This is the "About" page of the "How to Write a Research Paper" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content
SPSU Home L.V. Johnson Library

How to Write a Research Paper   Tags: final draft, paper, research paper, rough draft  

A general process for writing a research paper at the college level.
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

About Print Page

Don't Panic! ... and Carry a Towel

Writing anxiety? Have no fear! Librarians are here!

*coughcough* Ummmm.... yeah. That was pretty lame. However, we do have some tips to help you with those dreaded assignments known as research papers. Just hear us out, okay?

Don't Panic!
[Marvin]. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

Take a look at the notes on this page, and then follow these basic steps:

Choose a Topic
Start Brainstorming
Start Your (Initial) Research
Narrow Your Topic
Research, Research, Research!
Write an Outline
Annotated Bibliography (Optional, sometimes)
Write a Rough Draft
Rewrite (Repeatable)
Final Draft


Time Frames

Time & Deadlines.

Research papers come with different deadlines. Know when your paper is due. Put that date in your calendar or your phone. Write it on a post-it note and stick it on your computer. Whatever works for you.

Then, set up a schedule. We suggest 12 steps for writing a research paper, but some steps take more time than others. Does it take a while for you to brainstorm about a topic? Schedule more time for that. Do you need more time to format your citations? Ditto! Set aside more time for it. Create a system that helps YOU.

One good idea would be to finish your first rough draft at the halfway point. That gives you plenty of time to proofread, revise, and rewrite.



Plagiarism. DON'T DO IT!

While you're researching and writing, keep track of your sources. You'll need them for your citations. If you don't cite a source correctly, you're plagiarizing that source. And that's not good.

If you have any questions, please read through our Plagiarism LibGuide. If you still have questions, come talk to us. Use the reference chat. Stop us on the sidewalk. Whatever works best for you!


Professors' Requirements

Remember Professors' Requirements!

Be sure to double-check your assignment guidelines. Your professors will usually provide you with a list of things that must be included.

Look for instructions about

  • the number of pages,
  • the type of citation and style guide, or
  • research requirements.

It's usually okay to have more than a required amount (11 pages instead of 10). It's never okay to have less than a required amount (8 pages instead of 10). If you're confused about an assignment, talk to your prof!

If you're confused about citations or where to locate your sources (Hive Search, specific databases, brick-and-mortar library) ask a librarian!


Know Your Subject

Know More Than You Write!

It's always helpful to know more about a subject than what actually makes it into the paper or assignment.

Your professors read stuff all the time—students' papers, other professors' articles, journal articles, etc. They can tell if you've taken the time to do your own research. Plus, it's good to have some extra information if you suddenly find that you need to fill more pages with stuff. :)

Useful Sites About Writing Research Papers

  • Step by Step: Writing a College Research Paper
    Five steps to writing a research paper—from reading the instructions to the finished product.
    Step 1: Don’t Panic
    Step 2: Research and Other Disasters
    Step 3: Citations, Not Warnings
    Step 4: Dry Run
    Step 5: There is no great writing, only great rewriting
    Created by University Writing Center, a division of Undergraduate Studies, Texas A&M University.
  • Writing a Research Paper
    "This page lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.
    Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.
    1. Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic
    2. Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
    3. Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
    4. Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
    5. Writing the Introduction
    6. Writing the Body
    7. Writing the Conclusion
    8. Revising the Final Draft"
    Created by The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Writing a Research Paper
    "There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety." Created by Purdue Online Writing Lab (Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker and Allen Brizee).
  • Handouts
    College Writing: "help you figure out what your college instructors expect when they give you a writing assignment"
    Thesis Statements: what they are, how they work, how to use them
    Argument: what it is and why you need one
    Paragraphs: how they're formed and how to develop stronger ones
    Introductions: functions, strategies, examples
    Conclusions: functions, strategies, examples
    Created by The Writing Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Loading  Loading...