How to Research a Paper

A basic of academic writing is knowing how to research a paper. In fact, to make any paper good, you must master a few research basics.

This is a three stage process.

  • Prepare
  • Research
  • Write

We will focus on the first two stages.


First, clarify your topic.

A clear topic will act as your beacon as you navigate the waters of online and off-line sources.

Be sure your topic is specific, but not so narrow that you won't be able to find enough information to write the paper.

For example, let's say you are told to write a research paper on the Civil War. Well, the war was long and involved. There's no way to cover its scope in a single report. So, let's narrow it down.

How? Ask yourself some questions.

  • What about that era interests me even a little?
  • Is this something that I can find information about easily?
  • Can I find enough information to satisfy the teacher's requirements?

Having a topic that interests you will make the whole process easier. Perhaps you are intrigued by the Battle of Gettysburg. That's a good starting point. However, the whole battle may still be to broad for a single paper.

How about Union Army battle strategy at Gettysburg? After a little digging, you discover that you can easily find sources to help you discuss the strategy employed by the Union Army during this historic battle.

You've clarified your topic, now on to how to research a paper.


library research

Before you get started, you will need supplies:

  • A pen
  • A large stack of index cards
  • Your chosen sources

*If your handwriting is too messy to handwrite, use a note-taking program to help you mimic this system.

Now, gather your sources, whether online, off-line or both.

One at a time, read through them and, when you find a usable quote, write it on one side of an index card with the source information on the other side.

Do this for each source until you have a generous stack of quotes and their sources.

If you have paraphrased, rather than directly copied, any of the information, note this on the card.

Finally, take your stack of cards and sort them into related groupings.
This can help you structure your research paper outline.

Band each related group (or if you are on a computer, put them in folders). Your research is complete.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

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