Writing a Research Paper

Use this guide to help you write your paper.

Library Research Guide

Create a Working Bibliography

A working bibliography, or list of potential sources, helps you track your information.

  • Keep a list and add sources as you find them.
  • Include sources from your background reading, Search It, library databases, or the web.
  • Include all citation information for sources.
  • Record URLs and dates of access for online sources.

Read Sources and Take Notes

Read sources you didn't get to yet and re-read sources if needed.

Taking notes helps you manage your sources and identify information you want to use in the paper. Use the system that works best for you. 

The system you choose for taking notes is critical to help you track your use of sources and avoid plagiarism. Even professional writers have run into problems in this step of the process, so be careful. Remember these tips:

  • Note clearly whether you quoted, paraphrased, or summarized the source
  • Track the page numbers for the information in the source

Adjust Your Thesis

After studying your sources in detail, your original thesis statement may work fine, and that is super. However, you may find you need to adjust the focus of your paper and, as a result, your thesis statement. This is OK! It means you learned something from your research!

If you adjust your thesis, some of your research material may no longer be relevant. This is OK too. This is a good time to eliminate those sources from your working bibliography (unless your assignment requires you to cite all consulted sources). 

Identify Support for Main Ideas

Now that you've read your sources and, if needed, adjusted the focus of your paper, you're ready to identify how you will support the main ideas of your paper. 

  • Synthesize (combine parts to make a whole) the information from your sources.
  • Add to the information or draw conclusions from the information to make your own contribution to the conversation about this topic.
  • Resist the temptation to use one source exclusively to support each main idea of your paper. 

The amount of support your main ideas need depends on the length of your paper and how new or controversial a stance your paper is taking. In general, each idea should have at least a few pieces of evidence to support it.