10 Useful Tips on How to Write a Research Paper

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Every student at whatever level has in one way or the other done research.  Looking up content in a book to get answers to assignment questions at school is also a research.  As we grow and advance academically so will the research level will advance.  This article on writing a research paper is mainly for the students in tertiary institutions i.e., undergraduates, post graduates, Masters’ students and so on.

Research can be hectic and also interesting;  for those that love reading, it can be likened to an adventure.  However if you are the type that finds reading boring, this article will help you enjoy the long hours of reading and glancing through resources.

In this article, I have explained step by step how you can research to write an academic paper.

How to Write a Research Paper

What is a research paper?

Research paper is a type of writing in academic setting that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation or interpretation of a given topic.

How long should a research paper be?

The research paper can be of any length, the determining factor is the assignment question, the topic and the academic level the research paper is meant for.

The Steps:

Let’s go through the steps one after the other briefly, the steps are just a general guide.

Read and understand the assignment topic

It is not proper to start a research without extensively reading and assimilating every line of the assignment.  Take time to read assignment guidelines and technical requirements like length, formatting requirements (space and indentation).  Failure starts from the  refusal to read the questions thoroughly.

Choose a topic

Where a topic is given this step is not required.  However,  where the assignment is open ended and the student have to choose a topic, choose a topic you are personally interested in, satisfies the requirement of the assignment, you will be able to write a suitable amount of content on; choose a topic with enough data that is to say.

Make enough preliminary research

Start researching immediately after thoroughly reading the assignment guidelines, this will help you to choose a topic in which you have enough data and content.  Such research can be made in the library or online, let your sources be credible.  Gather as much as possible resources, skim through sources.  Compile list of potential sources, in some research paper literature review may be part of the requirement, where it is the sources is essential.  To make a research online, use a keyword that can further help with your research.  Take time to research on different resources to compare and contrast different view points on a particular topic.

Organize your research

Make an outline of  the contents let it serve as a  guide in writing the paper.  . I should be organized and in chronological order.

Form a thesis

What is thesis? Thesis is a short statement that a researcher or author, puts forward for the readers to understand what the paper is all about.  Is a medium of showing what the paper is explaining or trying to prove. It has to be definitive.

Create an outline

Writing of outline also depends on the topic and assignment.  If you are asked to submit an outline by the lecturer, let the outline be in accordance with the guidelines and requirements given in the assignment.  Where you are not asked to write an outline, write one personally, this helps you in  writing the research paper. An outline is basically is a very helpful tool as you write your research paper, it is about structuring your paper. With  the outline, think critically of what you intend to explain or prove with the research paper.  Let the outline include introduction and conclusion, then what goes in-between depends on the topic you are writing on, that is the content of the essay.


This is the step where all you have research is put down following the outline made.  Go through the research you have made, ensure you write based on your understanding, do not copy and paste the research    However statistics and quotes can be copied acknowledging and siting the source is essential. Where you paraphrase a quote, it is important to give credit to the person that wrote the quote.  Quotation marks are used for quotes copied word for word, while there is no need for quotation marks for paraphrased quotes.  There are certain facts that is of common knowledge, like the grasses are green, in such case you don’t have to credit and cite the source.

Citation of Sources

Citation is what sets a research paper apart from other forms of writing.  It is essential to provide the sources of the resources used in the research paper, citing of sources validates your data.  There are formatting rules which can be followed when citing.  There are two formatting styles for citing sources

  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • APA (American Psychological Association)

Check for the style that is that is required in the assignment.

Proofreading and editing

This stage is much easier, attention to detail is essential here.   You have written the paper which is the most daunting part of the exercise.  You have to read through detect errors and make corrections.  Start by proofreading, checking for spelling errors, grammatical structure and grammatical error.   The next thing to do is to edit, make necessary corrections where necessary check for organization, length and structure if it is in compliance with the guidelines as provided in the assignment.

Absolute care is required in this stage of writing,  where the paper is too short, start from the beginning of the paper go through over and over, think of what you can add that fits into the rest of the paper- let it be a valuable information. Do not randomly add words or repeat what have already been said earlier. Whatever you add, make sure it is in line with what you have written down before.  Where it is too long, don’t randomly cut off any part, read through and do away with the parts that are less essential and will not affect the paper if taken out.

After the necessary changes, go through the paper over and over again to be sure there is no more error.  Let a sibling, mate or friend assist in reading through as well, to detect errors if any, which you may not be able to detect.

Table of content

This is an important part of a research paper, it will be done last.  This is usually after reading, proofreading, editing and structuring.  The table of content is a page or pages that contains the paper’s chapters, headings, subheadings etc. clearly labeled by numbers. For 1005 accurate data, it should be completed last.

Why is table of content very important?  It is a page that helps the reader understand the content of the research paper just at a glance, knowing what to expect and can skip to any relevant section or sub-section. It can be likened to  a map, because it helps the reader navigate through the paper. Usually it is found among the first pages of the research paper i.e after the title page, abstract, acknowledgement or preface.  It also helps the examiners to have an idea of the contents in the research paper, it will give a good impression and serve as a road map to make the examiner’s duty stress free.

Note importantly that the page numbers in the table of content must match with the pages in your paper.  It is a very important part of a research paper, it should be done accurately. A clear, concise and detailed table of content is an indicator of a good research paper.

Below is an example

Chapter 1

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Data
  • Findings
  • Conclusion


A good research paper is in response to a good research question.  A such a good research paper should address the question.

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