How to start your research paper

How to start your research paper image

Research papers can be short or in-depth, but no matter what type of research paper, they all follow pretty much the same pattern and have the same structure. There will be some basic differences, but if you can write one type of research paper, you can write another. Below is a step-by-step guide to starting and completing your research paper:

1. Choose your topic

Choose a topic which interests you. Writing your research paper will be so much more pleasant with a topic that you actually want to know more about and it will show in the way you write and effort you put in the paper. Make sure your topic is not too broad; narrow it down if you're using terms that are too general.

2. Find information on your topic

Academic search engines are a great source to find background information on your topic. Your institution's library will most likely provide access to plenty of online research databases. Take a look at our guide on how to efficiently search online databases for academic research to learn how to gather all the information needed on your topic. If at this point you are having difficulty finding adequate information on your topic, it might be better to move on and find another topic.

3. Create a thesis statement

The thesis statement is one of the most important elements of any piece of academic writing. It can be defined as a very brief statement of what the main point or central message of your paper is. Our thesis statement guide will help you write an excellent thesis statement.

4. Create a research paper outline

In the next step, you need to create your research paper outline. The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline.

5. Organize your notes

Organizing all the information you have gathered according to your outline will help you later on in the writing process. Analyze your notes, check for accuracy, verify the information, and make sure you understand all the information you have gathered in a way that you can communicate your findings effectively.

6. Write your introduction

Start with the introduction. It will set the direction of your paper and help you a lot as you write. Waiting to write it at the end can leave you with a poorly written setup to an otherwise well-written paper. You can read more about writing introductions in our introduction guide.

7. Write your first draft of the body

The body of your paper argues, explains or describes your topic. Start with the first topic from your outline. Ideally, you have organized your notes in a way that you can work through your research paper outline and have all the notes ready.

8. Revise

After your first draft, take some time to check the paper for content errors. Rearrange ideas, make changes and check if the order of your paragraphs makes sense. At this point, it is helpful to re-read the research paper instructions and make sure you have followed the format requirements. You can also use free grammar and proof reading checkers such as Grammarly.

9. Write your conclusion

Write your conclusion last and make sure to not bring any new information into your conclusion, that has not already been presented in the body of the paper. Your conclusion should smoothly wrap up your paper and show that your research question has been answered. Our conclusion guide helps you write an excellent conclusion.

10. Revise again, edit and proofread

Allow a few days to pass after you finished writing the final draft of your research paper, and then start making your final corrections. Taking a break will give you a new perspective and will make you more open and perceptive. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives some great advice here on how to revise, edit and proofread your paper.

Frequently Asked Questions about starting your research paper

What is the first step to start writing a research paper?

The first step to start writing a research paper is to choose a topic. Make sure your topic is not too broad; narrow it down if you're using terms that are too general.



What is the format of a research paper?

The format of your research paper will vary depending on the journal you submit to. Make sure to check first which citation style does the journal follow, in order to format your paper accordingly. Check Getting started with your research paper outline to have an idea of how a research paper looks like.



What section of a research paper should I write first?

Start with the introduction. It will set the direction of your paper and help you a lot as you write. Waiting to write it at the end can leave you with a poorly written setup to an otherwise well-written paper. You can read more about writing introductions in our introduction guide.



What is the last step of a research paper?

The last step of your research paper should be proofreading. Allow a few days to pass after you finished writing the final draft of your research paper, and then start making your final corrections. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives some great advice here on how to revise, edit and proofread your paper.



What software can help me write a research paper?

There are plenty of software you can use to write a research paper. We recommend our own citation software, Paperpile, just like grammar and proof reading checkers such as Grammarly.