Writing A Research Paper - Guidelines

Writing a Research Paper some general thoughts[1]

F. Ratté



STEP 1  Begin by working out a research proposal


A research proposal should articulate the particular question or questions that you hope to answer. The best way to figure out what you want to write about is to  

  • Try to find a topic that truly interests you
  • Try writing your way to a topic
  • Talk to people about your topic
  • Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved


The next step is to test your topic by doing a bit of research in the library and online. Start by talking to a librarian and reading a general article or two on your topic then following up on one or two of the footnotes.


The next step is to organize your information into different categories. In order to do this you need a clear and manageable way to take notes on what you are reading and record your thoughts as they develop. You might try to:

  • make different computer files for reading notes and thinking notes
  • group your reading notes in different categories for example – history and background, methodology, opinion
  • keep a running bibliography – DO NOT LEAVE THIS STEP UNTIL THE END – START RIGHT AWAY!


Now sit down and write up your proposal stating:

  1. Thesis statement
  2. Outline of the way you plan to approach your topic including:
  • a summary articulation of current thinking on your topic (please note this means that you topic must be specific enough to enable you to summarize thinking on it in one or two sentences).
  • a clear statement on how your analysis will be different or innovative or interesting
  1. Summary of expectations that you hope to accomplish.


STEP 2 - Research

Once you have done this and received feedback on it you are ready to start research on your paper.


Read and take notes on everything you read. In taking notes make sure to note specific quotes that you find helpful or important as well as noting in your own words the author’s arguments, ideas and evidence. Use the system of note taking that you developed while you were working on the proposal. You should always have two separate places in your notes for notes on your reading and notes of your ideas.


STEP 3 – Writing


Having completed enough of this reading to give you confidence to have opinions and thoughts of your own you are now ready to start writing the paper. Most people like to begin by writing the Introduction

In the introduction you will need to do the following things:

  • present relevant background or contextual material
  • define terms or concepts when necessary
  • explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
  • reveal your plan of organization


Having done this, you can now begin to flesh out the body of you paper. As you write make sure you:

  • follow your outline but be ready to deviate from it when your writing and thoughts take you in another direction, as your ideas develop you are bound to rethink things.
  • make sure you integrate your sources into your discussion using both quotes (but sparingly) and your own summaries of what you have read. Use lots of footnotes, they are great places to create and develop tangents that should not be part of your text.


Writing the conclusion is something you can do as you go along or leave it until the end. Make sure you draft a conclusion a few days before the paper is due so that if you discover having written the conclusion that you have done something different from what you set out to do, you have time to go back and modify the introduction.


[1] Developed using the University of Wisconsin online “Writer’s Handbook” at http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/PlanResearchPaper.html#discovering

Last modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 11:08 AM