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Research: Getting Started: Writing Tips

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Eight Steps for Starting a Research Paper

Research Wordle1. Know what the assignment is.  When your professor gives you the assignment, take the time to understand right off the bat what it actually entails.  Do you understand the terminology?  Do you understand what the final product should look like?

2. Get an overview by consulting an encyclopedia, handbook or specialized dictionary.  This is especially important if your area of research is less familiar to you. As you read, start focusing your topic.  Wikipedia is also good for getting an overview.

3. Brainstorm questions & keywords.  The questions help direct your research. You'll need the keywords for database-searching.

4. Identify the sources to search.  Usually you want books and articles for a credible paper. For books you'll use the Library Catalog. For articles you'll use databases — usually at least one subject-specific one.  Try starting with OneSearch, which searches several databases at once.

5. Focus your topic further into a thesis statement.  This is your road map for further research — and for writing the paper. You will state it near the beginning (e.g., end of your introduction). It tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion, and what to expect from the rest of the paper. It presents your argument. The rest of the paper, the "body", gathers and organizes evidence to persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.  Use an outline to stay on track.  Jot down a rough outline listing main points you want to cover in your paper, so you can stay on track when writing. Is each point germane to your thesis, whether for background or argument?

6. Scope of your topic: too narrow or too broad?  Choosing too narrow a topic or one that doesn't have much information about it can make researching a six- or ten-page paper frustrating. (So can too broad or vague a topic.) When you choose your topic, try to make it something that you know has enough sources to help you construct your argument.  Go back to #3.

7. Keep track of your findings.  Email useful articles to yourself so you can't misplace them. For each source you might use, make sure you have enough data for your list of references. Keep a list of resources with their citation information.  Not only will you have it to complete your citations, but if you need to return to a source, you can easily find it. (See #9)

8. Cite everything you use.  Consider doing your bibliography (or "works cited" or "references" list) first, or as you go, so you can refer to it when doing in-text citations as you write your paper — this saves work overall. As well, it means you're not faced with this detailed task when you're bleary-eyed at the very end of writing your paper!

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