Last updated on: Jan 15, 2024
By: John K.
23 min read
Reviewed By: Chris H.
Published on: Jan 12, 2024
After years of studying, you’ve finally reached that stage: You are about to write an original research paper!
Feeling anxious or unsure about how to begin? You’re not alone.
Research papers are the most challenging type of academic writing. They require in-depth knowledge, deep research into complicated topics, and long pages of text with accurate arguments and references.
Sounds complicated, right?
However, you can make your research paper writing easier with our 9-step process. This step-by-step guide will help you start (and finish) your research paper effectively.
So, let’s read on!
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A research paper is a structured piece of academic writing that investigates a specific topic.
Research papers are generally longer (at least 5000 words) and more detailed than other kinds of academic writing.
Research papers are an important pillar of modern knowledge creation. Each research paper is like adding your voice to an ongoing academic dialogue. Your unique perspective, backed by solid research, becomes part of the collective understanding of a subject.
There are several types of research papers depending on your purpose and approach. To write any research paper, you need to use credible methods to build your argument, reference academic sources to support it and make an original contribution to the topic.
Now that you have a better idea let’s get into how to write a research paper for journal publication.
One of the most important steps in starting a research paper is choosing a topic that is interesting, original, and feasible for you.
So, what should a good research topic be like? Consider the following criteria when looking for a topic:
Here’s how you can find a topic that follows this criteria:
Here are some examples of good and bad research topics.
Too Broad: Effects of Social media on Teenagers
Good Research Topic: How does social media affect the mental health of teenagers?
Too Generic: Causes of drug addiction
Good Research Topic: What are the causes of the opioid crisis in the Southwestern United States?
Need more ideas for your research topic? Head to our list of interesting research paper topics to get creative ideas.
Once you have a topic, the next step is to engage in some preliminary research on the topic. You need to find and read sources that are relevant to your topic.
Sources are the materials that provide information, evidence, and arguments for your paper. These could be books, journal articles, reports, websites, etc. You should study and review sources that are credible, up-to-date, and appropriate for your field and purpose.
The aim of this step is to study and analyze what has already been written and published. This way, you can find research gaps, strong arguments, and sufficient data for you to build upon.
To find and review relevant sources, you can follow these tips:
To get started, use online databases and search engines to look for material on your topic.
You can use general databases, such as Google Scholar, or subject-specific databases, such as JSTOR, PubMed, or Project Muse, depending on your discipline and topic.
Moreover, using advanced search techniques such as keywords, Boolean operators, and filters can refine your search and get more relevant results.
Use your institution's library to access sources that are not available online, such as books, journals, or newspapers. You can use the library catalog, the reference desk, or the librarian to find and locate sources that are relevant to your topic.
Evaluate the sources that you have found based on their quality, reliability, and relevance.
You can use the CRAAP test to assess the sources. You need to look for the following:
Recent works can be more helpful in some cases, while older material might be more helpful, for instance, if you are doing a historical analysis. Similarly, the relevance and accuracy of your sources might change depending on your research goals.
So, before looking for sources, you should have clear research goals. You can create a checklist or a rubric to compare and rank the sources based on your criteria.
Finally, you should also consult your professors, classmates, or friends for feedback and suggestions on your sources. Experts in the field can be your best source of help for gathering research material.
Once you have selected the material, you should read and analyze it. This process is called the literature review.
You should identify, analyze, and synthesize the key theories, concepts, empirical studies, and debates about your chosen topic. With a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge, you establish context for your research. Moreover, you also highlight the gaps that justify your research.
Now, with a clear topic and sufficient information due to extensive research and literature review, you are all set to craft your central research questions, problem statement, or hypothesis. These are the central points that guide your overall inquiry and analysis.
So, what is the difference between research questions, hypotheses, and problem statements, and which one should you focus on?
A research question is a clear, focused, and specific question that you want to answer with your research. Meanwhile, a hypothesis is a tentative answer to a question that can be tested by scientific methods. A problem statement, on the other hand, is a descriptive statement that explains the main focus of the paper.
This table will help you understand them better:
Seeks to explore, describe, or understand a phenomenon.
Proposes a specific relationship or effect to be tested.
Identifies an issue or challenge requiring investigation.
Open-ended, posing a question without suggesting an answer.
Positively or negatively states the expected relationship.
Describes the existing problem without suggesting a solution.
Typically begins with "What," "How," "Why," or similar words.
Stated in an "If...then..." format, making a clear prediction.
Presents a concise overview of the problem and its context.
Mostly used in social sciences and humanities subjects.
Common in natural sciences, forensic sciences, and other scientific subjects.
Used in all disciplines to explain the main problem.
"What is the impact of social media on youth mental health?"
"If exposure to social media is reduced, then youth mental health will improve."
"The increasing prevalence of social media has been associated with a decline in youth mental health."
To craft your research questions or hypothesis, you can follow these tips:
With your initial hypothesis or research questions, you can start thinking about the information and arguments you need to proceed. Write down your ideas and arguments and outline them in a coherent and logical structure.
A well-organized paper helps the reader follow your reasoning, understand your main points, and see how they are connected and supported by evidence.
To organize your ideas and arguments, you can follow these tips:
Here’s a template of what your research paper outline could look like:
Topic or Title of the Research
Research Questions / Hypothesis
Add Questions / Hypothesis
…and so on
Add points about your methodology
…and so on
Now that you have an outline, you can get right into writing. Remember, the first draft is not meant to be perfect. Instead, you write it to help you shape your ideas and arguments into a coherent and logical text.
To write a first draft, you should follow these tips:
Once you complete writing your first draft, you have to start revising and improving it. Editing your research paper helps you improve its quality, clarity, and coherence and ensure that it meets the requirements and expectations of your audience.
Revise your writing by checking and correcting any errors, inconsistencies, or gaps in your content, structure, and style.
However, this step can take longer than you think. This is where the majority of your writing takes shape, and your ideas become clearer. So pay full attention when you’re about to write your second draft.
Follow these tips to make this step a success:
Here are some points to keep in mind when revising your research paper:
Finally, focus on the lower-order concerns, such as your grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Make sure that your paper is accurate, precise, and concise and that it follows the conventions of academic writing.
Formatting is an essential part of academic writing. A correct and accurate research paper format helps you present your information in a consistent and professional manner.
It also makes your paper easily readable for editors and readers, making it easier to ensure that the paper is plagiarism-free and professionally written. Research journals, university departments, and professors recommend specific formatting styles to writers, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, and others.
Use these tips when it’s the formatting stage.
With a correctly formatted draft in front of you, you are now ready to turn your attention to citations.
Citing your sources is essential in academic writing, as it shows where you have taken information, evidence, and arguments from other sources and gives proper credit to the original authors. It also ensures that the paper is plagiarism-free and that every idea is attributed accurately to its origin.
Moreover, citing your sources also allows the reader to consult your sources for themselves and conduct further study.
Keep these points in mind when you’re citing your sources.
To cite your sources, you need to follow a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. Each citation style has its own rules and guidelines for how to format your citations and references.
There are two main types of citations that you need to include in your paper: in-text citations and reference list citations.
In-text citations are brief references that appear within the text of your paper right after you mention an idea from another source. They indicate that the idea presented is not the author’s own and is correctly attributed to its origin.
Meanwhile, reference list citations or bibliography are full references that appear at the end of your paper. This separate section aims to provide the complete information of each source that you have cited in your paper.
To cite your sources, you can follow these tips:
Finally, when all is set and done, there still remains one last thing for you to do: proofread!
When writing a research paper, you can’t be too careful. There is always something you can improve, tweak, or rephrase in general to make it better. Final proofreading allows you to find such opportunities and polish your paper even further. This helps you improve its readability, accuracy, and presentation.
To proofread your paper, you can follow these tips:
Use this checklist to keep track of your progress and ensure that you’re doing each step right.
Selecting a Topic
The topic is relevant to my field of study.
The topic is specific and focused within the scope of my paper.
The topic is challenging and meaningful, contributing to existing literature.
Finding and Reviewing Sources
I have searched online databases and libraries for credible sources. I have used advanced search techniques to refine my results.
I have evaluated sources for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.
I have discussed the material with professionals in the field/
Crafting Research Questions or Hypothesis
I have identified gaps or issues in the existing literature to address in my research.
My research questions are clear, specific, and researchable.
If applicable, my hypothesis has clear variables and is testable.
Organizing Ideas and Arguments
I have outlined my paper with sections, headings, and subheadings.
My ideas and arguments are organized logically and coherently.
I have included supporting evidence from credible sources.
Writing a First Draft
I have started with the section that is easiest or most comfortable for me.
My introduction provides background information and states my research question or hypothesis.
I have presented my ideas and arguments clearly and concisely.
Revising Your Writing
I have read my paper aloud to identify flow, logic, or language issues.
I have sought feedback from peers or instructors on the strengths and weaknesses of my paper.
I have focused on higher-order concerns like purpose, thesis, main points, evidence, and organization.
Formatting Your Paper
I have identified and followed the specific formatting style recommended to me.
My paper is formatted with the correct font size, line spacing, and other style-specific requirements.
Citing Your Sources
I have used the correct citation style (APA, MLA, etc.) for in-text citations and references.
I have cited every idea or point that is taken from or inspired by an external source.
Proofreading Your Paper
I have carefully proofread my paper for grammar, punctuation, and word choice.
I have used online tools or professional help to assist in the final proofreading process.
To conclude, with this 9-step systematic approach, writing a well-crafted research paper becomes more achievable.
Remember, research writing is not a one-time activity but a big project requiring a whole journey. This guide has provided you with the essential resources and a roadmap to help you make this journey effective, simpler, and fruitful. But we know it’s too much to remember. So as you write paper, revisit this guide whenever you need guidance and tips.
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A typical research paper is often between 5,000 and 10,000 words. This corresponds to approximately 15-30 pages.
The structure of a research paper may vary, but it generally includes the following seven parts:
John K. is a professional writer and author with many publications to his name. He has a Ph.D. in the field of management sciences, making him an expert on the subject matter. John is highly sought after for his insights and knowledge, and he regularly delivers keynote speeches and conducts workshops on various topics related to writing and publishing. He is also a regular contributor to various online publications.
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