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College Resource Center : Web Design and Development : Tips for Course Success : Writing A Research Paper


  1. Select a topic.
  2. Gather information by interviewing and researching.
  3. Write a thesis statement.
  4. Organize your information into main ideas with supporting details (an outline).
  5. Draft an introduction.
  6. Write the body of the paper–the main points to support your thesis.
  7. Draft a conclusion.
  8. Edit the paper, checking for a logical organization of ideas, clear expression of thought, complete sentences, and strong word choices. Revise as necessary, complete an electronic spell check, and print another copy.
  9. Proofread the paper for spelling (errors a spell checker would not flag), punctuation, capitalization, and other style issues.
  10. Print a final copy.

Interviewing for Information

Interviewing is one of many possible techniques to use when you gather information for a research paper.

In an interview, you meet with someone to ask questions. Most interviews are done face-to-face. Interviewing people who are experts in a subject is an excellent way to gain information about a particular topic.

When planning an interview, do some background research on your subject. PREPARE! Make a list of questions you would like to ask. Include questions about the person’s background as well as ones about your specific topic.

Use the reporting questions–who, what, when, where, why, and how–to develop your list of questions. Additional questions may occur to you as you do the interview.

When possible, tape the interview. This makes it easier to concentrate on listening to the person without the distraction of having to write the answers. Listen to the answers you receive. Respond with more questions as they occur to you. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Researching for Information

For almost any topic you write about, you can find information by doing research in reference works. Reference works include encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, atlases, indexes, and Internet sites. Many types of reference sources are available as computer programs.

If your topic is very current, you will want to use the most current sources available. Always check the date of the reference work you are using, even when using Internet sites or computer software.

Writing a Thesis Statement

One way to begin organizing your research paper is to identify the main idea of what you want to say. To do this, write one or two sentences called a thesis statement. A thesis statement is simply a sentence or two that presents the main idea or position you will take in your paper.

A thesis statement may look like one of these examples.

Development of a private marina on the south shore of the lake should be stopped because it will eliminate the only good skateboarding areas in the city.

Discovering King Tutankhamen’s tomb required a lot of hard work and patience.

Writing Main Ideas and Supporting Details

Once you have a thesis statement, the next step is to select several main ideas to support your thesis statement. For each main idea, list several supporting details – statements, facts, examples, quotes, or illustrations–that explain or demonstrate your main ideas.

Thesis statement: Development of a private marina on the south shore of the lake should be stopped because it will destroy one of the best recreational areas near the city.

Main point: Use of the area will be severely limited

Supporting Details:

  • Thousands of people use the area for biking, jogging, fishing, boating, and swimming.
  • A survey showed that 80% of city residents visit this area on an average of twice a month.
  • Only people who could afford the fees would have access to the area.

Main point: Wildlife would be harmed.

Supporting Details:

  • A marina would destroy much of the natural habitat in the area.
  • People who enjoy birdwatching would have to go elsewhere.
  • Fewer birds could result in an increase in the insect population in the area.

Drafting an Introduction

Research papers and other types of lengthy writing require an introduction that presents the topic. The introduction usually is several sentences to a paragraph rather than a single sentence, because the context or importance of the topic. When drafting an introduction, keep in mind that it must be your hook that invites readers into your paper. It should raise questions in the readers’ minds. It makes them want to read on because they want the answers to those questions. The thesis sentence is the bait at the end of that hook, and it’s usually the last sentence in your introductory paragraph. A good introduction is so important it’s often best to put off writing it until the rest of the paper is written.

An effective introduction can start with a quotation, a question, an anecdote, an intriguing fact, or a description. The hook is related to your topic and should be followed by your thesis statement.


a quote "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." With these words, Neil Armstrong signaled his success as the first man to set foot on the moon…

a question What would it be like if all the birds in the world suddenly stopped their singing?

an anecdote When my brother was nineteen, he volunteered in a homeless shelter making sure people had a safe place to spend the night. He told me once that he would never forget the time he met…

a fact More than a million new Web pages appear each day on the Internet…

a description Along the murky bottom of the ocean floor, at the deepest part of the ocean, lies the giant squid, a creature so elusive that few people have ever seen it. For hundreds of years, no one knew it really existed–although tales of sea monsters had long hinted of it.

Drafting Body Paragraphs

The body of a research paper is the longest part. It contains most of the information on your topic and should fulfill the purpose of your writing.

When writing the body paragraphs of a research paper, refer to your outline. Each heading in your outline will become the main idea of one paragraph. To move smoothly from one idea to another, use transitional words and phrases.

As you draft your paragraphs, you may want to include evidence from documented sources to support the ideas you present.

Drafting a Conclusion

In the conclusion paragraph of a research paper, you bring together the main ideas you presented in the body paragraphs and create a sense of closure to the issue you raised in your thesis.

There is no single right way to write a conclusion.

Possibilities include:

A. Making a generalization

B. Restating your thesis and major supporting ideas in different words

C. Summarizing the points made earlier in the essay

D. Including a lesson or moral

E. Encouraging the reader to support your viewpoint or take specific action

F. Expanding your thesis or main idea by connecting it to the reader’s own interests

G. Linking your thesis to a larger issue or concern

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