Writing a Research Paper

Use this guide to help you write your paper.

Library Research Guide

Create a Working Outline

Outlines may seem like extra work, but they can make paper writing easier and more efficient. The trick is determining when and how to use outlines so that they serve as a tool to help rather than hinder you. If you like outlines, you might create an outline before writing and then update it throughout the writing process.

Outlines can be used other ways. For example, you might use an outline to transition from research to writing to help you figure out where you're going. You could also use an outline after writing a draft to ensure that every aspect of your paper supports your thesis statement and that the paper's organization is coherent.

Image of essay structure

Incorporate Source Material Effectively

To incorporate source material effectively into your writing, you need to know how to use signal phrases (attributive tags), when to use quotation marks, and how to paraphrase correctly. 

Signal phrases

  • Tell readers the name of the source that you're borrowing information from.
  • Lend credibility to your paper by describing the source's expertise.
  • Can be used with paraphrasing or direct quoting. 
  • Work with in-text citations. (Check your citation style--APA, MLA, etc.--to determine whether an in-text citation is still needed along with the attributive tag.)

Sample signal phrase: "Willie the Wildcat, mascot of Kansas State University, states that..."

Quotation marks

  • Use the language from the source verbatim.
  • Tell the reader you're borrowing the wording.
  • Work with attributive tags and in-text citations to give credit to the source for the borrowed ideas and language.
  • Should not be used in a way the misrepresents the source.

Sample quotation (using APA): Part of the mission of K-State is to "develop a highly skilled and educated citizenry" (Kansas State University, 2013, Mission Statement section, para. 5).

Complete paraphrases

  • Present the source information completely in your own words. 
  • Work with signal phrases and in-text citations to credit the source and to tell readers you've borrowed these ideas.
  • Do not merely change every few words to synonyms.
  • Do not retain the author's original sentence structure.

Sample paraphrase (using APA): K-State seeks to create an environment that encourages intellectual growth, academic freedom, and individual empowerment and prepares students to contribute to society after they leave the university (Kansas State University, 2013). 

Kansas State University. (2013). About the University. In Undergraduate Catalog 2013-2014. Retrieved from http://catalog.k-state.edu/content.php?catoid=13&navoid=1403

Cite Sources Correctly

Use these resources to help you cite your sources in your paper and on the references page.




Write the Introduction and Conclusion

Sometimes, writing the introduction or the conclusion of your paper can be a challenge. The following tips may help you with the introduction:

  • Include your thesis. Forecast the paper's organization with your main ideas.
  • Offer a connection. Show readers how the topic relates to their lives.
  • Provide context. Add background to bring your audience on board so they're ready for the rest of the paper. 
  • Write it later. Try writing the introduction after you've written the rest of the paper. The introduction may come first, but you don't have to write it first. 
  • Update it. Review the introduction after making changes to your paper. It may need changes too. 

Here are some tips to help with the conclusion:

  • Restate your thesis. Remind readers of the point of your paper.
  • Summarize your main ideas. Restate these so readers remember.
  • Give it an end. Connect back to an early point in the paper to bring it full circle or leave them with an idea that is vivid, humorous, or meaningful. 
  • Keep it relevant. Avoid introducing new topics not covered in your paper.
  • Update it. Review the conclusion after making changes to your paper. It may need changes too. 

Check for Overall Consistency

Sometimes, while writing a draft, you may decide to change the direction of your paper. This is OK, but it requires some follow up work. If your paper takes shape in an unexpected way, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my thesis statement still make sense?
  • Do all of my main ideas still work together to support the thesis?
  • Do I have enough high quality evidence to support the new direction?
  • Does the introduction serve its purpose still?
  • Does the conclusion function as it should?

If you answer no to any questions, be sure to adjust the problem areas as needed to keep everything on track.