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How to Write a Research Paper

A general process for writing a research paper at the college level.

Keep in Mind

Here are some things to keep in mind throughout the research and writing process:


Be sure to double-check your assignment guidelines. Your professors will usually provide you with a list of things that must be included.

Look for instructions about

  • the number of pages,
  • the type of citation and style guide, or
  • research requirements.

It's usually okay to have more than a required amount (11 pages instead of 10). It's never okay to have less than a required amount (8 pages instead of 10). If you're ever confused about an assignment, talk to your professor!

If you're confused about citations or where to locate your sources (Primo, specific databases, the shelves in the library) ask a librarian!


It's always helpful to know more about a subject than what actually makes it into the paper or assignment.

Your professors read stuff all the time—students' papers, other professors' articles, journal articles, etc. They can tell if you've taken the time to do your own research. Plus, it's good to have some extra information if you suddenly find that you need to fill more pages with stuff. :)


Research papers come with different deadlines. Know when your paper is due. Put that date in your calendar or your phone. Write it on a post-it note and stick it on your computer. Whatever works for you.

Then, set up a schedule. We suggest 12 steps for writing a research paper, but some steps take more time than others. Does it take a while for you to brainstorm about a topic? Schedule more time for that. Do you need more time to format your citations? Ditto! Set aside more time for it. Create a system that helps YOU.


While you're researching, keep track of your sources. You'll need them for your citations. If you don't cite a source correctly, you're plagiarizing that source. And that's not good.

If you have any questions, please read through our Plagiarism LibGuide. If you still have questions, come talk to us. Use the reference chat. Stop us on the sidewalk. Whatever works best for you!