Research paper checklist: What professors look for when grading

Research paper grading criteria can vary wildly among university professors.  So how do you figure out if your paper will be up to snuff. No doubt different categories will be more important to different professors, so it’s a good idea to initially review the research paper grading rubric and ask your instructor questions about his or her criteria to gauge what is a priority.

The blog post, The Dreaded Research Paper – Pointers for Success, suggests that you first “prepare the ‘shell’ of your paper per whatever style your program requires.” Begin with compiling every page that your professor has requested for your finished research paper such as a title page, abstract page, headers for your sections, works cited page, etc.

1. Introduction: A well-guided professor is a happy professor. Therefore, your introduction should be clear and provocative and should provide a road map to your research paper. It doesn’t have to be as specific as detailing what each section will contain, but it should certainly describe what you’ll be examining, analyzing, and proving. Readers begin forming judgments about a research paper after just viewing the introduction, which is why it’s so critical to make it shine.

2. Clear Thesis: A great research paper can go bad with an unclear research thesis. Most professors locate and evaluate thesis statements as one of their primary grading criteria. Your thesis statement should be evident by the end of your introductory paragraph, and it should be repeated in your conclusion. Write It! A Guide for Research by Betty Bankhead suggests starting with a focus question and answering it with your thesis statement.


“Focus Question: Why are scientists concerned about global warming?
Thesis Statement: Global warming is causing a change in the earth’s weather patterns that will have disastrous effects.

Focus Question: What effect did the Crusades have on Europe?
Thesis Statement: The Crusades directly contributed to the rising influence of the Catholic Church in Europe.

Focus Question: can the novels Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye be compared?
Thesis Statement: The novels Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye have main characters who experience a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood.”

This criterion can vary, so check with your instructor to find out what he or she expects from students.

3. Organization: suggests you ask yourself the following questions before turning in your research paper:

  • Do you have all the items your professor asked for: a title page, an abstract, an introduction, body paragraphs, a summary, a conclusion, a works cited page?
  • Are they in order in accordance with what your professor has outlined or based on whichever editorial style the professor has established for the paper?
  • What about subheadings, footnotes, parenthetical references (or superscript, depending on style)?
  • Do you have transition sentences, and are they serving their purposes?
  • Do your ideas progress logically throughout the paper?
  • Have you checked and double-checked with the grading rubric or appropriate style manual, as well as your professor, to ensure that you’ve included every necessary portion?

If the answer is “no” to any of these, go back and revise.

4. Integrating Sources: Professors expect sources—that’s what puts the “research” in “research paper.” Moreover, they expect you to integrate those sources and fuse them with your ideas, equally. If you have 10 sources and only use two, for example, a professor will notice and grade you down.

Just as important, make sure you are using reliable research sources. Ask your professor ahead of time whether your sources are okay—most will not accept sources such as Wikipedia or blog entries; some will only accept sources from approved journal databases.

5. Be Concise: Leave loquacity to Charles Dickens. Wordy, bombastic writing will impress no one, least of all your professor. The longer it takes him or her to understand what you’re saying, the less clear you’ll be and the quicker your grade will drop. If you think you might be rambling, consider having a roommate, peer, or friend read your research paper and offer feedback.

6. Originality: Your writing should be your own. In other words, anything not in quotations should be your ideas and analyses, not anyone else’s. It’s not uncommon for students to pursue the same research topic, but most professors will try to ensure that each one is unique. Many instructors request the thesis ahead of time so they can evaluate it, as well as verify that each student is working on a different research paper.

Plagiarism isn’t always stealing someone else’s paper—it can be something as simple as cutting and pasting a quote from a journal and forgetting to cite it correctly. The book How to Research by Loraine Blaxter says:

“Plagiarism most commonly occurs accidentally or unintentionally, when writers are unaware of the appropriate conventions for referencing other people’s work. Whether is accidental or deliberate, however, and particularly if you are submitting a piece of writing for credit or possible publication, you are likely to be severely penalized if you are found guilty of plagiarism.”

Check and recheck your work to ensure this hasn’t happened.

7. Editorial Style: Many professors require a certain research paper format such as APA, MLA, or Chicago. This isn’t a suggestion, and your professor may lower your grade if you don’t follow the correct style. Some grade more harshly than others, but style is especially important in your parenthetical references and on your works cited page.  Questia helps you to format your citations, bibliographies, and works cited pages in seven different writing styles to help you do well on your research paper.

If you would like to learn more about APA, MLA or Chicago, you can purchase editorial style manuals online, or you can use one of the many free online resources, such as Purdue’s The Owl.

Recommended Reading:

Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers
99 Jumpstarts to Research: Topic Guides for Finding Information on Current Issues
The Effects of Repeated Idea Elaboration on Unconscious Plagiarism
Shortcuts for the Student Writer
The Research Project: How to Write It


31 replies
  1. Julius Kiiza says:

    It is just not possible that the Egyptians, who developed “texts devoted to pharmaceutical remedies, dental procedures, and veterinary medicine” lacked advanced knowledge of botany. Botany is a branch of biology that deals with the properties and life phenomena exhibited by a plant, plant type or plant group. Most pharmaceutical remedies, for example, were derived from herbs. Knowledge, by the Egyptians, of medicinal herbs can hardly be divorced from botany. You might wish to rethink received wisdom on the “Greek origins” of botany.

  2. Vladislav Medvedev says:

    This material is very useful and interesting for young (and not only young) scientists.
    Thank you for the publication

  3. Gregorio Samar says:

    As a teacher in research methodology and a researcher myself, I am very thankful for this article as it gave me personally a good reference source for my lectures and for my students’ reference. I hope there will be more of these sort related to the writing of a thesis paper and kudus to your publication!

  4. Ann says:

    According to this article, quoting from sources is the only way to use a source. Not so. You as a student need to learn to paraphrase and summarize from sources–in other words, put the ideas and information in your own words! The source of what has been paraphrased or summarized must be properly cited, too. For over thirty years now, I have taught these skills as a first-year writing instructor. I have seen many students through the years who overuse quotations and also think they need to cite quotations only, so I do not like to see these misconceptions reinforced here.

  5. Toks says:

    Good information in the article, glad to read this and as a timely reminder with only two weeks to submit my dissertation!!! Thank you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I donot agree with your information. science of Botany is essential for herbal medinine. the egyptians must have been ptoficient in ths science.

  7. alexis says:

    its impossible to contribute to the field of medicine without a good knowledge of botany. on research information, i think is timely becos am working on my thesis

  8. Theweb says:

    Never forget, the goal of your searching is to find information to answer the research questions you asked about your topic. Don’t stop looking until you have sources that will answer your questions! Be sure to ask for help from mentors, parents, and teachers if you’re having trouble.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] 13 November 2011 in 01 Planificación, 02 Información, 2nd Paper by fores | No comments Skip to content […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.