How to Write a Research Paper

These are guidelines for writing the general type of research paper assigned at Pasco-Hernando Community College which involves looking at various sources for information and then including that information in an organized essay using MLA, APA, or whatever other style system your instructor requires. This type of research paper is called a survey of literature or literature review. It is also called a research essay. It is different from the type of paper where you are presenting the results of your own research.

These guidelines are a standard approach to the writing of a research essay, but they are not the only approach. Instructions from individual instructors may vary from these guidelines. Always follow the instructions for a specific assignment in your course.

1. Identify the research question

2. Find sources to answer the question

3. Create a List of sources

4. Create a source note each source

5. Create the thesis statement

6. Create an outline

7. Write the paper

8. General tips for writing a research paper

Identify the research question

To properly complete a research paper, you have to start with a research question. Your instructor will either assign a specific research question or a research topic.

If you are assigned a question or can select from a list of questions, it is easy to identify your question. You can start with focused research looking for sources that would help to answer the question.

If you are assigned a topic, you will start with exploratory research. Exploratory research is where you explore various aspects of the topic and after learning something about it, you focus on a particular question of your choice. This is called narrowing the topic.  See also Writing Process/Narrowing the Topic.  Then, your research becomes focused research on that particular question.

Either way, a research paper must identify a research question. The research question is critical since all of the content of the research essay follows from the question.

• Your thesis will be a one-sentence answer to the question. The thesis should be placed at the end of the introductory paragraph following the background information.

• Your body will be a series of paragraphs proving your thesis is right while discussing the approaches of others (sources). There should be nothing in the body paragraphs that isn’t related to discussing your thesis.

• Your conclusion will sum up the proof and restate the thesis. There should be nothing in the conclusion which does anything else except sum up the proof and restate the thesis.

Finding sources

• Be sure you understand how many sources you can use.
• Be sure you understand any limitations on where the sources may come from.
• Screen and select sources carefully so that they are credible and provide help with answering your question.

  • read carefully to detect bias, tone, and slanted language
  • read carefully to detect language designed to have you thinking emotionally instead of logically
  • read carefully to detect any logical fallacies

See Evaluating Sources, Proving a Thesis – Evidence, Proving a Thesis – Logic, and Logical Fallacies and Appeals for more information.

Traditional Sources
Internet Sources
LINCC – Library Internet Network for Community Colleges – Electronic Resources

• Do not just look for sources that prove what you already think. Research is supposed to be an investigation into the possible answers and/or positions on the question.
• Look for sources that give a variety of perspectives. Your job in researching is to find out what possible answers there are to your question, evaluate them, and come up with the best answer. Remember, for many questions, there is no one right answer.
• Do not just select any source on the topic. Read through to be sure the source will help answer your research question. This is critical. If you don’t, you won’t have related information from your sources to write your paper.

Create a List of sources

• Open a file and format the page in MLA style page format. It’s the same for an APA paper. Center a title: if MLA, Works Cited is the title; if APA, the title is List of References.
• Find the sample for your type of source. Note that samples for sources from LINCC are listed in a separate section toward the end.
• List sources alphabetically following the format for your source in MLA Documentation and Format or APA Documentation and Format or whatever style the assignment requires.
• See MLA Works Cited or APA References for further information as needed including samples.
Do not use the MLA tool in Word or any other tool. They do not provide options for all sources and do not correct errors when information is inserted.
Do not copy and paste what a source may list as a citation. These may not be accurate.

Create a source note for each source

  • Create a source note paragraph or page for each source to help organize the information from the sources.
  • Source notes are just a summary of what is in the source and includes paraphrases (information from the source you put into your own words) and quotes.
  • Source notes can be created in one file or in a file for each.
  • Be sure to list the author, if any, the title, and the rest of the information needed for a Works Cited entry at the top.
  • It is important to cite paraphrased or quoted information so that you can properly document them (give credit to the author) in your paper.
  • You can and should include your own thoughts on the source in the source note to help with your analysis in the paper.
  • Be sure to cite your paraphrases and quotes to distinguish them from your own thoughts in order to properly cite the paraphrases and quotes in the paper to avoid plagiarism.

Thesis Statement

• After you evaluate what your sources have to say about the question, you have to decide upon the best answer to the question.
• A thesis is a one-sentence answer to the research question.
• A thesis must a clear, direct, focused answer to the question.
• A thesis must take a stand on the question.
• A thesis cannot be a statement of fact.

Each month, the moon goes through phrases. Statement of fact. Not a thesis.
A full moon causes lunacy in some people. Position statement. Thesis.

There are many accidents on US 19. Statement of fact. Not a thesis.
There would be less accidents on US 19 if cell phone use while driving were prohibited. Position statement. Thesis.

• A thesis statement is a statement, not a question.
• A thesis statement is a statement – a sentence, not more than one sentence.
• A thesis statement may or may not give details.

Despite the Internet, printed books are still important.
Despite the Internet, printed books are still important because unlike the Internet they can be accessed anytime and anywhere.

Both are a proper thesis statement.

Create an outline

• An outline is the thesis statement and the main ideas of the proof (body) paragraphs.
• An outline begins with the thesis statement. What you intend to use as background information before the thesis is not part of the outline.
• After the standard header, heading, and title, the thesis should be stated after the word Thesis:
• The body paragraphs are listed using Roman numerals (I, II, III, and so on).
• There should be subsections (A., B., C) to describe examples or descriptions for each proof.
• Some instructors may ask for a formal outline with full sentences (sentence outline) instead of just a few words showing the main ideas (topic outline).
• Some instructors will ask for a Concluding statement: a sentence which repeats or restates the thesis. This will remind people that their paper has to end up in the same place as the beginning.
• For further information and samples, see PHSC Online Writing Center – Outlining

Write the paper

Research papers which survey and evaluate sources – the type of research papers you are generally assigned at Pasco-Hernando State College – are written in the same way as an essay. In fact, these types of research papers are also called research essays.

– Introduction – background information with thesis statement at end. Background information explains the situation and leads into the thesis. It does not include the proof.

Note: While there are some variations on where the thesis should be placed, you can’t go wrong putting it at the end of the introductory paragraph.  Always follow your instructor’s directions if inconsistent with the information here.

– Body – paragraphs that prove why your thesis is right. Each paragraph must contain a separate reason with examples and/or elaboration on how it proves the thesis.

– Conclusion – sums up proof and restates thesis. The conclusion should not introduce any new ideas and must be limited to what has already been presented.

• A good paper is the result of a process of writing and revising drafts.  For further information and samples, see PHCC Online Writing Center – Essay Organization and Writing Process.
• Research papers must include information from the sources by quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing in addition to your own analysis and evaluation of that information.
• For further information on how to incorporate information from sources in MLA style, see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing. Aside from the differences in the citation itself, this method applies to how to incorporate information into APA style papers as well.
• Every sentence with information from a source must give credit to the source. Otherwise, it is plagiarism.

– It is not all right to give a few sentences or a paragraph with information from a source and then cite the source. The reader would have no way of knowing how many, if any at all, of the previous sentences were from the source.

– Once mentioning the author (when a person is named as an author) or title (when no person is named as an author), you can use just the page number in subsequent cites to that same source as long as no other source is cited in between.

– When you don’t know the exact page number the cited information was printed on in the original printed publication, don’t use a page number.

– When a source in mentioned in the sentence and you don’t know the page number, there will not be any documentation at the end.

– Paragraph numbers for online sources should be used only if the paragraphs are actually numbered in the source.

– Citations do not always have to be at the end of a sentence. When you have a series of sentences with information from a source, you can vary how you give credit to the sources. Here are some examples in MLA style for a source from the Internet which does not have page numbers on each page, so page numbers are not used in the cite.

– According to Jones, “Blah blah blah.” She goes on to say that blah blah blah. “Whenever it is appropriate, blah blah blah” (Jones). Blah blah blah, Jones continues, is never considered blah blah blah.

• The situation where you have one sentence after the other with information from one source should be limited since you are supposed to have your own ideas and analysis in the paper.
• For further information, see PHSC Online Writing Center – MLA In-Text Citations or APA In-Text Citations.

General tips:

• Don’t use questions to make a point. Just state the point.

• Don’t use first, second, third to enumerate the proof paragraphs.

• Don’t use In conclusion to begin the conclusion. The reader knows it the conclusion. It’s the last paragraph.

• Be sure the period goes only after any parentheses with documentation at the end, not before such parentheses: “Blah blah” (Jones). Not “Blah blah.” (Jones)

• Be sure any periods or commas that are supposed to be next to an end quotation mark are before the end quotation mark and not after it: “The Cat in the Hat.” Not “The Cat in the Hat”.

• While some instructors allow first person (I, me, my, we, us, our, ours) or second person (you, yours, omitted [understood] you), typically research papers are written in third person (language not using first or second person). See Person/Point of View in the PHCC Online Writing Center.

• Proofread carefully. If you have a question about punctuation, grammar, or spelling, look it up on the PHCC Online Writing Center or a dictionary.

•For more information, see Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.

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