The Steps for Writing a Research Paper

I. Research Topic

  • Choosing Your Topic: Choose an interesting topic or new angle on a known subject. Questions to think about to assist you in choosing a topic: Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political issue in the news? Have you read or seen a news story recently that has piqued your interest or made you angry or anxious? Do you have a personal issue, problem or interest that you would like to know more about? Is there an aspect of a class that you are interested in learning more about? Here are 50 Research Topics. Choose a topic that interests you, a topic that could help guide a career or academic path, or even just a topic of personal interest or concern.
  • Activating Prior Knowledge about Your Topic: Once you've chosen a research topic, ask yourself the following questions: What different aspects of this topic do you find interesting? What subtopics relate to your chosen topic? What do you already know about your topic before you begin your investigation?

    II. Essential Question for your Research Topic

  • Create an open-ended question which is a 'how' or a 'why' question about your topic. Consider why this topic matters to you and why it matters to others. Think about what aspect of the topic you can explore. The point is that your Essential Question should be asking about new trends, developments, or outcomes that are not obvious ('how' questions) or the causes/reasons of a specific event or general trend ('Why' questions).

    III. Supplementary Questions for your Research Topic

  • Create 10 open-ended, supplementary questions so you can explore your research topic. These questions should supplement your Essential Question. These questions should be Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions (they are not closed questions, which provide 'yes' or 'no' answers). Question starters include the following: Who is the leader of...? What time period is...covering? What are the accomplishments in...? What are the barriers to...? How has the struggle for...changed over time? How can...affect...? How does...affect modern society today?
  • Predict the answers to your 10 open-ended, supplementary questions.
  • Circle key words in the supplementary questions and use those as your topics for when you conduct research.

    IV. Interview Research

  • Conduct interviews in which you ask 10 interviewees (people you're interviewing) your Essential Question (your 'how' or 'why' question about your research topic). Ask 5 adults (over 21 years old) and 5 kids (under 21 years old) your Essential Question. Please provide the age, gender, and city of residence for each interviewee.

    V. Book Resource

  • Bring in one library/electronic/store-bought non-fiction book, with a minimum of 150 pages on your research topic. The book must be modern (within the last 20 years). The book must be approved by your teacher.

    VI. Electronic Resources

  • Research and find four online sources (provide the URLs=website addresses) on your research topic (use your essential research question to guide you). Check out Criteria to Evaluate the Credibility of WWW Resources.

  • Evaluating Websites: A Checklist
    1.)Can you identify the author?
    2.) Can you identify the author's qualifications or expertise (i.e. advanced degree, expert in their field, research and writing on the topic for a long time)?
    3.) What authorship clues does the URL provide? Clues: company (.com), academic institution (.edu), U.S. government agency (.gov), U.S. military site (.mil), network of computer (.net), non-profit organization (.org), country-specific site (e.g., .uk), personal web page (e.g.,
    4.) What is the purpose of the website? (e.g. a company or organization web page; a personal web page; an advertisement or electronic commerce; a forum for ideas, opinions, or points of view; a forum for scholarly/research information)
    5.) What does this website provide? (e.g. balanced, objective, or factual information; biased, subjective, or opinionated statements; both objective and subjective information; contact information)
    6.) How would you describe the design, organization, and ease of use of the website? (e.g. website's maintenance, update, modification, broken links, ease of reading and navigation, help screens available, search features/site maps available)

    *Here are suggestions for reliable electronic resources:
    1.) a reputable news source (such as: The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, Wall Street Journal, NBC, ABC, BBC)
    2.) an academic university/college
    3.) a non-profit organization (such as: ACLU, Boys and Girls Club of America, Public Broadcasting Service, ASPCA)
    4.) a Google Scholar article

    VII. Source Cards

  • Source Card Samples
  • Samples of Various Electronic Sources from Purdue OWL Writing Lab
  • Samples of Various Book Sources from Purdue OWL Writing Lab

    VIII. Statement of Purpose

  • What do you want to learn about when conducting your research? The answer is your statement of purpose. Here's How to Write a Statement of Purpose.

    IX. Research Cards

  • Sample #1: How to Make Research Cards (direct quote with ICE--Introduce the quote, Cite the quote, and Explain the quote in your own words)
  • Sample #2 (use the second page only): How to Make Research Cards (paraphrased notes)

    X. Outline

  • Outline Instructions

    XI. Research Paper Requirements

  • Page Number, Font, Spacing, and Thesis: You will write 5-7 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12 point font Times New Roman font in which you address your thesis statement, which is the answer to your Essential Question (the "why" or "how" question on your research topic) throughout your writing.
  • Proper Heading: You need to include a proper heading that includes your name, teacher's name, class name, class period, date (the due date of the research paper), title (centered), and your last name and page # on each page (in the right hand corner)
  • Point of View: Do not use any form of first person (I, me, my, we, our, etc.) or second person (you, your, yours, us, etc.).
  • Sources: Five, cited sources must be referenced in your paper. One source must be an approved book, and the remaining four must be approved, online sources. All sources must be cited in the essay at least once.
  • Interview Data: You should make reference to the interview data and a conclusion based on the results.
  • Proper Citation of Sources: You must cite the source when you are using or referring to someone else's words or ideas, when you use information gained through interviewing another person, and when you use any statistic. You do not, however, have to cite a source when you are writing about your own experiences, your own observations, your own insights, your own thoughts, your own conclusions, common knowledge (common sense observations or generally accepted facts) or when you are writing your own experimental results. Just remember, you can't use any form of "I" in your paper, though you can still provide your own ideas.
  • Addendum: Outline, Pie Graphs, and Works Cited page (in which you include all of your information from the source cards in alphabetical order) must be attached to your research paper (they do not count as the 5-7 pages of writing).
  • You will be graded on the Research Paper Grading Rubric.

    *See Sample MLA Research Paper (taken from The Purdue Online Writing Lab and Sample MLA Research Paper (taken from The MLA Style Center: Writing Resources from the Modern Language Association).

    **See Sample of a Step-by-Step Research Packet