Steps to Writing a Research Paper

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When it comes to writing a research paper in English class, the most difficult part that students often struggle with is the research aspect. This stage is often overwhelming for many students, as many of them often wonder where they should start and what they should look for when it comes to choosing a topic and evaluating sources. Here are a few steps to help make the research process easier for students.

Before Starting your Research  Have students choose a topic that they’re interested in learning more about. Once a topic is selected, provide time for them to brainstorm their own ideas and questions about the topic.  This process will help them to distinguish their ideas from someone else’s when researching. Be sure to also give them time to plan questions that they might have for your or librarian. 

Finding, Choosing and Evaluating Information Provide students with a list of sources (primary and secondary) that they can refer to when researching. Make sure to clearly state your preference when it comes to using Google and Wikipedia for research. 

Make sure to devote some class time to go over the credibility of the sources, the intended audience, author’s information, bias, and purpose relating to the research topic.

Taking Notes One of the most important aspects of research is identifying clearly all the research information that students find.  Knowing what they have will save them time later on from sorting out their papers and reading through everything.

Remind students:

  • That each section they copy from an electronic source should be clearly marked and labeled.
  • To use highlighters and write notes on the margins of articles/journals to make it clear how it relates to their point.
  • After they have read the articles, to write down at the bottom of each one their own thoughts on it:  Why is the article important for your research? What is the main idea? What is the author’s point of view?

They’ll be surprised to discover that your answers might be useful to add in their paper.

Writing and Editing the Research Paper Once they have completed their research, have them sit back and think about their essay/report: 

Here are some useful questions that we’ve used in The Writing Project to help students work through their research: 

  • what points do you want to make?
  • What is your thesis?
  • Which sources are going to be best to use to support or counter your argument?

Writing an outline can help them document their ideas and see the flow and structure of their research. 

Have them revisit their notes and highlighted information, and help them organize their ideas into sections (it might even help if they label them 1,2,3 that way you know where each point is going and in which paragraph).

As they put their information down on their drafts, make sure to remind them to include the references for quotations, summaries and paraphrasing.

Make sure that students take a break from research, organizing and outlining, it will help to refresh their thoughts and ideas, and they’ll be able to spot areas that need rework and editing.

We’ve used The Writing Project to help students prepare an outline and answer some of the questions above without feeling overwhelmed through the process. Take a look here if you’re interested to see how The Writing Project can benefit your students’ writing.

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