How to Write a College Research Paper

If this is the first time you have been assigned to write a college research paper, it can seem overwhelming. By following a simple series of steps, you can demystify the process and get it done without getting stressed out.

Step 1 - Know the Style

Before you even begin to examine what the paper is about, make sure you know what style it has to be written in. There is a world of difference between the MLA and APA style, plus there are other styles designed for specific academic areas such as legal and financial studies.

Step 2 – Assignment, Topic and Thesis

Read the assignment carefully. Typically, the assignment will include a “prompt statement” which is the direction for the paper. An example of a prompt would be, “Write about innovations in micro-financing in developing countries.” The topic is “micro-financing in developing countries.” The thesis statement is what you are trying to prove. In this instance is could be that the innovations are successful, or that they are not.

Step 3 - Create a Map

Write down a series of questions and answers that lead from the prompt statement to your thesis. You are looking to create a map of the logic that leads to your conclusion. It is important when you write a college research paper that these papers are not opinion based, although they may provide research or arguments to support the thesis opinion.

Step 4 - Find the sources

Make a list of the resources you will use as reference and citation for the paper. Make sure that you write down the information about the source according to the guidelines for the style. It is important to have it written down as the end citation list, and to also write out how it will be cited inline or as a footnote according to the style guide as well.

Step 5 - Organize the System and Schedule

Organize your notes according to whatever system works best for you. Some people use color coded notes; some will find organizing their notes and references in a spreadsheet with a column that identifies what part of the map the information applies to be helpful. This way you can filter the spreadsheet by map topic to get all of your notes in logical order. Next you need to come up with a schedule of research, writing and editing that will allow you to meet your deadline.

Step 6 - Doing the writing

The last thing step is the writing process. There should be four stages to the writing – note taking, rough draft, first draft and final draft. Do your editing between the first and final draft.