Steps to Writing a Great Research Paper

Written by

Ray Grant Walden


September 11, 2014



ResearchPaperWhether you’re earning a high school or college degree, writing a research paper is one of the most popular ways for instructors to gauge your individual understanding of a certain topic.

As a student, your grade will be largely determined by how clearly you outline and articulate your knowledge and ideas concerning any given subject, so knowing how to write a good research paper is an important skill for students to master before completing your degree.

Here are a few steps to writing a good research paper so you can definitely ace your next one.

Research Paper Writing Process:Research & Brainstorm Ideas

What do you want to write about? Sometimes instructors will provide you with a specific writing prompt, but in advanced courses you’ll often have to come up with your own thesis statement based on course readings or in-class discussions. Before you dive into writing your research paper, it’s always a good idea to brainstorm beforehand, coming up with the specific points you want to make in your discussion. Determine kinds of information such as facts, news reports, research studies, and opinions and decide on a general perspective for the paper. You’ll be glad you did later!

Writing a Research Paper: Coming up with a Thesis Statement and General Outline

Composing an online not only organizes your ideas, it also can help you generate new ideas that will ultimately make up the bulk of your paper. First, come up with a single statement that basically helps your reader figure out the general direction that you will take your paper. This will be your thesis statement, so make sure it’s pretty clear but still to the point. Next, come up with at least three examples that help back up your thesis statement. These will be the topics of your supporting paragraphs, which together will make up the body of your research paper. If you can’t come up with enough examples, you might want to go back and revise your thesis statement a little. On the other hand, if you come up with too many examples you’ll need to go back and focus your thesis so it’s more to the point. Once you’ve got a thesis statement and some examples to support it, you’re ready to move into the drafting phase of the research paper writing process!

Drafting Your Research Paper

Drafting is one of the last stages of the writing process that occurs after the research question or thesis statement has been established. Once you have a thesis statement, it won’t be that difficult to come up with a good introduction to your paper. Your introduction will introduce the thesis statement and the rest of your paper, so make sure it’s interesting! Once you have the introduction complete, you can move into the body of the paper. Remember all of those examples you came up with when you were brainstorming? Now is the time to convert each of those into a supporting paragraph. Come up with a strong topic sentence for each example which will basically function like a thesis statement for each of these supporting paragraphs. Next, prove your point, just like you did in your research paper introduction. It’s as simple as that! Once you have enough paragraphs to adequately prove your point, you’ve essentially finished writing the body of your research paper—well, at least the rough draft! Finally, write a conclusion that basically sums up what you’ve said and shows the reader that you have in fact proved your point.

Revise, Edit, Proofread

The last part of the research paper writing process, revision often involves making lots of minor changes to the body of your paper, such as assessing the choices of words, removing sentences, and rearranging paragraphs. Editing involves evaluating the tone, correcting errors and typography, and assessing the flow between paragraphs. Proofreading is the final step and involves reading the paper from beginning to end just to make sure no mistakes were accidentally overlooked. It’s always best to start early on the other parts of the writing process so you’ll have enough time to revise, edit and proofread. Sometimes it takes longer than you might initially think!

Choosing a Citation Format for your Research Paper

When you’re assigned a paper in high school or college, your instructor will usually tell you how he or she would like for you to cite your sources. While you should definitely avoid plagiarism by keeping track of your sources throughout the whole research paper writing process, you can usually hold off on formatting your paper to certain prescribed styles until after you’ve finished revising and editing. Here are the two most popular citation styles, so if the choice is yours, choose the citation format that feels most fitting for the research paper you’re working on. Sticking to a specific format is the best way to write a good research paper!

Modern Language Association (MLA) Research Paper Writing Format

MLA format is most often used to compose liberal arts and humanities papers. Here are some basic guidelines on how to apply the MLA format to your paper.

  • Use a legible font, such as 12-point Times New Roman.
  • Double-space the entire paper.
  • Use one-inch margins on all sides
  • Create a header that includes your last name and consecutively numbers the pages in the top right-hand corner, aligned with the right margin.
  • On the first page of the paper, list first and last name, instructor’s name, course, and date. Center the paper’s title and double-space between the title and first line of text.
  • Your research paper should include an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction is the first paragraph and introduces the topic and thesis. The body serves to prove or support the thesis. The conclusion provides a summary of how the paper proved the thesis.
  • Indent the first line of all paragraphs a half-inch from the left margin.
  • On your Works Cited page, include the author’s names with the first author’s last name first, the title of the source in quotes, publication location, publisher, year of publication, and medium of publication.
  • In-text citations should cite the author’s last name and page reference before the punctuation mark.

American Psychological Association (APA) Research Paper Writing Format

A little less popular than (but in many ways very similar) to MLA format, APA format is often used for social sciences topics. Here’s some guidelines on how to apply APA format to your research paper.

  • Papers should be printed in 12-point Times New Roman font.
  • Use one-inch margins on all sides and double-space throughout the paper.
  • Include a page header, called a running head, at the top of every page. It is a shortened form of the title of the paper that is no more than 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation. The page head should be flush left with the page number flush right at the top of every page.
  • The paper should include four major parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
  • The abstract should include a summary of the key points of the research and be between 150 to 250 words.
  • The title page should include the title of the paper, author’s first and last name (plus middle initial), and institutional affiliation where the research was conducted.
  • The title should be no more than 12 words long and should include only keywords, not “meaningless” words.
  • Page numbers are required one inch from the right corner of the paper and the title page is page 1.
  • For in-text citations, the author (or authors) and the dates of the sources should be cited.
  • The Reference Section lists all the previously cited sources in the body of the paper. The cited information includes the names of the author or authors, year of publication, source name, and if applicable electronic retrieval data.

How to Write a Good Research Paper

Now you know the steps to writing a good research paper and how to go about the whole research paper writing process. All you have to do is choose a topic, come up with supplemental materials, write out a draft, and then edit and format your research paper. Voila! You’ll definitely get an A if you follow these tips!

Written by:  Ray Grant Walden

Ray Grant Walden attended American University College and now lives in Houston. He has enjoyed a very exciting career and has experience in a wide variety of professions, including college counseling.

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