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Tips for writing a college research paper

tips for writing a research paper for college
Written by CB Community

Well, the time has come. It’s time to deliver one of the most complicated tasks in the academic world – the research paper. This writing assignment requires far more preparation and effort than an ordinary essay. When students encounter this heavy-duty paper, it can evoke instant anxiety. However, try not to panic. If you’re looking to hand in an assignment that passes with flying colors, we have some tips on how to generate an exemplary research paper and earn you that coveted “A”.

What is a college research paper?

A research paper is a piece of writing that requires students to investigate a specific topic, analyze the information, and present their interpretation of the information. Typically these types of papers are written at the end of the semester, which is why they are often referred to as term papers.

Students can be assigned to carry out primary or secondary research. Primary research means that the professor expects to see an original piece of work where students discover something new. Not only does it call for students to present facts and data, it also requires students to analyse these facts and create their own unique insights. Secondary research requires students to collect and analyze background information about a topic. The type of research paper all depends on your discipline and area of study.

How to choose your research topic

Professors often assign open-topic papers, meaning you’re required to come up with an interesting and original topic on your own. The best advice is to focus on topics and issues you are passionate about or eager to write about – this will help you find unique research paper ideas to examine.

Spend some time examining your scope of interest. Keep in mind that there may be some limitations on your topic based on the type of assignment, field of study, academic discipline, or professor’s requests. It’s always a good idea to select a topic that won’t be too broad or too narrow. Topics that are too broad can overwhelm you with information, while topics that are too narrow can make it difficult to find sources and research that you need.

Finding sources

After choosing a topic, it’s time to come up with a research strategy and determine what sources you’ll need for research. Search your college library for a wide array of sources. It’s one of the best and easiest places to find necessary books, academic journals, periodicals, government guides, and other publications.

The internet is not to be forgotten when it comes to research! It is the biggest source database for useful information on your topic. Google Scholar is particularly useful if you need to find publications by scientists and scholars. Make sure you evaluate all the sources to determine if they are relevant to your topic. Be sure to take notes – you will need to cite these sources later in your paper.

Bonus tip: If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to go to your professor for ideas of where to find relevant literature.

When trying to determine the number of source to use in your research paper, don’t forget to look at your professor’s demands. The minimum number of sources is usually specified in the instructions. Depending on the length and type of work, this number may vary. A reference list of at least 10-15 sources is a good starting point for most papers.

Thesis statements and outlines

A solid thesis statement is crucial if you are determined to submit an effective research paper. A thesis is the sentence where the principal idea of the paper is stated, clarifying the purpose of your research. It should be written before everything else as it allows you to organize your thoughts and keep your focus. The thesis should be at the end of the introduction paragraph, outlining what central idea the reader will find in the paper.

After working out your thesis, prepare a clear outline to structure your paper properly. An outline is a handy tool that helps facilitate the writing process and keeps the track of substantial information.

A proper outline for the college research paper should correspond with the initial requirements of your professor.

Here are several basic elements to include in every research paper:

  • A title page including the title of your research, your name, the name of your college, and the publication date;
  • The abstract, a brief summary of your research;
  • An introduction outlining the objectives and context of your research, background information, and the thesis statement;
  • The body, presenting principal ideas, supporting arguments, and an objective analysis;
  • Conclusion, summarizing the main points and personal interpretation of the obtained results;
  • References and citations list

Create source citations

Every time a source is directly quoted, a brief reference to the original work should be made. Ideas that are paraphrased, as well as facts, images, or graphs included in a paper must also be cited. It is an essential part of the academic writing process that allows students to maintain academic integrity and avoid plagiarism. A citation is a listing of bibliographic details that allows readers to easily locate the original source materials.

Currently, there is no universally standardized citation format. The three most common citation styles are American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and Chicago Manual of Style (often referred to as Chicago). Various academic disciplines require different citation styles. APA is commonly used in psychology, nursing, education and psychology; MLA is used for English and Literature classes; and Chicago is used for humanities and social sciences such as Anthropology and History. Additionally, your professor may request a specific citation style, so be sure to read their instructions carefully!


Last but not least, it’s time for revisions. Don’t ignore this part, as it helps you to nail your paper and get rid of all grammatical, stylistic, and content errors. When you finish writing the entire paper, don’t rush to submit it. This is your first draft, the preliminary version of the work, that needs thorough revision and editing.
Revision is necessary in order to find any discrepancies in the structure and content. Maybe your thesis statement doesn’t make sense with the research, or maybe your arguments don’t appear in a logical order. Whatever the issue is, now is the time to find and fix it. Editing allows you to discover typos, repetition, formatting errors, grammar mistakes, and more. Fixing these errors can save you a handful of easy marks.

Be sure to smooth out transitions, citation organization, idea flow, and supporting evidence. After you create a final draft, give it to a friend or relative to check it once again with a fresh eye.


Despite all the difficulties related to with writing a research paper, it has a lot of benefits for students’ academic careers. Research papers serve as an excellent demonstration of a students ability to dive into a topic, as well as their critical thinking and analytical skills. It’s an interesting task to perform nonetheless.

What are the components of a sufficient research paper? The answer is simple – comprehensive structure, logical flow of thoughts, clear thesis statement, preserved formatting peculiarities, solid arguments, and undeniable evidence. Does this task demand your undivided attention? Yes, it does, but it gives you a possibility to boost your knowledge.

Be sure to read more great blogs from College Basics.

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CB Community

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