Tips for Writing a Research Paper

  1. Pick a fun topic (if you’re given an option): Choose something you’re interested in or curious about.  Researching your information will be more enjoyable and you’ll write with more enthusiasm.
  1. Make an outline: This will give you a “blueprint” for your paper and keep your writing organized.  See the Writing Center’s handout on outlining if you need a sample.
  1. Consider a form of prewriting: Try writing note cards out with your ideas on them, or mapping your ideas with a web diagram, or just talking your ideas through by yourself or with a friend.  These steps will help your organization and creativity, which in turn will help you avoid plagiarism.
  1. Use transitions: Transitions should be a mix of the last sentences/ideas you wrote and what you’re going to say next.  See the Writing Center’s handout on transitions for some ideas and sample phrases.
  1. Balance your use of paraphrases, quotes, and your own sentences: Use more paraphrases and your own sentences than quotes.  Remember to avoid plagiarism – you need to cite any ideas that do not come from you.  This will include paraphrases, quotes, and even some of your own sentences that are based on ideas in your sources.
  1. Keep a list of your sources: There are few things more frustrating than having to track down a source weeks after you first accessed it.  To save yourself time and headaches, keep a running bibliography as you write; cite each source as you use it.  That way you’ll have all the information you need right in front of you.
  1. Know your style standards: Go into the paper knowing whether you’re writing in MLA, APA, or another style.  Check a handbook or another reference for in-text citation styles, works cited/references page styles, and heading or title page formats.  Even page number standards change between MLA and APA, so be sure you’re familiar with your style and its conventions.
  1. Make your title last: Titles can be limiting; your writing can stray away from original thoughts.  You can only be sure that your title is tailor-made for your paper if you compose it after the paper is complete.  Note that some writers feel this approach works best for them concerning introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, and thesis statements as well.

Some material for this handout was contributed by Tracy Wills.