Research Paper: Two words that strike fear into the hearts of many students. Four syllables that create panic, dread, and anxiety.
But they don’t have to.
Writing a research paper takes time and requires effort, but if you have a good topic and credible sources, you’re on your way to a great paper.
Wait…what? Credible sources?
Are you thinking, “What’s the difference? Isn’t one source just as good as another?”
No. Not all sources are created equal.
Think about it. If you want to learn about the current texting and driving laws, would you rather learn about the laws by reading some random guy’s blog who does nothing but rant about the law because he just got a ticket for texting and driving, or would you rather research the law by reading a .gov (government) website?
I think we’d both pick the .gov site.
But .gov sites aren’t the only place to find online credible resources.
Keep reading to learn the 5 best resources to help with writing a research paper.
Why You Should Use Credible Sources When Writing a Research Paper
A research paper is like a jury trial. If you’re an attorney trying to convince the jury your client is innocent, you need hard evidence.
Try convincing a jury that your client is innocent by telling them he wasn’t at the crime scene, and you can prove it because his best friendsaid he wasn’t there.
It isn’t going to work.
Now try convincing the jury that your client is innocent because he was out of town when the crime happened. You have a hotel receipt, plane tickets, and video evidence that he was nowhere near the area at the time of the crime.
This is much more credible and convincing evidence.
When you’re writing a research paper, your arguments are on trial. Your job is to convince your readers and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject.
To do this, you need credible sources written by credible authors such as doctors, researchers, and scholars.
You don’t want to use questionable articles written by the girl who works at the pizza joint down the street or by your best friend’s cousin’s uncle who says he knows a lot about whatever you’re writing about.
Let’s talk about some other sources that won’t help you make your point.
Sources You Shouldn’t Use
The Dictionary: Don’t start your paper with something like, “According to the dictionary, crazy means mentally deranged.” Readers already know what crazy means. There’s no need to define it.
If you’re using complex terms that readers might not be familiar with, it’s fine to define words, but use a more specialized definition from a journal or other credible source.
A dictionary is great for looking up the meanings of words, but your professors won’t consider the dictionary a scholarly source, so it’s best to avoid using it as a source in your research essays.
About.com: About.com is a fine website. It has lots of useful information like fresh ideas to decorate your bathroom, the best new hairstyles, and 10 places to see before you die.
While reading about this stuff can be fun, it’s not relevant information for a research paper. These articles are written by people who are passionate about their subject, but the writers aren’t necessarily experts.
Wikipedia.com: Wikipedia is a fine website, too. It has lots of cool information about lots of cool topics.
The problem with Wikipedia (and other Wikis) is that anyone can write them.
You could create a Wiki about how Steven Spielberg was the first president of the United States. Someone else could read your Wiki online and write a research paper about Spielberg as president.
You could fall victim to this too, and write a research paper using incorrect information. Did you know that at one point, Wikipedia listed the soccer star David Beckham as an 18th century Chinese goalkeeper? Imagine writing that in your paper! I don’t think you’d earn the “A” you were hoping for.
Because you can’t be sure that the information is accurate, it’s best to stay away from Wikipedia.
But if you shouldn’t use the websites I’ve just listed, what resources should you use? Keep reading to find out!
5 Best Resources to Help with Writing a Research Paper
- Your school’s library
- Google Scholar
- Internet Public Library
1. Your School’s Library: This is the best place to begin your research.
The library at your school is an academic library, meaning you’ll find more academic books, journals, and scholarly sources than you will novels and magazines.
One of the best things about researching at your school’s online library is that if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your living room or your dorm room to research, you don’t have to.
As long as you have your library card, you can login and access tons of great resources, such as online databases, e-books, and other research articles.
Don’t tell me you forgot to sign up for your library card! Don’t tell me your paper is due tonight and there’s no time to get a library card now!
Okay, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. There’s still hope.
Even if you don’t have immediate access to your school’s library, I’ve included four other useful resources that are free and don’t require a library card.
2. Google Scholaris a lot like the Google search engine you’re probably used to.
You simply type in what you’re looking for, and you’ll see a list of results. The difference with Google Scholar is that your list of results won’t contain websites trying to sell you a cell phone or articles about how to dress your dog for the holidays.
Google Scholar will produce a list of journal articles, .pdfs, and websites focusing on much more credible and scholarly sources appropriate for a research paper.
(You know, stuff you can actually use!)
3. RefSeek This resource is a search engine designed for students and researchers. It searches online sources but produces more scholarly sites than a standard search engine, such as Google.
One of the great features of RefSeek is that it allows you to search specifically for documents, giving you a better chance of finding credible information to help write your research paper.
4. Internet Public Library (ipl2) This resource allows you to search by subject.
It links to websites, rather than scholarly journals; however, it often links to more credible .gov or .org sites (although you may encounter a few broken links.)
You can also use the handy “Ask an ipl2 Librarian” service. If you aren’t in a rush, you can submit a question to the site’s volunteer librarians, and a professional librarian or grad student will be in touch to help you find the best resources for your topic.
The site says, “Once we have accepted your question, we do our best to answer it promptly. You will receive an answer from us within one week. If you indicate you need a response more quickly, we will try to answer it by that date.
“ipl2 is not a good place to come if you need help right away. We are not a ‘real-time’ service, and it takes us time to read, research, and respond to questions.” Read more here.
5. ERIC (Education Resources Information Center): This database primarily focuses on education, but it also includes a number of related topics, such as social work, psychology, and other social issues. A search will provide a list of journal articles (most full-text).
Searching for Sources in ERIC
If you’re searching for sources in most basic search engines, such as Google Scholar, you usually just type in your keywords and read a list of results. Databases, though, are a bit different. They include the standard search box, but they also include a variety of other options to help narrow your results. Because the searching can be more complex, I’ve included information below to help you get started.
Here’s a quick tutorial to help you begin searching on ERIC.
Step 1: Type in your keywords. In this example, I’ve chosen guns on college campuses.
Make sure you check the box to show only those results available in full text.
Searching for full text articles means you’ll be able to read the entire article immediately. You won’t have to worry about tracking it down at some library across the country, and you won’t have to pay $19.99 to purchase an article you don’t even know if you want to use yet!
Step 2: Review the search results.
- If you are looking for articles written during a specific time frame, check out the left column (Publication Date).
- If you want to read a summary (also known as an abstract) click on the title of the article. (Article titles are hyperlinked in blue in the middle of the screen.)
- If you want to read the article immediately, click on the full text option at the right of your screen. (Articles are usually provided in .pdf format.)
It Really is that Simple
As you can see, there’s no reason to be panic-stricken about writing a research paper.
Use the resources in this post to help you find the most credible and useful sources, and you’ll be on your way to writing an amazing paper.
Once you find the perfect sources, you’ll still need to actually write the paper, so review Writing a Library-Based Research Paper and Research Paper Steps for help with putting together your essay.
Have you finished writing a research paper, but still need someone to review it? Contact our Kibin editors for help!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
What is a research paper? A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on its author’s original research on a particular topic, and the analysis and interpretation of the research findings. It can be either a term paper, a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation. This Chapter outlines the logical steps to writing a good research paper. To achieve supreme excellence or perfection in anything you do, you need more than just the knowledge. Like the Olympic athlete aiming for the gold medal, you must have a positive attitude and the belief that you have the ability to achieve it. That is the real start to writing an A+ research paper.
STEP 1. HOW TO START A RESEARCH PAPER? CHOOSE A TOPIC
Choose a topic which interests and challenges you. Your attitude towards the topic may well determine the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your research.
Focus on a limited aspect, e.g. narrow it down from “Religion” to “World Religion” to “Buddhism”. Obtain teacher approval for your topic before embarking on a full-scale research. If you are uncertain as to what is expected of you in completing the assignment or project, re-read your assignment sheet carefully or ASK your teacher.
Select a subject you can manage. Avoid subjects that are too technical, learned, or specialized. Avoid topics that have only a very narrow range of source materials.
STEP 2. FIND INFORMATION
Surf the Net.
For general or background information, check out useful URLs, general information online, almanacs or encyclopedias online such as Britannica. Use search engines and other search tools as a starting point.
Pay attention to domain name extensions, e.g., .edu (educational institution), .gov (government), or .org (non-profit organization). These sites represent institutions and tend to be more reliable, but be watchful of possible political bias in some government sites. Be selective of .com (commercial) sites. Many .com sites are excellent; however, a large number of them contain advertisements for products and nothing else. Network Solutions provides a link where you can find out what some of the other extensions stand for. Be wary of the millions of personal home pages on the Net. The quality of these personal homepages vary greatly. Learning how to evaluate websites critically and to search effectively on the Internet can help you eliminate irrelevant sites and waste less of your time.
The recent arrival of a variety of domain name extensions such as .biz (commercial businesses), .pro, .info (info on products / organizations), .name, .ws (WebSite), .cc (Cocos Island) or .sh (St. Helena) or .tv (Tuvalu) may create some confusion as you would not be able to tell whether a .cc or .sh or .tv site is in reality a .com, a .edu, a .gov, a .net, or a .org site. Many of the new extensions have no registration restrictions and are available to anyone who wishes to register a distinct domain name that has not already been taken. For instance, if Books.com is unavailable, you can register as Books.ws or Books.info via a service agent such as Register.com.
To find books in the Library use the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).
Check out other print materials available in the Library:
- Almanacs, Atlases, AV Catalogs
- Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
- Government Publications, Guides, Reports
- Magazines, Newspapers
- Vertical Files
- Yellow Pages, Zip or Postal Code and Telephone Directories
Check out online resources, Web based information services, or special resource materials on CDs:
- Online reference materials (including databases, e.g. SIRS, ProQuest, eLibrary, etc.)
- Google Scholar
- Wall Street Executive Library
- Index to Periodicals and Newspapers (e.g. MagPortal.com, OnlineNewspapers.com, etc.)
- Answers.com – an online dictionary and encyclopedia all-in-one resource that you can install on your computer free of charge and find one-click answers quickly.
- Encyclopedias (e.g.Britannica, Canadian Encyclopedia, etc.)
- Magazines and Journals
- International Public Library
- Subject Specific software (e.g. discovering authors, exploring Shakespeare, etc.)
Check out public and university libraries, businesses, government agencies, as well as contact knowledgeable people in your community.
Read and evaluate. Bookmark your favorite Internet sites. Printout, photocopy, and take notes of relevant information.
As you gather your resources, jot down full bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) on your work sheet, printout, or enter the information on your laptop or desktop computer for later retrieval. If printing from the Internet, it is wise to set up the browser to print the URL and date of access for every page. Remember that an article without bibliographical information is useless since you cannot cite its source.
STEP 3. MAKE YOUR THESIS STATEMENT
Most research papers normally require a thesis statement. If you are not sure, ask your teacher whether your paper requires it.
A thesis statement is a main idea, a central point of your research paper. The arguments you provide in your paper should be based on this cenral idea, that is why it is so important. Do some critical thinking and write your thesis statement down in one sentence. Your research paper thesis statement is like a declaration of your belief. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments to support and defend this belief.
A thesis statement should be provided early in your paper – in the introduction part, or in the second paragraph, if your paper is longer.
It is impossible to create a thesis statement immediately when you have just started fulfilling your assignment. Before you write a thesis statement, you should collect, organize and analyze materials and your ideas. You cannot make a finally formulated statement before you have completed your reseach paper. It will naturally change while you develop your ideas.
Stay away from generic and too fuzzy statements and arguments. Use a particular subject. The paper should present something new to the audience to make it interesting and educative to read.
Avoid citing other authors in this section. Present your own ideas in your own words instead of simply copying from other writers.
A thesis statement should do the following:
- Explain the readers how you interpret the subject of the research
- Tell the readers what to expect from your paper
- Answer the question you were asked
- Present your claim which other people may want to dispute
Make sure your thesis is strong.
If you have time and opportunity, show it to your instructor to revise. Otherwise, you may estimate it yourself.
You must check:
- Does my statement answer the question of my assignment?
- Can my position be disputed or opposed? If not, maybe you have just provided a summary instead of creating an argument.
- Is my statement precise enough? It should not be too general and vague.
- Does it pass a so-called “so what” test? Does it provide new/interesting information to your audience or does it simply state a generic fact?
- Does the body of my manuscript support my thesis, or are they different things? Compare them and change if necessary. Remember that changing elements of your work in the process of writing and reviewing is normal.
A well-prepared thesis means well-shaped ideas. It increases credibility of the paper and makes good impression about its author.
More helpful hints about Writing a Research Paper.
STEP 4. MAKE A RESEARCH PAPER OUTLINE
A research paper basically has the following structure:
- Title Page (including the title, the author’s name, the name of a University or colledge, and the publication date)
- Abstract (brief summary of the paper – 250 words or less)
- Introduction (background information on the topic or a brief comment leading into the subject matter – up to 2 pages)
- Manuscript Body, which can be broken down in further sections, depending on the nature of research:
- Materials and Methods
- Results (what are the results obtained)
- Discussion and Conclusion etc.
- Tables, figures, and appendix (optional)
An outline might be formal or informal.
An informal outline (working outline) is a tool helping an author put down and organize their ideas. It is subject to revision, addition and canceling, without paying much attention to form. It helps an author to make their key points clear for him/her and arrange them.
Sometimes the students are asked to submit formal outlines with their research papers.
In a formal outline, numbers and letters are used to arrange topics and subtopics. The letters and numbers of the same kind should be placed directly under one another. The topics denoted by their headings and subheadings should be grouped in a logical order.
All points of a research paper outline must relate to the same major topic that you first mentioned in your capital Roman numeral.
Example of an outline:I. INTRODUCTION - (Brief comment leading into subject matter - Thesis statement on Shakespeare) II. BODY - Shakespeare's Early Life, Marriage, Works, Later Years A. Early life in Stratford 1. Shakespeare's family a. Shakespeare's father b. Shakespeare's mother 2. Shakespeare's marriage a. Life of Anne Hathaway b. Reference in Shakespeare's Poems B. Shakespeare's works 1. Plays a. Tragedies i. Hamlet ii. Romeo and Juliet b. Comedies i. The Tempest ii. Much Ado About Nothing c. Histories i. King John ii. Richard III iii. Henry VIII 2. Sonnets 3. Other poems C. Shakespeare's Later Years 1. Last two plays 2. Retired to Stratford a. Death b. Burial i. Epitaph on his tombstone III. CONCLUSION A. Analytical summary 1. Shakespeare's early life 2. Shakespeare's works 3. Shakespeare's later years B. Thesis reworded C. Concluding statement
The purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. A good outline is the most important step in writing a good paper. Check your outline to make sure that the points covered flow logically from one to the other. Include in your outline an INTRODUCTION, a BODY, and a CONCLUSION. Make the first outline tentative.
INTRODUCTION – State your thesis and the purpose of your research paper clearly. What is the chief reason you are writing the paper? State also how you plan to approach your topic. Is this a factual report, a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem? Explain briefly the major points you plan to cover in your paper and why readers should be interested in your topic.
BODY – This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. Remember the Rule of 3, i.e. find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Begin with a strong argument, then use a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument for your final point.
CONCLUSION – Restate or reword your thesis. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this particular conclusion.
STEP 5. ORGANIZE YOUR NOTES
Organize all the information you have gathered according to your outline. Critically analyze your research data. Using the best available sources, check for accuracy and verify that the information is factual, up-to-date, and correct. Opposing views should also be noted if they help to support your thesis. This is the most important stage in writing a research paper. Here you will analyze, synthesize, sort, and digest the information you have gathered and hopefully learn something about your topic which is the real purpose of doing a research paper in the first place. You must also be able to effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, insights, and research findings to others through written words as in a report, an essay, a research or term paper, or through spoken words as in an oral or multimedia presentation with audio-visual aids.
Do not include any information that is not relevant to your topic, and do not include information that you do not understand. Make sure the information that you have noted is carefully recorded and in your own words, if possible. Plagiarism is definitely out of the question. Document all ideas borrowed or quotes used very accurately. As you organize your notes, jot down detailed bibliographical information for each cited paragraph and have it ready to transfer to your Works Cited page.
Devise your own method to organize your notes. One method may be to mark with a different color ink or use a hi-liter to identify sections in your outline, e.g., IA3b – meaning that the item “Accessing WWW” belongs in the following location of your outline:I. Understanding the Internet A. What is the Internet 3. How to "Surf the Net" b. Accessing WWW
Group your notes following the outline codes you have assigned to your notes, e.g., IA2, IA3, IA4, etc. This method will enable you to quickly put all your resources in the right place as you organize your notes according to your outline.
STEP 6. WRITE YOUR FIRST DRAFT
Start with the first topic in your outline. Read all the relevant notes you have gathered that have been marked, e.g. with the capital Roman numeral I.
Summarize, paraphrase or quote directly for each idea you plan to use in your essay. Use a technique that suits you, e.g. write summaries, paraphrases or quotations on note cards, or separate sheets of lined paper. Mark each card or sheet of paper clearly with your outline code or reference, e.g., IB2a or IIC, etc.
Put all your note cards or paper in the order of your outline, e.g. IA, IB, IC. If using a word processor, create meaningful filenames that match your outline codes for easy cut and paste as you type up your final paper, e.g. cut first Introduction paragraph and paste it to IA. Before you know it, you have a well organized term paper completed exactly as outlined.
If it is helpful to you, use a symbol such as “#” to mark the spot where you would like to check back later to edit a paragraph. The unusual symbol will make it easy for you to find the exact location again. Delete the symbol once editing is completed.
STEP 7. REVISE YOUR OUTLINE AND DRAFT
Read your paper for any content errors. Double check the facts and figures. Arrange and rearrange ideas to follow your outline. Reorganize your outline if necessary, but always keep the purpose of your paper and your readers in mind. Use a free grammar and proof reading checker such as Grammarly.
1. Is my thesis statement concise and clear?
2. Did I follow my outline? Did I miss anything?
3. Are my arguments presented in a logical sequence?
4. Are all sources properly cited to ensure that I am not plagiarizing?
5. Have I proved my thesis with strong supporting arguments?
6. Have I made my intentions and points clear in the essay?
Re-read your paper for grammatical errors. Use a dictionary or a thesaurus as needed. Do a spell check. Correct all errors that you can spot and improve the overall quality of the paper to the best of your ability. Get someone else to read it over. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can see mistakes that you missed.
1. Did I begin each paragraph with a proper topic sentence?
2. Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
3. Any run-on or unfinished sentences?
4. Any unnecessary or repetitious words?
5. Varying lengths of sentences?
6. Does one paragraph or idea flow smoothly into the next?
7. Any spelling or grammatical errors?
8. Quotes accurate in source, spelling, and punctuation?
9. Are all my citations accurate and in correct format?
10. Did I avoid using contractions? Use “cannot” instead of “can’t”, “do not” instead of “don’t”?
11. Did I use third person as much as possible? Avoid using phrases such as “I think”, “I guess”, “I suppose”
12. Have I made my points clear and interesting but remained objective?
13. Did I leave a sense of completion for my reader(s) at the end of the paper?
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, by William Strunk, Jr.
For an excellent source on English composition, check out this classic book by William Strunk, Jr. on the Elements of Style. Contents include: Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders: Place yourself in the background, Revise and rewrite, Avoid fancy words, Be clear, Do not inject opinion, Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity, … and much more. Details of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. partially available online at Bartleby.com. Note: William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946). The Elements of Style was first published in 1918.
There is also a particular formatting style you must follow. It depends on the field of your studies or the requirements of your University/supervisor.
There are several formatting styles typically used. The most commonly used are the APA style and the MLA style. However, there are such style guides as the Chicago Manual of Style, American Medical Association (AMA) Style, and more.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is mostly used to cite sources within the field of social sciences. The detailed information can be found in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used for the liberal arts and humanities. The most recent printed guide on it is the MLA Handbook (8th ed.). Instead of providing individual recommendations for each publishing format (printed, online, e-books etc.), this edition recommends a single universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any kind of source.
You should necessarily ask your instuctor which formatting style is required for your paper and format it accordingly before submitting.
STEP 8. TYPE FINAL PAPER
All formal reports or essays should be typewritten and printed, preferably on a good quality printer.
Read the assignment sheet again to be sure that you understand fully what is expected of you, and that your essay meets the requirements as specified by your teacher. Know how your essay will be evaluated.
Proofread final paper carefully for spelling, punctuation, missing or duplicated words. Make the effort to ensure that your final paper is clean, tidy, neat, and attractive.
Aim to have your final paper ready a day or two before the deadline. This gives you peace of mind and a chance to triple check. Before handing in your assignment for marking, ask yourself: “Is this the VERY BEST that I can do?”