Write Your Next Research Paper Without the Stress
Whether you're in grades K-12, or in the final semester of college, writing a research paper can be a daunting task. These are substantial assignments, and their deadlines can sneak up on even the most well-prepared students.
It’s never too late to adopt new habits that can help you better prepare for the assignment and beat procrastination. If you have questions about how to identify research paper ideas (click here for an A-Z list), how to narrow down research paper topics, or how to write a research paper, this guide is here to help.
When your writing is done, upload your paper to our grammar and plagiarism checker to further improve your writing. There's also a separate tool to help cite your sources in MLA format and more styles.
If you haven’t yet started, keep reading to learn how to choose topics for research papers, how to create a research paper outline, and how to write a research paper efficiently and on time. Also included are plenty of tips on how to focus on the work by creating (and sticking to) a timeline so you finish your paper days or even weeks before it’s due—all without pulling a single all-nighter.
What is a Research Paper?
Before you learn how to do a research paper, first identify the paper type or method you'll apply.
An argumentative paper shares similar features with a persuasive essay. You’ll be expected to write a thesis statement in support of your stance and support it with evidence in the body of your paper. An analytical paper, on the other hand, doesn’t seek to negate an alternate side in a debate but, instead, offers an additional perspective and provides supporting facts. Check this out for an overview of additional methods.
Before you begin exploring interesting research paper topics, complete a thorough review of your teacher’s rubric to assess your strengths and weaknesses in each area. This will help you break the project into smaller tasks in the manner that is most efficient for you.
If, for example, vocabulary and sentence structure are challenges for you, but it will make up 40% of your grade, construct your schedule in a way that allows extra time for revisions and visits to your school's writing center.
Consider paying a visit to your campus’s writing center before you begin, as well, to see a research paper example and get advice and encouragement from a tutor.
For grad school hopefuls, the first step is a writing a prospectus. If you’ve reached that point in your studies, this informative reference may be useful.
How to Start a Research Paper
As you plot out your workflow, be specific. Committing your time to specific milestones will help you to track your progress and stay on task. For example, instead of assigning an hour to the general task of finding easy research paper topics, break it down and start by committing time to the precise job of identifying two good research paper topics that interest you and for which there are ample available sources. Then schedule time to look for sources from different formats (e.g., books, journals, etc.). Similarly, block out time, not for general “writing” but for more distinct tasks such as “review research paper introduction example" and "write my thesis statement.”
Once you’ve created a specific schedule, you’re ready to begin identifying and narrowing down your topic. If you aren’t sure where to start, online resources are available to help during this pre-search stage as well as when you’re deciding between a few final topics and need to get more info.
Click to read more about the process of narrowing down your central idea.
Analyze, Organize, and Outline
Before you dive into your search and analysis there are a few questions to consider that will save you time later on.
Do You Need to Submit Your Notes or an Outline as Part of the Assignment?
Adding your notes to a research paper outline template will help you put your thoughts in logical order and identify gaps. You may be required to submit notes and an outline before you begin writing your paper. If so, you’ll need to get these things submission-ready before turning them in. Our grammar and spell check can help you get them in shape.
You may also be required to submit your thesis statement before you begin drafting your paper. A thesis statement comes at the end of your introductory paragraph and explicitly states what the body of your paper will prove or argue. Your thesis may change or develop as you expand your field of inquiry, so you’ll need to consider the deadline for submitting your thesis when you map out your time. Review your assignment details or consult your teacher if you are unsure whether or not it’s a requirement.
Click here for further reading on creating your thesis as well as a research paper outline example, and guidance on how to write a conclusion for a research paper.
What Format Will You Be Writing and Citing in?
Save yourself from future stress and improve the efficiency of your writing process by identifying the research paper format and reviewing an example of a research paper beforehand. It’ll help you determine the best style to take notes in as you write. Take care, also, to carefully track your sources as you research—it will help minimize the time you'll need later to create a bibliography. To make this process even simpler, try Citation Machine Plus. It comes with citation tools for popular styles like APA format, and a plagiarism and grammar checker.
How Many and What Kind of Sources Do You Need?
As soon as you begin narrowing down your research paper topics you’ll notice that all sources are not created equal. You can save yourself time and protect your grade by getting clear from the start on how many sources you need to cite, what types of sources are acceptable, and how to evaluate potential sources.
Your assignment rubric will help you determine the types of sources to include, as well as the balance of primary vs. secondary, and print vs. digital sources to incorporate. You can also review examples of research papers online or at your writing center to see how to organize various sources in your paper.
Draft, Revise, and Edit
With your outline, notes, and a sample research paper by your side, you’re ready to start drafting. If you’ve taken thorough notes and inserted them into your outline, this initial draft isn’t so much writing as it is connecting the different parts you’ve drafted. Look at the organization and transitions—do they make sense?
To eliminate the pressure to do anything beyond connecting, think of it not as a first draft, but as an “ugly first draft." By putting the word “ugly” right in the name, you’re permitting yourself to put your thoughts down on paper without the pressure of writing well.
Revising vs Editing
Revising and editing are not the same, and doing them in the right order will save you time.
Your research paper introduction should be clear about your paper’s purpose. Each heading and subheading should serve to support your thesis, and your conclusion should tie each point back to your central point. Revising is the process of reviewing your content, changing the order, deleting redundancies, and filling in gaps, as necessary, to ensure you have accomplished this.
A revised draft, however, is still ugly, and you must resist the temptation to make it otherwise. Consider it similar to cleaning a house: if you start at the ceiling and work your way down, you only have to clean the floors once.
Editing occurs only once revisions are complete. When you edit, you review each sentence to make sure it is using the language expected of the format and appropriate for the audience. You should also correct spelling and punctuation errors as you encounter them.
The Final Draft
Research papers require an additional level of editing to ensure they are correctly formatted and all sources are properly cited. In addition to the citations included in the body of your paper, you’ll need to create your bibliography.
When you create your assignment calendar, plan to have your final draft completed several days or even a week before the due date. With this buffer in place, you can schedule a last visit to the writing center or swap papers with a classmate for feedback. It’s also helpful to take a break before your final proofread to help you see what you've written with fresh eyes.
If you get to this point and have nothing left to do, the free time in your schedule is a reward for finishing your project early. Be warned: when your classmates see how well rested you are while they're losing sleep, they may demand to know your secret.