Writing a Research Paper

Use this guide to help you write your paper.

Library Research Guide

Reflect on Levels of Revision

Every professor for whom you write a paper will have his or her own advice on revision. One helpful way of thinking about revision comes from A Community of Writers by Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff.

They use these phrases to talk about three levels at which you can alter a piece of writing:

  • Change the bones: Make very significant changes to content and ideas.
  • Change the muscles: Rearrange, add ideas, or delete ideas that don't fit as well.
  • Change the skin: Proofread and edit errors (misspellings, errors in grammar, etc.).

When you've finished your work, step away from it so you can come back with fresh eyes and consider whether you need to make any of these types of changes. 

Alyssa Hurzeler, "Revision," Expository Writing II, p 165-66.

Use Different Review Techniques

By reviewing your paper, you can determine whether you need to change the "muscles" or the "bones" of the paper, as described in the box above. Here are a few approaches:

  • Re-read to the original assignment to be certain your paper addresses all of the requirements. Then read your paper section by section to make sure you're on target. If you're not, be prepared to add or delete large portions of text. 
  • Use the power of peer-review: find a classmate, a friend, or a writing tutor to review the paper with you and look for weaknesses and errors. 
  • If you finish in ample time, ask your professor if he or she is willing to give feedback in person during office hours. Ask about preferences: for example, many professors may want you to bring a hard copy instead of emailing a draft, and some require a certain number of days to review the paper before they'll meet with you. But it's bound to pay off. 

Proofread to Refine Your Paper

Finally, no paper is complete until you've given it a final proofread.

  • Print your paper. Step away from the computer to edit it. You will notice things on the hard copy that you miss on the screen!
  • Read it aloud, slowly. It might feel silly, but you will be surprised at how many misspellings or confusing phrases you can find this way! Even some professional writers use the "read it aloud" trick.
  • Read your paper backwards to check for typos.
  • Make sure you've cited all of your sources.
  • Double-check that you are following the required style guide (MLA, APA, Chicago, or one of the many others). Again, the Purdue OWL website is a great resource for this step.