Top 10 mistakes when writing a research paper

Avoid these common research paper blunders

Fall has arrived and that means writing a research paper is in season again. Don’t sell yourself short; you’ve got the potential to write an awesome research paper worthy of an “A.” However, it’s easy to make simple mistakes when you’re given such a large project.

Prevent some very common errors by avoiding these research paper writing blunders, and it will be smooth sailing this semester.

1 ) Letting your deadline slip

You never mean to do it, but somehow deadlines often creep up out of nowhere. For big research papers, try making a timeline in your planner. Schedule dates that you’d like to have certain tasks completed (such as your outline and first draft), and maintain your progress. Research Paper Writing Tips suggests “if you are getting 3 months for your research paper, then permit the first 10 to 15 days for managing your thesis statement, the next 15 days for collecting the useful resources to hold up your thesis and the following days for your writing and editing process.” Making strides ahead of time will keep the stress and late-nights to a minimum when the turn-in date draws near.

2) Being afraid to ask for help

Everyone struggles with research paper writing now and again. Your professors, advisors and librarians want you to succeed, and more than likely, they will all be eager to help you or give advice where they can. Don’t hesitate to contact your professor if you’re not sure how to get started or how to progress with your paper; they’re there to help you. Schedule a meeting and bring along some of the work you’ve done so far. The book How To Research discusses “chunking.” “You may be able to divide some of your research tasks up into small chunks which can be tackled whenever you have a little spare time. For example, if you take photocopies of materials you need to read.” Be sure to not wait until the last minute to ask for help with things you should have begun long ago, though.

3 ) Making your topic too broad

Once you start developing ideas for your research paper, try to narrow your focus down even further. Papers that lack focus only skim the surface of a number of concepts but never delve into the details. Challenge yourself to pick one very specific thesis, and research as much as possible to inspire you to flush out your ideas. The article “Tips for determining the quality of your research paper” says that the “thesis has to be clear and precise. The thesis should serve two purposes, they should guide you while you write and guide the readers when they read. The thesis should have a strong argument based on a debatable claim.”

4) Skimping on the sources

Providing credible sources and developed examples is a great way to let your professor know you’ve performed thorough research and really understand the topic. An article called “The Quick Fix: The Research Paper Jigsaw Puzzle” states that relating good sources should be like assembling a puzzle and that students should learn the “art of ‘borrowing’ specific ideas from obliquely related sources to create new observations of their own.” (All while properly citing them, of course.) Questia can help you find trustworthy, relevant articles to help you research your topic and support your claims within your paper.

5 ) Getting unorganized

Doing great research may not assure you a great research paper if you can’t keep your material organized enough to call upon it later. Questia’s personal workspace has tools right on the website that allow you to make personal files to store all of your relevant articles in. You can even highlight the most important parts of the source, make personal notes in the margins, and automatically create your bibliography—all right on your computer. It is also possible to become unorganized within your very paper. suggests you ask yourself the following questions to keep your focus:

  • Did I use my outline?
  • Is there anything that I missed?
  • Is there sense to my arguments?
  • Did I put everything in my own words?
  • Do my paragraphs connect and flow from one to the other?
  • Does my conclusion tie the entire paper together?

6) Being Sneaky

Changing the margins? Adjusting the line spacing? Altering the font size ever so slightly? Resist the temptation to do this. When your professor sets a page length it isn’t because they enjoy reading that specific page length in particular. It is because your professor knows that page requirement is the amount of space that it will take to develop your topic to the appropriate amount and earn the good grade you deserve. Following the advice in this article will assure that you don’t need to try any of those tricks.

7 ) Adding “Fluff”

Sometimes meeting that page length requirement can be difficult when you feel as though you’ve run out of things to say. Professors know fluff when they see it. They know you’ve chosen to ramble on to fill the page requirement rather than do more research. Your introduction and your conclusion should not generally exceed one page unless your paper is extremely long. If you hit a wall, consider asking your professor for advice on where else you might go with this topic or suggestions for further reading.

8 ) Not having a friend read it over

Sometimes after you’ve spent so many hours and days on a project, your exhausted eyes can start to miss things. Concepts that may make sense to you after doing all your research may not make sense to anyone else. Have someone else do a read-through of your paper, even if it’s a quick one, to make sure that your paragraphs are coherent and you haven’t made any obvious mistakes. Also, consider visiting your school’s Writing Center for further help if they offer one.  The more reviews, the better.

9 ) Trusting the computer to spell-check

Just because you’ve managed to avoid those red squiggles while typing your research paper doesn’t mean your paper is error-free. Your computer won’t always let you know when you’ve used the wrong form of a word such as “you’re” or “their” but your professor certainly will. Carefully read over your entire paper when you’ve finished to be sure you’ve avoided simple spelling and grammar mistakes. Professors hate reading silly mistakes as much as you hate making them.

10 ) Forgetting finishing touches

Often for big projects such as a research paper, professors will have very specific guidelines as to how they would like it submitted to them. Make sure your name, class and date are on it, and don’t forget the staple! If your professor requested a cover page, binder, etc., don’t forget to get everything assembled ahead of time. You don’t want to lose points on presentation after working so hard on the research.

When it comes down to it, you know you are fully capable of writing a research paper worthy of an “A.” Avoid these common mistakes, and give yourself enough time to complete the assignment to the best of your ability. These back to school tips will help you learn how to write a research paper and feel confident doing so. Pace yourself and let Questia help you discover reliable information along the way.

Recommended Reading:
How to Research: 3rd Edition

30 replies
  1. Kathy Brown says:

    My undergraduate English professor gave me my best piece of writing advice: if you’re blocked on what to write, it is because you don’t know what you want to say. You have to know what you want to say before you can write it. Hope this is useful. I, too, did grad school and thesis. Kathy Brown, MS, LAADAC, LPT, ICADC

  2. Filomena Louro says:

    Dear Taylor

    Thank you for these well ordered tips. I hope you will agree with me that I pass them on to my students. There are so many ways to encourage them to do things right and on the right side of the law, but they don’t always work. Maybe yours will do the trick. I would like your permission to put these in my course blackboard, for my Irish studies course ( around 12 students).

    • Taylor Massey says:

      You’re very right! Remember to save your document frequently and back up your files to a flash drive in case something should go wrong with your computer. If you’re without a flash drive, consider emailing your paper-in-progress to yourself as a means of back up instead.

  3. MALCOLM LAW says:


  4. issachar5 says:

    Two mistakes in this site: (1) no “easy save” available of the 10; (2) No “easy print” available of the 10. It is as if one has decided before hand that the information is not worthy of anything but a cursery look.

    • Taylor Massey says:

      Thanks for your comment, issachar5. As with any site without those cool features, feel free to bookmark or hit the Print option right on your Internet browser. We think these tips are certainly worthy of being kept on-hand.

  5. Aftab James Bhatti says:

    Hi Taylor, it is really a nice piece of information for the new researchers. I found it a packet of good advice for the students. Keep it up. I am a teacher at Department of Business Adminstration, Air university, Islamabad, Pakistan. I’ll also be sharing with you whenever I’ll find something good.
    Take care.
    God Bless you.

    • Taylor Massey says:

      Thank you very much. You’re welcome to post any recommended links right in the comments. We love learning from other bloggers and articles.

  6. bamash says:

    i need a guide to writing a phd in climate change related topics, Just been admitted from a developing country wondering how it is done in a developed country. Thanks

  7. imdad ali jokhio says:

    As i am a new Phd student so unaware about the research methodology! when i go through the given tips related to common research mistakes i found it very helpful and intresting too, now i have an idea to some extant about research paper.


  8. Edna Williams says:

    Thank you so much for these helpful research tips. I get so anxious when starting such an extensive project, so these tips will ease some of the stress of putting my paper together as well as making sure that my thoughts are matched with my content. Thank you again.

  9. ibrahim kidubule says:

    This is v. wonderful, indeed thank you so much for these helpful tips. I am always anxious when starting an extensive projectand now that i have learnt these tips most of the stress of putting my paper together as well as making sure my thoughts are matched with my contentill be minimal.
    Thank you and keep doing so. ibra

  10. Dr alzoubi30 says:

    Indeed, these ten main points and very important, but I ask those who are writing a research paper that does not put the paper aside for a long time because it makes him lose communication with the writing.
    good luck

  11. sehrish maraj says:

    thanks for your tips, i am a student of master in statistics from University of Gujrat and i submit my first draft of thesis and i like your tips and effort for research students.

  12. Kate says:

    Writing tips you have mentioned in this article were useful for me and other college students who also had got a task to write a research paper and wanted to complete it for A+.. So keep it up!


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