Writing a Good Research Paper

Writing a good research paper requires a solid process. To help you, we’ve outline a smart workflow for your next writing project, working from the assignment to the time you turn it in to your teach or professor.

Study the assignment

Knowing your ultimate destination is critical to writing a good research paper. Your teacher or professor assigns a research paper, typically with specific requirements. Make sure you fully understand what you are expected to do WHEN THE ASSIGNMENT IS DELIVERED. Don’t wait until the night before!


Once you are sure of the requirements, write down everything you can think of. Don’t worry about the order of your thoughts – simply get ideas out of your mind and into notes. Mind-mapping or any way you want to jot down notes is ideal.

Choose a general topic

From your brainstorm session, you may start to see some key concepts or ideas to explore. Ideally, one general idea will surface so you can begin to explore.

Start your research

Using your general topic, open a browser and type the idea into your favorite search engine. Bookmark sites that provide broad resources and the most useful articles. Scan for more focused ideas from your general topic. For example, if your general topic was Steve Jobs, you may find articles about Pixar, Silicon Valley or iPhone.

Develop a primary theme

Your research should drive you toward a topic where you can match the assignment’s requirements to an interesting and valuable topic. Using our Steve Jobs example, you may decide to choose a primary theme like “The Rocky Relationship of Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley”. You have an argument that you’ll need to support, with plenty of information to review.

Make a plan

When you read the assignment, you no doubt saw a due date. You need to align your calendar to those requirements so you’ll have time to do the work. Plan for time to research, write, edit and format.

Continue research

Before you spend time on your outline, you should continue researching your topic. In your review, carefully consider the sources you’re reading. Yes, the internet can be wrong. Hit the library or other media sources to tap other information. Part of the value of writing a good research paper is learning deeply about the subject. Although you should focus on your core theme, learn as much as you can in the time available.

Ask questions

Hopefully your research will spawn questions. Ask your teacher or professor. Ask your friends and family. Another key life lesson is building a network of trusted information – which includes finding people who know more than you do or can help you learn more.

Adjust theme

You may find that your original topic missed the mark by being too broad or too narrow. Adjust accordingly.

Create an outline

Try to form a framework for your topic, such as “beginning, middle, end” (chronological), advantages & disadvantages, “who, what, where, when, why”.

Develop a counterargument

Your topic may have a counterpoint – a different perspective. Consider alternative questions and ideas about your topic – it may help your research or writing to strengthen points around these counterarguments.

Collect & review information

Start assembling your materials around your outline to see what is “ready” and where you need more research.

Adjust your outline

In addition to finding holes in your research materials, you may find holes in your outline (or conversely, ideas to remove).

Write your first draft, without a summary

Ready, set, go! It’s time to write. Begin assembling your thoughts using your outline. Cite research where needed. Skip any summary work for now – just capture the ideas.

Add charts, diagrams and pictures

If it helps, create charts and diagrams or add photos to support your theme. Figures and tables often help you make a more convincing case.

Wait a while

Once the basic research paper is written, put it to the side. You’ll want a fresh perspective for the next step.


Read your first draft. Note any issues you find (spelling, grammar, missing or repeated information, etc.).

Add signposts

It helps your reader if you add numbering to ideas. For example, “Here are the three main things that happened… First…Next…Finally…” Your work is largely done, so you can make the research paper more helpful for the reader.

Summarize against theme

Write your summary after reviewing the assignment, your original theme and your writing. Summarize the main ideas, demonstrating what you really learned in the process.

Proofread and edit

Using your review notes, start updating your report. If you’re using a word procesor, run a spelling & grammar checker. Read it over carefully. Have a friend or family member read it too.

Finalize & deliver

The finish line! Congratulations, you just wrote a good research paper by following a smart plan to collect your thoughts and systematically communicate them.

Writing a Good Research Paper

Writing is a process, not an event. Using a plan like this one will help you write better, have less stress and hopefully make better grades. So next time you have to write a good research paper, hit your bookmark on this article!


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