How To
15 min read

How to Write a Research Paper: Beginner's Guide

William Ellis
November 20, 2022

What you'll learn

What you'll need

Writing a research paper is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. We help break down each section, teaching the fundamentals of how to write research a paper to make it easier for you. If you want to create a dynamite research paper for school or your job, then you know that it can be difficult to get it just right. Here is everything you need to know to start creating your research paper, from brainstorming to researching and writing to revising. 

It will also cover each section, including how to write your research paper title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and tips and tools to help you write your research paper.

If you don’t have a complete outline for your research paper, now’s the time to learn how to complete that process. A great outline will help you flesh out your ideas and give you the opportunity to produce a research paper that is orderly, organized, and complete.

What is a research paper?

A research paper is an in-depth essay where you explain what you have learned after spending time researching a particular topic for academic writing. You place the key points of what you have learned while doing your research in each body paragraph with supporting evidence and sources that back up your main point, also known as your thesis statement, which you establish in the introduction.

How many words should a research paper be?

There are no set rules on the length of a research paper unless designated for your assignment. Certain topics and theses may lend to longer or shorter lengths. If you were to create a ballpark figure for the typical length of a research paper, you would land somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 words, or five to ten pages long.

A research paper can be as short or as long as it needs to be to make its point, with it not being unheard of for some shorter papers to be less than 2,000 words or for longer papers to go as high as 10,000 words or more. It all depends entirely on the needs of the paper and the subject.

Research paper sections and structure

If there is one thing that keeps the research paper from being an overly elaborate work of writing, it would be that a generally accepted structure is used. Each section has requirements that must be met to best lend strength to the overall paper.

research paper outline

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The title of your research paper should reflect your overall thesis. There is not much room to get creative in a research paper, so if you feel like flexing your creative muscles, the title page might be your best chance. You should aim for a title that gets the paper's main idea through without being overly long.


The abstract of a research paper is a brief summary of what the paper's contents will entail. This summary is generally accepted as being only six to seven sentences long, or 150-250 words, and it does not have to contain any of the specific information used in the paper. It only serves to prepare the reader for the contents and general point of the paper.


Creating a research paper introduction seems like a relatively self-explanatory concept. However, it is more than simply stating your thesis. You need to hook the reader with information about your topic. Then you must introduce what you feel is the core research question, argument, or point of interest about the topic. Finally, you must introduce your thesis. Be sure to assure the reader that you have information that will back up your thesis.


The methods section of your research paper is more than simply a section that lays out the evidence that supports your thesis. It is the section in which you detail how you collected the data featured in your research and how it supports your thesis.


The analysis is an important part of your research paper because it takes the supporting evidence you have found and puts it under the microscope so the reader can understand its value. Here the reader will see how the data you have collected pertains to your subject, and how it can potentially change the subject, and support your thesis statement.


After you have analyzed the data you have collected and left no stone unturned, it is time to present the results of your findings. This is where you lay out all evidence supporting your thesis statement.

In this section, you must explain how the previously analyzed data supports your thesis statement. Make sure to establish a concrete correlation between thesis and evidence and to explain thoroughly how the evidence backs up the thesis.


The discussion section is arguably the most important part of the research paper, as it is where the author must give their interpretation of the findings and what ultimately led to the formation of their thesis. It is also an opportunity for the author to explore deeper ramifications and meanings that their findings and conclusions could have for other related topics and subjects.

The discussion section is certainly the most personal segment of the research paper. It is the part of your research paper that allows you to invite the reader to understand your logic and why you have arrived at your conclusions.

You must be positive that you make clear distinctions between which elements of your thesis are supported by fact and what part of your conclusion can be interpreted as strictly conjecture or opinion. Failure to acknowledge areas where you are merely speculating or offering conjecture can greatly damage your paper's reception. If you are not careful, it could damage your reputation as well.


Your conclusion is the portion of your research paper where you bring everything to a close. Your goal should be to reiterate the main points and evidence you made in the prior body of the research paper but do so in a manner that reinforces your thesis statement. You want to leave your reader with no unanswered questions, so be sure that you use your conclusion to tie everything together.


The references section is where you list all of your references in the order in which they appear in the body of your research paper. How you use your citations in the text depends on which style is required for your research paper. Let’s show you how each citation will look for the most used formats: APA, MLA, and Chicago style formatting.

The most commonly used formats are APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA Modern Language Association). Here is a comparison of how you cite your sources for each format.

APA vs MLA style format

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Citing sources in APA format

With APA formatting, you would use an in-text citation to display the author’s last name, year of publication, and pages. Then in the reference section, you provide all of the details about the source, such as this example shows how each would look.

in-text citation and reference list


Citing sources in MLA format

MLA format also uses an in-text citation with a slightly different format using only the author’s last name and page number of the publication. Then in the references section, also known as works cited, you would give the rest of the details about that source, as shown below.

MLA style citation

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Citing sources in Chicago format

The Chicago format cites sources slightly different from MLA and APA. Instead of an in-text citation, you provide a footnote or endnote at the bottom of the corresponding page where the source is used. Then you provide the rest of the details for the source, as shown in this example.

Chicago style format

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How do you write a research paper?

Here are the steps to follow on how to write a research paper. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be on your way to writing an excellent research paper.

Read and comprehend the assignment guidelines

Before you can start outlining or writing anything down, you need to make sure that you fully understand the task that is ahead of you. If this research paper was assigned to you, then you need to make sure that you are following all of the instructions to the letter.

Brainstorm and pick a research topic

If you have been given a topic as part of an assignment, then there is not much for you to brainstorm on. You can still brainstorm a unique angle for your research question to make your paper stand out. 

However, if you have been free to choose your research paper topic, you should pick a topic that you feel is interesting or should be highlighted.

Start initial research

Your preliminary research should involve databases and books available at your library, as well as searching the internet for trustworthy sources.

While Google and Wikipedia can point you to potential sources of information, they should not be treated as sources themselves. Look for any credible sources you can cite in your paper with interesting stats and facts that back up your thesis and topic sentences.

If you’re researching online, make sure you find the original credible source to give credit to your findings.

Establish your thesis statement

After you have done enough research, you should have enough material to have formed an opinion that you feel strongly about being the basis of your thesis. Your thesis statement should be succinct and easy to understand.

Organize research notes

For your next step, take the notes that you have gathered throughout the research process and begin organizing them into the sections of your research paper that they will correspond to. Make sure to highlight the notes that you feel must be included so that they stand apart from any notes that you ultimately feel are not completely necessary to prove your thesis statement.

Outline your research paper

If there is one segment of your research paper that is arguably the most important in the writing process, it would be creating your outline. The outline is the structure that you create for your research paper. Your research paper outline should be broken up into sections: the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.


In your research paper introduction, you open with something compelling that grabs the reader’s attention. Then state the research problem or question that you’ll be covering. Give background information on the problem, and dive into your thesis statement.

Body paragraphs

Then you will transition into your body paragraphs, each consisting of the main idea, also known as a topic sentence, followed by supporting evidence, statistics, and facts that all back up your thesis statement. 

Typically, there are three body paragraphs, but there may be more if you have more important main points to add, each backed with evidence from a credible source. From there, you’ll transition into your conclusion paragraph.


As stated before, your conclusion will reiterate your thesis from a unique angle, along with supporting evidence and your main ideas. Don’t introduce any new points or evidence here, and if you must, you should add it to a new body paragraph before the conclusion. 

Start your first rough draft

The time has come to write your first draft. Many first-time writers will make the mistake of trying to make their first draft perfect. However, this can work against them because it can cause writer's block, even when they have their outline to work from. It is better to get through the writing, mistakes and all, on the first draft. There will be time for editing and revision later.

Proofreading, editing, and revisions

When you are finished with your first draft, you should read over it and correct any spelling errors in your first draft. The easiest thing to correct is typically spelling and grammar errors.

You should then read over the paper to see how it reads overall. Look for places where you perhaps used redundancies or contradicted yourself. It helps to have a second person you trust to read the paper so that you have someone who can catch any potential errors you may have missed.

It does not hurt to keep a list of things you would like to change about your paper. It will come in handy when you take on the step of revisions. This is where you apply all of the corrections and make any changes.

You should write your second draft with the necessary changes and then place it through the proofreading process again. Double-check that there are no major grammatical, spelling, or factual mistakes in your paper. Have another person read it as before. If you find it satisfactory, it is time to finalize.

Finalize and submit your research paper

The last step that you need to take is to make sure that you have made all of the revisions that you need. Make sure all spelling and grammar are correct and all changes you wish to make have been finalized. It is now time to submit your research paper.

Tips and tools to help you write your research paper

Use numerous resources for research

As previously stated, Google and Wikipedia are good resources for finding research sources, but they are not good sources in and of themselves. It may seem somewhat archaic in an age where the world is at your fingertips, but your local library is still one of the best sources of information.

Stay organized

One of the hardest parts of writing a paper as potentially sprawling as a research paper is keeping your thoughts organized. This is why outlining is so important, because you can put all of the important information in its proper place before you begin the writing process. When you don't stay organized, it becomes easy to lose track of your writing, and it becomes easier to go off on unnecessary tangents.

Have an extra set of eyes

Of course, you cannot have an extra set of eyes, but you can have a trusted friend look over your work. Sometimes when you are working hard on a project, you can miss the forest for the trees and take your paper in a direction you did not want, or you can make mistakes without realizing it. Having another person look over your work will help improve it and catch mistakes you might have missed.

Use hooks

One of the most important things you must do is grab your reader's attention. There are few things worse for a reader than a dull reading experience. Learning how to write a hook for a research paper can be difficult, but fortunately, some tools can help you write hooks. You want something that is not too outrageous, but it must still intrigue the reader. hook generator

Use AI to help

There is a misconception that AI will do all the work for a writer. It will be a great help for you, particularly if you find yourself stuck on certain passages. If you have a hard time creating titles, picking the right words, or even generating opening sentences that will hook your reader, then CopyAI will help you out. AI systems are not perfect and still require a human touch to be used to their fullest potential. Having said that, they make for a good launchpad for you to create your research paper.

Proofread with grammar tools

There are powerful tools online that can check your spelling and grammar, which will make short work of the proofreading process. Grammarly is the most popular, of which there is a free version that corrects only grammar and spelling. A paid version has more features to help you improve your writing, but the free version is more than sufficient for standard grammar purposes.

Check for plagiarism

There are also tools online that check your work for plagiarism. These programs are not 100% reliable because they may flag quotations, but if you use common sense, you can avoid plagiarizing.

FAQs for writing a research paper

What are the parts of a research paper?

A research paper consists of an introduction, at least three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You may be required to write an abstract, which is a summary of the contents of your paper, as well as methods, discussion, and results section.

What is a good length for research papers?

There is no true set standard for research paper length, but a popular length is between 4,000 and 6,000 words.

How can you write a research paper faster?

If you want to write a research paper fast, you will need to utilize ethical tools and shortcuts. This means using AI tools and starting with an outline, relying more on the internet to find sources, and making sure you do not get too precious in your first draft. One of the biggest things that trips up writers is trying to get their first draft perfect rather than trying to finish it. You can perfect it in later drafts.


Creating a good research paper can be a difficult process. However, if you stick with it, stay focused, and use some ingenuity, you can create a research paper that makes the grade.

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