Research Paper Writing Guide

Maybe you’re a doctoral student preparing for the infamous dissertation. Or, perhaps you’re in high school preparing to write your research capstone project. Organizing your findings and ideas into a clear paper can be overwhelming. But, don’t let the stacks of books and browser tabs of articles intimidate you.

This short blog is meant to curb the stress of research paper writing by outlining a few key steps that make the process a lot easier.

In this simple guide, we’ll review:

  • 1. Choosing your topic
  • 2. Organizing your research by theme
  • 3. Creating your outline based on themes
  • 4. Building your paper theme-by-theme
  • 5. Writing your paper
  • 6. Proofing your paper

Choose Your Topic

If you’ve already conducted research on a general topic, you might know what you want to write about, or you might choose a sub-topic based on the most common theme you found through your research. If you haven’t conducted research and you still need a topic, choose one that interests you and relates to your field of study. Click here to learn more about how to choose a writing topic.

Organize Your Research by Theme

A great way to do this is to read with a few different-colored highlighters in hand (or on your dashboard). Use a different color for each theme you find throughout your reading. If you’re reading online, copy and paste research that stands out to you, according to themes, into a word document. Color-code research excerpts according to different key themes.  

Create Your Outline

Use the main themes you found in the last step to create your outline. Start with an introduction and end with a conclusion, and build the body of your research paper around the themes you found through your research. Label each theme with a subheading. Organize your outline so that broader themes are discussed before subtopics. Also, if your research paper requires a theoretical framework or theory to be discussed, this should be one of the first subheadings listed after the introduction.

Build Your Paper Theme-by-Theme

Next, group all of your research according to the theme. Then summarize each excerpt in your own words, explaining how different excerpts relate to one another. This can be done in the bullet-point format using sentence fragments just to translate the research into your own ideas. Keep appropriate source-citations attached to different ideas and quotes. Then, insert the content from each theme into each corresponding theme subheading of your outline. At this point, your paper will look like an outline with rough notes and citations under each heading and subheading. These are the building blocks you’ll use to start writing in an organized, clear way.

Writing your paper

Now that you have your outline, ideas, and content built, all you have to do is follow the building blocks you laid out for yourself. Begin by writing your introduction as an overview of the subtopics your research paper will cover. Next, write the body of your paper by expanding on the information you jotted down under each subtopic. Connect themes and ideas with transitional phrases. Last, write your conclusion as a summary of your research paper. Your conclusion is also a great place to suggest future research you think may be needed in your field of study.

Proofing your paper

Once you’ve written your paper, your first draft is done. Now it’s time to re-read your draft and be sure your ideas flow, make sense, and sentence structures are correct. You’ll also want to be sure to ensure all citations are correct and listed on your reference page, in the correct citation style. Finally, re-read your research paper at least one more time. This time, check for spelling and grammatical errors. If possible, have a peer or professor proof your work for you before it’s time to submit.

Finding additional help

Still stuck?

Maybe you’re great at speaking or conducting the research, but when it comes to writing, it’s just not your strength. That’s ok, and that definitely shouldn’t get in the way of your success!

Likewise, if English is your second language, or you’re juggling family and work commitments on top of school, getting some extra help organizing your research paper can help you achieve higher grades and reach your goals.

Writer Tools is here to help with expert writers, example papers and other resources.