How To Write a Research Paper Step-by-Step

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 10, 2022 | Published April 14, 2020

Updated January 10, 2022

Published April 14, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A research paper is often required of students at the high school or collegiate level. Assignments can range from a short research paper with a few sources to a master's thesis or dissertation with an unlimited number of sources. Regardless of the level of the research, follow the same steps. This article will tell you how to write a research paper, conduct research and cite sources.

What is a research paper?

A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on an author's research. The purpose of writing a research paper is to prove your understanding of a topic or to present new findings based on the research completed. Information is gathered from previously-completed research by academic scholars. The author will gather research that supports or opposes the thesis and present it in the research paper.

Related: How To Write a Research Paper Outline (With Examples and Tips)

How to write a research paper

In order to write a research paper, you should:

1. Decide on a topic

The person assigning the paper might also assign a topic. If you have a choice, choose a topic that interests you the most. Try choosing a topic with an abundance of research already completed. This makes the research process less complicated since you'll have the information required to make a clear and convincing argument.

2. Write a thesis statement

The thesis statement is one sentence that states the main idea or purpose of the research and the viewpoint of the author. It is usually found at the end of the introductory paragraph. The thesis statement should be specific and clear. The reader should be able to understand the intent of the author after reading the thesis statement.

Read more: Thesis Statement: What They Are, What To Include and Examples

3. Find multiple credible resources

Resources are available in libraries, educational websites, scientific journals, online videos, newspapers and others. It is important to choose credible sources, such as those by formal researchers and academic scholars. Resources that the public can edit are not considered to be credible because the information may be inaccurate. By choosing multiple credible resources, you will add more credibility to your own research.

4. Organize the information

From the resources you gathered, begin compiling information that supports your thesis statement. Sort your research by subtopics. For instance, if you're writing a paper about the American Revolution, you may have one section about key figures and another section about key events. When gathering information, make sure you include all details as to where the information came from. Use this information when citing your resources.

5. Write the outline

You should write an outline to give yourself a guide to follow when writing your research paper. The outline should start with the thesis statement followed by each main point supporting your thesis. Following each main point, there should be several details supporting your main points. Make sure to include citations for any points that you got from your sources.

Related: 5 Steps for Great Business Writing (With Tips)

6. Write the introduction

The introduction to the paper should explain your purpose and what you hope to prove. The introduction should start with a sentence that gets the reader's attention. The next few sentences should explain the main topic of the paper. The thesis statement should come at the end of this paragraph.

7. Write body paragraphs

The body paragraphs include all of the main points and details to support them. You should take this information directly from your outline. Explain your main points, the research that you conducted and how they integrate. Provide an appropriate level of detail to give your reader background knowledge on the subject. Clarify any terminology that may not be familiar to the reader. All main points and supporting details should support your thesis statement.

8. Write a conclusion

A conclusion starts by restating the thesis statement. Next, give a summary of your research and how it supports your thesis statement. The conclusion should be more general instead of detailed, like the body paragraphs. At the end of the conclusion, write one sentence that states the overall findings of your paper.

Read more: How To Write a Conclusion

9. List your resources

Every research paper should have a list of resources that you used for the research at the end of the paper. This is usually the last page in the paper. Depending on the citation style, your resources page may have a different title. For instance, APA uses a "References page", whereas Chicago style uses a "Bibliography". Details on how to cite your sources depend on the format you use, but will usually contain the author's name, the title of their research paper and the date it was published. List your sources in alphabetical order by last name.

10. Edit and revise

Editing and revising are essential for any project, but especially vital for a research paper. Editing pertains to the mechanics of a sentence while revising pertains to the overall flow of the research paper. Here is a checklist to help you with this.

Editing

  • Capitalization

  • Verb usage

  • Punctuation

  • Spelling

Revising

  • Sentence structure

  • Add details

  • Omit unnecessary details

  • Rearrange sentences or paragraphs

Read more: How To Be a Better Editor

Citing resources

There are very specific rules to citing resources both throughout the paper and at the end on the works cited page. Most research papers follow the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Modern Language Association (MLA) format. Here is a sample of how to cite resources through in-text citation and in the list of references:

In-text citations

In-text citations are citations that occur throughout the research paper to indicate where you've used information from a source.

Narrative citation. Narrative citation is when the date of the research appears in parentheses behind the name or names of the authors that completed the research. For example:

Hawkins (2018) stated that fair does not always mean equal.

Parenthetical citation: Parenthetical citation is listed at the end of the sentence in which research is mentioned. This consists of the names of the authors and the date of the research in parentheses. For example:

Fair does not always mean equal (Hawkins, 2018).

Reference list

Many different media can serve as sources, including journal articles, books, websites, online videos, newspapers, articles on the internet and more. There are different formats for each type of reference. Here are the formats for the most commonly used type of resources.

APA

  • Journal article: Author, A., & Author, B. (year). Title of article. Journal Title, Volume(Issue), page range. DOI.

  • Book: Author, A., & Author, B. (year). Title of book. Publisher Name.

  • Website: Author. (year). Title of page. Retrieved Date, from (insert website URL)

MLA

  • Journal article: Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Journal, Volume, Issue, Year, pages.

  • Book: Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.

  • Website: Author. Name of Site. Version number, Name of organization, date of resource creation, URL. Date of access.

Research papers versus research proposals

A research paper is different from a research proposal, also known as a "prospectus". A proposal is similar to a pitch. You are proposing or pitching an idea to be researched. A research paper is the final product after the research has been completed. Although the two may have the same title, the research paper will contain the actual research data and conclusion. The proposal will only contain the items that will be researched at a later date.

Writing tips

Here are a few tips to consider when writing a research paper:

  • When conducting research, try to choose a topic that interests you. A paper is more interesting to write when you are interested in the topic.

  • For your thesis statement, choose one that is precise and reflects your actual opinion or hypothesis. Let your thesis guide your writing.

  • Remember all of the grammar rules. This makes the editing process easier.

  • Write sentences that are thorough, but not unnecessarily long.

  • Make sure all of the paragraphs have at least four sentences.

  • Cite all of your sources. Never claim someone else's research as your own. Make sure the original author is credited for their work.

Research tips

Here are a few tips to consider when conducting research.

  • Use reputable resources. Websites that the public can edit can contain inaccurate information.

  • Make sure the information is current. Check the dates to see when the research was completed. If it was over 20 years ago, it may be best to try to find something more current.

  • Write down all information you have about the resource. This may be beneficial when writing your reference list.

  • If a resource was referenced throughout the paper, then you need to list it in your list of references.


Explore more articles