, conclusion and prepared source material.


Once writing is complete, it is essential to proofread the research paper. Use spell check, but do not solely rely on it as these are not foolproof to catch everything. If you have a friend or family member willing to take a good look at the paper, this is always helpful. A paper littered with errors is going to be noticed by a professor and likely marked down. Read it out loud to yourself if necessary. Then wait a day and look at it again with a clear eye.

A professor can typically tell which students put good effort into their project and which ones only did minimal work. If you want to learn how to write a dynamite paper your professor will find noteworthy, focus on both the content and structure of the paper to pull together a comprehensive project. As a result the final deliverable will pay off with a good grade.

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