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How do I Write a College Research Paper?

Before you Begin: Know the Assignment

  • What type of paper is this? Informative? Argumentative? Research? Creative?
  • What question are you trying to answer?
  • Is there more than one part to the assignment?
  • What length is your final paper supposed to be?
  • How many resources are required?
  • What types of resources are required?
  • When is the assignment due?

Before Searching

  • What is your thesis? Unless you are writing a creative paper, you should have a thesis that you are trying to support.
  • What are the keywords in your thesis statement or in the question you are trying to answer? These will become your search terms.
    Example Thesis: "Teenagers from poor homes are more likely to go to jail than other teenagers."
    Example Keywords: Teenagers, Poor, Jail
  • Brainstorm additional search terms by finding words with similar meanings.
    Example 1, Keyword "Teenagers": Juvenile, Teen, Minor, Underage, Adolescent
    Example 2, Keyword "Poor": Poverty, Impoverished, Underprivileged, Unfortunate, Deprived
    Example 3, Keyword "Jail": Prison, Detention, Lockup

Start Your Research

  • Stay focused on the thesis statement that you created. If the research that interests you keeps taking you another direction, consider revising your thesis.
  • Start early! By starting early, you'll be able to receive resources from other libraries, change your argument if necessary, and proofread your completed work.
  • Look at what types of resources are required, then research them in the places you are likely to find them.
    • Books can be found by searching the library's Website. You can also see our Finding Books page for tips and starters.
    • Scholarly Articles can be located in the "Research by Subject" area of the Website. Find the Subject that best fits your class & you'll find the preferred starting points for scholarly research. If you are unsure how to tell if an article is scholarly or peer-reviewed, please look at our Scholarly v. Popular comparisons page.
    • Statisticsfor a variety of subjects can be found from our Internet Research Shelf.
  • Keep the complete bibliographic citation information for every article, book, newspaper, etc. that you may use. This includes the author, title, journal title (if applicable), publication date, and more--depending on the type of resource. If you are using Internet resources, be sure to copy the complete url that you use to access the information, and track what date you last accessed it. You will need all of this information later when you complete your References, or Works Cited page. See our Citations page for links to APA & MLA guides.
  • Take good notes! When you find information that you may want to use for your research, be sure to write down which book/article it came from, as well as which page the information is located on. This will make it easier to find later AND you need those page numbers for your citations.
  • Ask for help at the library if you are having problems locating resources for your topic. Sometimes it just takes a fresh pair of eyes to find a research solution, so don't give up!
  • Do check out the bibliographies or references of the articles, books, & websites that you are searching. This quality of the resources that the article, book, website, etc. is a strong indicator of the quality of that resource. You want good, quality resources for your research paper so that your own credibility is achieved. As a bonus, you can sometimes find even more resources (or better ones!) by looking through the references listed.

The Writing Process

  • Get organized: gather all of your notes, citations, and resources that you will need to consult. If you are working on a laptop, be sure to take your charger!
  • Find a place where you can work uninterrupted for a long amount of time.
  • Create an "outline" for your paper. The outline is like a frame that you will build your paper on.
  • Looking at your outline and your the notes you took from your sources, determine which sections are the best place to use your cited research. Remember, your citations should support your argument and increase the reader's understanding of the issue.
  • Begin by writing your "rough draft".
  • Proofread and check for accuracy. Ask yourself these critical questions:
    • Does your paper support your thesis?
    • Does your paper have a clear introduction and conclusion?
    • Is the transition between paragraphs smooth?
    • Do you have enough research to support your argument?
    • Did you answer all of the parts of the assignment?
  • Peer-Review: Even if you are not conducting a formal "peer-review" in class, it is a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes read through your paper. An outsider will be able to tell you what is missing and where there are grammatical mistakes much better than you can do yourself.
  • Revise
  • Proofread
  • Rewrite
  • Proofread
  • Revise/Rewrite...you get the hint. Be sure that you give yourself enough time to doublecheck your bibliography/reference page, too!

Additional Resources

  • The Writing Center: Miami Hamilton's Office of Learning Assistance can provide in-person help with writing and revisions.
  • The Owl:, Purdue's Online Writing Lab's online guide for writing research, technical, and creative papers.