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Research Paper Skills

Research papers are a common requirement of most every college course. Becoming proficient at writing papers is essential to doing well in your courses.

Understand Your Assignment

  • Read the assignment description carefully
  • Listen to the professor's explanation
  • Ask questions for clarification
  • If there isn't an explanation in class, ask your professor questions in person or through email
  • Understand typical formats (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.)
  • Ask which format to use, if it is not specified

Develop your topic

  • Search for something that you feel passionately about, even if the overall subject matter does not interest you
  • Conduct basic research
  • Make connections between research material and course material
  • Consider your point of view


  • Vary your sources
    • Newspaper
    • Magazine
    • Academic journal articles books
    • Scholarly papers
    • Websites
    • Professional presentations
    • Films
    • Documentaries
    • Personal interviews
  • Find all the information you can on the source for use in the bibliography (Just listing a website's URL is not enough)
  • Do your bibliography as you go
  • Use recent sources
  • Use critical thinking skills to be objective and consider the source of your research

Create an outline

  • Put your research and arguments in a logical order
  • Remember to include
    • Introduction
    • Research and background information
    • Original arguments
    • Discussion
    • Conclusion
  • Develop your bibliography
    • Organize your research in alphabetical order
    • Follow format guidelines

Write your first draft!

  • Combine your research information you learned in class and original arguments
  • Insert quotes, citations, references, and footnotes as you use them
  • Read what you write, edit, and revise
  • Ask others to read your paper
  • Ask your professor for input
  • Include your bibliography in your first draft

Your final draft

  • Edit your first draft at least two times
  • Include revisions from peers and your professor
  • Print your final draft before the due date and look it over once more for typos, misspellings, or embarrassing errors

Mistakes to avoid

  • Poor Organization
    • A paper that does not have a logical flow is difficult to read and uninteresting to your audience
    • Make your points flow in a logical order
    • Paragraph transitions should be smooth and clear
    • Read your sentences out loud to yourself and others
  • Poor support for the thesis
    • Simply stating information does not persuade or introduce new ideas
    • State your thesis, or main argument, and create a strong case for your argument
    • Create your paper around your thesis with plenty of information backing your position
      • If you find that your research is taking you in a different direction, revise your thesis statement
    • Leaving out previous research results can potentially weaken your thesis
    • Reference research throughout your paper
  • Poor citation of sources and use of style
    • You may lose points if you cite sources incorrectly
    • Double check that your quotes, citations, footnotes, and references are appropriately labeled and organized
    • Consult format guides for more information
    • Be sure to correctly site arguments that are not your own
    • Review the correct standard for the style of your paper (APA, MLA, etc)