How to Write a Research Paper | The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

How To Write a Research Paper
Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Content Writer At Gradehacker

As one of the most common and important assignments you’ll find throughout your college experience, knowing how to write a research paper is highly necessary.

The bad news is that this genre of writing can be tedious, complex, and hard to excel at.

And it’s even worse if writing isn’t one of your main assets. You need to think of a good topic, look for a variety of sources approved by the academic community, and gather all that information together in a cohesive and well-written paper. 

With so many rules to follow, a step-by-step guide is all you need to have right beside you while writing your next academic paper. Look no further because you have found it!

Here at Gradehacker, we have years of being the non-traditional student’s most trusted resource. We have helped tons of them with their academic essays, and we want you to learn how to excel at academic writing.

That’s why we are sharing a clear and easy-to-follow guide on how to write a research paper, with our pro tips that will help you make the difference when writing.

But first, let’s clear up what a research paper is.

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is a type of academic writing that involves information analysis, source evaluation, and argument explanation on a specific topic. 

They are not the same as academic essays and argumentative papers since they are usually longer, more detailed, and rely more on statistics and pre existing research than on strong opinions.

This assignment aims to prove both your writing and researching skills by demonstrating a clear understanding of the topic, engaging with all types of sources, and making an original contribution to the field of study.

While research papers are common among many branches of the academic community as a way to share information, they are also one of the most typical assignments required in colleges.

Regardless of which career you are following, whether it’s nursing, economics, business, and even social sciences, there will come a time when you’ll have to write a research paper.

How To Write a Research Paper

But don’t worry, here is our step-by-step guide:

1. Choose Your Research Paper Topic

As you’ll see, the first three steps are slightly related and are key to the entire process. But the first thing you have to do is choose a good and interesting research paper topic.

Always check first what the instructions of your assignments say. See if there are any specifications regarding which topic you have to choose or if there are any limitations to it.

Once you know for sure which is the field of study you’ll be conducting the research on, think of a topic that is:

It must be ideally of your interest because writing a research paper takes time, and spending so many hours on something you find boring will make the entire process tedious, making everything worse. By picking something you like, you’ll have a more pleasant time and be more naturally curious about it. The more interested you are, the more information you look for, and the more you understand the topic!

If you have trouble finding an original topic, try starting with a broad subject area, then narrowing it down to its subtopics. You’ll find more unique subjects, which will be more specific to write about.

Lastly, it must be a topic that is possible to research. For instance, if you want to write about how the population of sea turtles varied between the 1800s and 1900s, but you don’t have access to factual data and statistics to conduct your research, then you should look for a more possible topic.

However, as this first step relies so heavily on what information you have found, it goes hand in hand with the second step:

2. Do Your Research

Now, one of the most, if not the, most important parts of the process: is conducting the research.

Once you know which topic you’ll be writing about, you need to search as many sources as possible. You may spend at least two hours skimming through many scholarly articles that could add to your paper. 

It can take time, but it will be worth it once you start the writing process. You’ll see why in the fourth step.

Which is the best way to conduct the research?

Easy, read as many academic sources as you can. Here are a few tips to have in mind to improve your research experience:

Read the abstract

Many scholarly sources have an abstract. They summarize the paper’s content, with the main statistics, observations, and their conclusion. Save time and read the abstract first; if you found at least one helpful sentence, keep reading and find out more.

Save each source

No matter how long the information is or whether it supports or opposes your main argument, save everything that is at least related to your topic.

Save statistics, facts, results from surveys, and studies’ conclusions, even those you think you won’t need to use. It can come in handy if, during writing, you suddenly change your mind and realize that the statistic you randomly read in a source is now useful; then you’ll know where to find it.

Don't be afraid of using the sources that others are citing

While you are doing research, something that can happen is that you find an interesting piece of information, only to see that the primary source you are reading is citing it from another place. 

In case that primary source has other original data you can use but still need to use the other source, you go ahead and use both, each for its respective information!

Know where to look for

Finding peer-reviewed and trustworthy papers can be hard. You can trust sites like NCBI and ResearchGate, which hold a wide variety of sources approved by the community for free. And don’t forget to check what you can find in your college’s library!  

So, while you are doing your research, you’ll have enough information to start with step three:

3. Write Your Thesis Statement

By having all the gathered information, you can develop a specific and robust thesis statement. This is your central argument, your main claim that establishes the purpose and position of your essay.

You will have to include it in the introduction, but more on that in step five.

For now, it’s important that your thesis statement summarizes your argument in one or two sentences and includes all the main arguments of the discussion without getting too much into details. It has to be concise and coherent.

Coming up with a thesis statement is actually easy; you only need to answer the question that made you start the research.

For example, let’s say you are approaching mental health issues from a racial perspective and the question that kicked off your research was: “Were the health policies implemented in Latino communities to warn about the importance of mental health useful”? If your research concluded that it mainly worked in regions where Latino families had more than ten years of living in America, then this would be a good basis for your thesis statement.

Gradehacker's Pro Tip #1: Do and organize all the research before you start writing

If you have all the information you need from the start, it will be easier to structure your paper. You should organize each source into categories. Know which are your main sources with essential information, but also save all the secondary sources that may have less significant information that could add support to one specific argument.

The more sources you save, the best. Even if you don't use all of them or later need to search for more, having a good amount of primary and secondary sources from the start will help you structure your essay better and faster.

How To Write a Research Paper

4. Create Your Paper Outline

With all of the information gathered, you can start structuring your ideas into an outline.

Here is when the thinking process begins, as you’ll have to organize all the ideas and information in a cohesive order.

Usually, research paper assignments require you to include an outline. If it’s not specified or you are unsure about it, you should ask your professor. However, you should still create one, as it will help you structure all the topics you will cover in one place, serving as your guiding roadmap during the writing process.

First, you have to list all the important categories and their subtopics.

Then, rearrange these categories in an order that is connected and makes sense. You can ask yourself these questions as a guide:

Once you have placed all your categories in a cohesive order, create your roadmap by adding sentences and even paragraphs to your outline. Add the purpose of each specific topic and subtopic, and include which sources you’ll be using in that paragraph.

By doing this, you are already starting to write your research paper. 

If you want to know how to make the best research paper outline, check out our article and learn the best tips!

Gradehacker's Pro Tip #2: Add an estimated length for each paragraph

While the length of your assignment will depend on every case, you should have an approximation of how many words you should dedicate to each paragraph to have a better idea of how much of your time you should spend with each.

It doesn't matter if you later end up writing more on one and less on another; the number you set doesn't have to be mandatory, instead serves as an estimated length for you to have in mind to track your progress.

5. Write the Introduction

Now that you have all the sources gathered, the thesis statement done, and the outline ready, you can start writing the introduction.

If you were paying attention and already have your thesis statement, this step shouldn’t be hard.

The purpose of this first paragraph is to bring context to the reader. Introduce them to the field of study, give them context on the issue you are writing, and tell them the thesis statement that will be the main point of discussion throughout the entire paper. 

Don’t include details or cite sources; leave that for the body. The introduction must be short and clear. We recommend between 80 and 150 words, depending on the overall length of your assignment.

Use your thesis statement to open your paper and tell the reader which will be the specific and original topic you will be studying.

Gradehacker's Pro Tip #3: You can save the introduction for last!

While it can be easy to write the introduction if you already have the thesis statement, sometimes you can spend too much time looking at a blank page because you are unsure how to start. So, you can leave it for last.

Start writing the body of your text, and by the time you get to the conclusion, you'll have a better idea of which topics you have covered and what the main focus of your paper is, making it easier for you to finally write the introduction.

How To Write a Research Paper

6. Write Your Body

The body of your paper is where you’ll develop your thesis by explaining and analyzing all the information and statistics you got from your sources.

The easiest way to start writing is by following the roadmap you have from step four. You have already divided your body into sections by having your outline prepared. Now you just need to start writing and linking everything in a natural and cohesive structure.

Remember, your outline is flexible, meaning that you can change the order or the overall structure while you are writing if you think this is for the best.

When writing, make sure that you only cover one idea per paragraph. Instead of gathering too much different information in one lengthy section, explain each topic or a subtopic individually. 

This way, you’ll have a better-structured paper that it’s easy to read and allows readers to find faster valuable information they might be looking for.

To maintain a good flow while clearly dividing the paper into sections, you need to use connectors whenever you start writing on a new topic.

To add information, use:

To change the topic and explain an argument that opposes the previous topic, use:

Connectors are powerful and necessary elements of academic writing, and you should always use them.

7. Write Your Conclusion

To finish your essay, you need a strong conclusion. Here, you have to restate your thesis statement, list your main evidence, and briefly summarize what you have found.

Think of your conclusion as the only piece of information that the reader will remember from your paper.

Besides giving a sense of finality and restating the main points of your essay, you can also discuss the general consequences of your argument by suggesting that further research needs to be conducted on another specific topic.

Finally, don’t add any new information or details in the conclusion. It may seem obvious, but it’s actually one of the most common mistakes in academic writing. Avoid this by knowing beforehand where you’ll be placing all the information you have gathered from the source, so you don’t get to the conclusion with valuable statistics that you forgot to include.

8. Add Your Paper Format Style

We haven’t forgotten about the formatting style. First, check on your assignment guidelines to see which format is required.

Depending on the one you have to use, you may have to include a Title Page at the beginning, but in every case, you’ll have to add a Reference List with all the sources you have used, following the proper citation style.

To learn how to format your APA paper in five minutes, learn its general guidelines and how to cite and write the reference list, click here to read our blog article.

While if you have to use MLA format, click here to check out our blog on how to format in this citation style.

9. Revise And Edit Your Paper

We are not going to lie. The final step of the process may be a bit tedious, but it’s indispensable.

Once you have finished writing, you have to revise your paper for grammar, spelling, and stylistic mistakes and edit them when you find these errors. Because yes, you will certainly find a few of them at least.

It’s impossible to finish with a perfect first draft, regardless of how much experience you have writing. So, you must read what you wrote from the start and see in detail what can be improved. Of course, check for grammar mistakes, but also be attentive to word repetitions and wordy sentences, and see what changes you can make to your paper to enhance the overall result.

Don’t be closed to the idea of rewriting an entire paragraph or changing the order of your body sections. 

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself while writing:

The best way to check this, is by reading your paper aloud or having somebody else read it while you hear it. When heard, you’ll see that you’ll find technical mistakes and think of some improvements you can make.

Gradehacker's Pro Tip #4: Use Grammarly

To check grammar mistakes, see stylistic suggestions, avoid repeated words, and have a percentage of plagiarized content, we recommend you use Grammarly. It's a freemium app that works as your own online editor.

If you want more information on how Grammarly works, you can read our honest review and see why you should use it.

How To Write a Research Paper


So, these are all the steps you need to follow to write a research paper:

  1. Choose Your Research Paper Topic
  2. Do Your Research
  3. Write Your Thesis Statement
  4. Create Your Outline
  5. Write the Introduction
  6. Write Your Body
  7. Write Your Conclusion
  8. Add Your Paper Format Style
  9. Revise And Edit Your Paper

Be sure to follow our tips to improve your writing skills and end up with an outstanding essay that will leave your professor amazed.

Ace Your Next Research Paper

Now you are fully ready to nail your next research paper. We know it can be a long and hard-working process, full of extensive research, critical thinking, and doubts. But if you follow our step-by-step guide, you’ll see that it can be an interesting and simple experience.

Find a topic you like that is specific and has plenty of academic sources you can use. Do the entire research from the start, dedicate all the time you need, and gather every information that can be useful. Organize all your ideas in an outline, and divide each topic and its subtopics into body sections. And then, start writing!

State your main thesis in the introduction; analyze your sources, show what you have found in the body, and restate your argument while listing the most important points of the paper in the conclusion.

And once you have finished writing, don’t forget to revise your essay for mistakes and improvements!

We assure you, it’s not as hard as it seems. Next time you have to do a research paper, you are going to ace it!

But if you are still struggling with it or don’t have the proper time to write an essay as you would like, you can always trust Gradehacker to help you. We have helped many non-traditional students like you with all types of essays, including research papers. If you are looking for help, we’ve got your back!

And if you are looking for more guidelines on how to improve your writing skills, don’t miss out on these related articles: