The most common type of writing you will do for your courses is the research paper. In a research paper, your writing will be based on the research, ideas, and findings of experts in the field and research studies that have been conducted.

A research paper can be a challenging project. Having a plan can help you to execute the project effectively and efficiently. Use the Research Paper Project Management Plan

Below are the general guidelines for what is expected from a research paper:

A research paper presents information found from sources. The paper, therefore, is only as strong as the sources. A writer who finds information from doing a simple Google search may come across sources that are unreliable or simply untrue. Instead, academic writers have to make sure they are starting with high quality research.

The best place to find high quality research is through your university library. Here, you will have access to databases that only include scholarly and reputable sources. You will also have the help of librarians who will be able to assist you in creating strong search terms or finding the best place to search for the information you need

In any research paper you may have many sources to read and keep track of. Before you can write your research paper, you will need to read and think about each of the sources you found. Some writers like to take notes in the margin of their printed out sources, some prefer to use a separate notebook, others use graphic organizers. 

Throughout the writing process, the sources you find should be integrated. Integrating research means that the sources seamlessly become part of the essay, but do not take over the paper. There are a few tips to help with this.

Make Sure the Research Matches the Topic

While all your sources may relate to your topic, it is important that the research used in a specific paragraph matches that paragraph’s main idea.

Example of research that does not match:

  • In many schools, intervention is underutilized. Smith (2015) reported that math intervention guidelines had been updated to match Common Core Standards.

In the above example, the research is about guidelines, but the paragraph is about the amount of use.

Corrected example (APA Citation shown in this example):

  • In many schools, intervention is underutilized. Jones (2017) found that 65% of schools in the United States did not have multi-tiered intervention plans even though their student population was performing below grade level.

Introduce All Quotes

A quote is when you choose to use the same words as the original author of your source. Quotes appear in quotation marks and are cited. Sometimes student writers will drop a quote into the middle of a paragraph because the quote seems to fit with the main idea of the paragraph. Instead, it can help to introduce the quote in some way.

Example of a dropped quote:

  • Starting a small business can be a complex process. “There are resources for new business owners available through each state” (Lees, 2017, para. 4).

In the above example, the quote comes out of nowhere. In reality, the student is allowing Lees to talk in the middle of his or her essay. It can help to introduce the speaker.

Correct example (APA citation shown in this example):

  • Starting a small business can be a complex process. According to Lees (2017) “there are resources for new business owners available through each state” (para. 4).

Explain the Significance of the Research

At the end of every body paragraph, include an explanation or analysis of the information you've included from sources in that paragraph.

To do this, ask yourself:

  • Why is this information important, significant, or meaningful?
  • How does this evidence relate to your thesis?
  • What conclusions have you reached by doing the research you’ve included here?
  • What is your interpretation of the research? How do you understand it?

Use Multiple Sources Per Paragraph, As Needed

Student writers may refer to sources in the order they read the sources, so that each paragraph is about one source. The end result of this is that the essay becomes a summary of each source, not an essay of its own. Instead of focusing each paragraph on summarizing each source, it helps to synthesize the research by focusing on similarities and differences.

Here is a body paragraph where the student has integrated research well:

Integrating research sample paragraph

Research writing is based on research, and will therefore include sources throughout. As a writer, you have to determine if it is best to paraphrase or quote the sources.

A paraphrase is when you repeat the same ideas as the source, but in your own words. The benefit of paraphrases is that it keeps your paper in your academic voice and shows that you understand the research you have done. Paraphrases should be cited.

A quote is when you use the same words as the source. Quotes can be used when the research presents statistics that are hard to put into your own words. Quotes should be cited, but even if they are cited it is possible to overuse quotes. Student writers should remember to minimize the use of direct quotes. The majority of a paper should have more original writing than quotes from other authors.

A citation is a way to show your reader where the information in your writing came from. In academic writing, it is preferred to cite each sentence that contains information from a source. This means you may end up with several sentences in a row that are all cited, possibly even with the same citation. This is fine, as it adheres to the citation rule.

Citations tell your reader that everything you present in writing has been researched and found in a source. They also help you give credit to authors so you can avoid academic integrity issues.

For help with academic style citations, review our guides on APA citations, MLA citations, or Chicago citations to use the style required for your paper.

As the final page of your paper, include a list of all the sources you've cited in your paper.  You only need to include sources that were cited in the paper, not every article read in preparation for writing the essay.

For help with this list of your sources, review our guides on APA References list, MLA Works Cited page, or Chicago Bibliography page to use the style required for your paper.

Research writing is common at this level of study, but some things do not change:

  • Research papers should go through the writing process
  • Research papers should have polished academic writing 
  • Research papers vary in length depending on the assignment and may or may not include section headings
  • Research papers follow the standard academic essay structure