How to Write an Academic Research Paper

One of the main staples of academic writing is the research paper. The focus of this type of paper is on the student’s ability to formulate an idea, back up his or her points with research, and succinctly and correctly argue in favor of the point. Here are common elements of research papers:

  • Introduction and Conclusion – Essays should have an introduction that interests readers in the topic or explains the importance. It should also introduce the argument. The conclusion should briefly summarize the points made in the paper and explain the significance of the argument.
  • Thesis – Academic essays need to have a thesis, or a statement of the point you are trying to make. The entire body of the essay should support this sentence.
  • Citation – All facts that are not considered common knowledge should be cited using appropriate citation guidelines for your field. This proves that you gathered information from experts in the field and helps to back up your points.
  • Paraphrasing and Quotations – All information should be paraphrased from the original source, even when cited, unless being used as a direct quotation. Good research papers have both quotations and paraphrased citations.
  • Additional Elements – This could include experiment information, analysis of results, graphs, and recommendations for further studies. These extra elements will be dictated by conventions in your specific field.

How to Write a Research Paper

The first step in writing a research paper is to do preliminary research on your topic to determine what point will be made in the course of the essay. Once you have identified key information about the topic, you need to formulate your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is usually going to be a sentence that briefly summarizes the point you are trying to make in an essay. By determining your thesis statement before you start writing, you can help focus your research and save yourself extra work.

Once you have your thesis, continue researching your topic, but try to focus on information that supports or argues against your point. You should take detailed notes throughout your research.

Different schools and fields may recommend different approaches to taking notes and organizing research, but notecards are a commonly used tool during the research phase. It is usually recommended that students use one notecard for each different point found in research, and that the card contains the author of the text the point came from, along with the page numbers from which the information came. This can help students easily find the relevant information again during the research process. Additionally, students should create notecards for potential references, including all citation information according to the style guide of the research paper.

If you do not use notecards, you should have some method of keeping information organized and finding sources to reference. Many students create text documents or spreadsheets with information as alternative methods.

Once you think you have most of the necessary information to begin drafting your paper, you should try to organize your notes into a basic argument that supports your facts. Many people try to create an outline at this point. One reason that notecards are particularly helpful during the drafting of a research paper is that during this phase, notecards can be ordered to accompany an outline. This makes it easy to see which points have adequate information and which need further research.

An outline is a tool that helps you organize your thoughts for you paper. It can be considered a list of the points you intend to make on the subject. Many teachers and professors will include guidelines about how and when to create an outline. The outline is your main tool in organizing how you will argue your point. You should write your thesis statement at the top, and then divide your argument into key points below. Each point should have supporting information below it, which will come from the research you completed.

When writing the paper, you should have an introduction that introduces the argument you want to make, and each successive body paragraph should provide evidence to support your claim. You will then end with a conclusion that summarizes your argument.

Research papers usually include a listing of all sources in an extended format that makes it easy for other researchers to locate your resources in order to build upon your research. These sources will be listed in a format dictated by the style guidelines for your field, and they often take the form of a works cited page or bibliography.


There are many formats for academic research papers, and which type you will use depends on your field. They each have different formatting and citation standards including order of information in citations, what information to include, and how your paper should be indented or spaced. You should talk to your teacher or professor about what style guide he or she wants you to use and about key points they want you to know about the style.

Tips for a Great Research Paper:

  • You should address arguments against your point in your paper, but those can be addressed in one paragraph or throughout the body of your paper, depending on your subject and the length of the argument.
  • Your argument should be presented in a coherent manner with points that flow nicely into one another.
  • You should utilize transitional phrases when changing paragraphs to make the paper flow cohesively. These phrases include but are not limited to terms like, “furthermore,” “however,” and “similarly.”
  • Each point of your argument should be supported by factual evidence you gathered in your research.
  • Most of the paper should be your own argument, but each point should have a few pieces of supporting evidence in the form of citations and quotes.
  • Your paper should balance your own information, citations, and quotes, rather than having all one type of information or another.
  • Great research papers build on existing information on a topic. This means that the best academic work takes existing ideas and presents a new argument or new evidence to support a claim that has not previously been made. The point of academic papers is to increase scholarship on a topic, so students should try to find ways to say something different than existing research provides.
  • Most research papers are assigned well in advance of deadlines. Research can take a long time to complete fully, so begin early and stick to a plan.
  • The length of your research paper will often be dictated by your teacher or professor. It should be proportional to the amount of research required.