How to write a research paper: teaching yourself

Research papers may seem intimidating, especially if you’re trying to give yourself a crash course in how to write one. Looking at example research papers online can help, but it’s not usually the most efficient first step.

Understand What a Research Paper Really Is

The first step to learning how to write a research paper is to understand what it is. A research paper, for the inexperienced, may at first look like an attempt to consolidate all of the available information about the topic. However, that describes something more like an encyclopedia entry. A research paper isn’t just a collection of facts or figures about a topic. Instead, it has a clearly defined purpose. Research papers are designed to answer questions, and the questions are more subtle than “What is [this topic] all about?”

Creating a Thesis Statement

To write a research paper, you must have a question in mind about the topic. This question must be specific enough to yield plenty of sources, yet not so broad that it’s difficult to answer the question within the prescribed number of pages. While the question is the beginning of a research paper, it’s not the basis for it. The basis for a research paper is the writer’s thesis.

A thesis statement is a proposed answer to the question. So, to teach yourself to write research papers, you must first tap into your curiosity on the topic, generate a question about it, then learn enough about that question to propose an answer. That answer is your thesis statement.

Supporting Your Thesis Statement

Once you’ve developed a thesis statement, it’s time to move on to the real research. The body of a research paper is an attempt to support your thesis—your answer to the question you were curious about. To do so, you’ll need to research the question, first in a more general sense, and progress to researching more specific material. Take notes as you go, sorting information by category and recording the sources you got the information from.

Create an Outline

A basic research paper is structured to have an introduction, a body (which is divided into sections for each point that supports your thesis), and a conclusion. The introduction should include your thesis statement, as well as highlight each of the major points you plan to use to support that thesis. The conclusion should review the thesis and the points you used to support it.