5 steps to an impressive research paper

If your first reaction when a professor assigns a research paper involves sweaty palms, increased heart rate or a stomach tied in knots, you’re not alone. Countless college students dread writing research papers because the process can seem grueling and much more stressful than simply studying material for an upcoming exam. Does this sound familiar to you? (I see you nodding your head “yes”)

The good news is that there are many readily available resources you can use to ensure you get a good grade on your research paper – you just have to know where to find them. That’s where we come in. Read on for the five steps to follow if you want a stellar research paper.

Step 1: Take a deep breath and read the fine print

Your professor has just assigned the research paper. Oftentimes professors don’t give you a specific topic to cover and leave you to decide what you want to write about. As great as the freedom can be, this can be one of the most stressful parts of writing a research paper. However, now is the time to narrow down what you’d like to research. Once you think you’ve found an interesting topic, see if you can crank out some prewriting with your given topic. Start with these:

  • State your thesis.
  • Write the supporting ideas your research paper will discuss.
  • Write an outline. 

According to Texas A&M University’s Writing Center, “Prewriting is like a plan of attack. …if all has gone well, you understand your assignment.” If you feel confident about what you’ve put together from the above bullet points, it’s time to move along to the next step.

Still struggling to find the perfect topic? Check out Questia’s Topic Generator if you really have nowhere to start. Maybe it will help you find some inspiration!

Step 2: Find scholarly articles

At Questia, you will find millions of books and articles that have been “preapproved” as being credible, full-text sources. You won’t have to worry that your professor will take points off because you were unsure whether a source you used was or was not legal to use – and YES, Wikipedia is one of those sources that is not acceptable. Capiche?

Step 3: Understanding citations in a research paper

Citations can be tricky because there are a wide range of styles it comes in:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • APA (American Psychological Association)
  • Chicago Manual of Style

Each are unique in their own way, but knowing which style your professor is asking for is very important – it could potentially make or break your final grade. So why must you cite citations in your research paper? It’s because your professor wants to know where exactly you received your information (again, please don’t say Wikipedia). This also gives them a chance to read more about a specific fact you have stated in your paper.

Step 4: Practice makes perfect

It’s time to write your first draft! If you go back to Step 1, keep in mind what you wrote down for your thesis, supporting ideas and outline. Be sure to include those in your research paper. Once you have finished your first draft, read it to yourself or have a friend or classmate read it for you. Having a fresh set of eyes view your work is helpful because you can find out if others can easily identify your thesis and supporting ideas. They can also spot punctuation and spelling errors you may have missed! And trust me, we all make those mistakes whether we mean to or not.

Research Paper: Write a First Draft” from Teacher Vision offers an excellent step-by-step process on each part of your research paper. Use it as your guide as you write up your first draft.

Step 5: Check your grammar, punctuation and spelling

Poor grammar, punctuation and spelling tend to be one of my personal biggest pet peeves. If these items in your research paper are not done properly, you can’t expect others to understand the point you are trying to make. Take a look at The Good Grammar Guide by Richard Palmer, where you will find a brief narrative by the author that “contains thirty real or alleged errors of varying kinds, including wrong or suspect use of words; mistakes in word order; errors in agreement and number; confusion and ambiguity; faulty use of cases.”

This exercise will help you determine the right and wrong answers, and full explanations are offered afterwards.

For more help and information on how to ace your next research paper, visit the Writing Center page at Questia.

What’s the best tip you can offer on how to write a grade-A research paper? Share it with us in the comments!

7 replies
  1. laurie Augustine says:

    Good Advise. It is also important to discuss both sides of a case if you are discussing a controversial question. Read the other side and present their arguments fairly , then show where they are wrong.

    • Nicole Reinard says:

      Hi Aishwarya,

      I did a quick search on Questia using the keywords “Clinical Nutrition” and came across over 1,400 books and 3,500 periodicals in the results page. You can view them by clicking HERE. Best of luck to you with your research papers!

  2. Stephen Asaju says:

    A useful, informative and inspirational article that should become a Student Companion and Scholarly Compass. Thank you for sharing it with all.


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