Writing a research paper is a good opportunity to learn more about a topic of particular interest to you. The basic idea is to find information on a topic (from books, newspapers, magazines, journals, recordings, electronic information sources, etc.), and then write your thoughts on the topic, using documented sources to support what you say.

The format of a research paper depends on the academic discipline you are writing for. Some common formats are:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for papers in the humanities
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for psychology/nursing papers
  • CBE (Council of Biology Editors) for biology papers

Your instructor can tell you which format you are expected to use.

Research papers share these common features:

  • A thesis statement. This single sentence tells the reader the point you want to make your subject. It should be limited enough for you to be able to develop your ideas in detail. A paper's thesis sentence if often located at the end of the introductory paragraph or section.
  • A discussion of your thesis in depth and in an organized fashion. A good research paper contains the writer's ideas supported by outside sources, not just a string of quotations from books and articles. You should use the experts' words and ideas to support your own ideas about the topic.
  • A bibliography or list of works cited. This provides your reader with a list of information sources that you consulted during your research.
  • Proper documentation of sources. You must avoid plagiarizing (using another person's words or ideas as if they were your own) by properly citing (acknowledging) the source of your information.
  • A neat, professional appearance. A research paper should be printed on standard size paper using adequate margins, double spacing, and correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It may also include a title page, an outline or table of contents, and appendices, if necessary.
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