Research Paper GuidelinesMy first research paper — for my high school AP English class in 1982 — still gives me nightmares. The process of typing out an enormous paper was foreign and intimidating. My topic: J.D. Salinger. I pulled an A, but not without pulling an all nighter and much of my hair out.

My last research paper  for my English 316 Technical Writing class — still makes me smile. I'd written dozens of paper by then and my topic was near and dear to my heart. I covered different singing styles and, for the oral presentation, I briefly presented each type, discussed an artist who used it, and then sang a piece using the style. Great fun and a straight A.

Research papers shouldn't be painful. Just follow the logical steps, one at a time, and you'll be done without much drama. (Unless your topic is drama, which is OK, too.) Here are the steps I recommend to write a stellar research paper:

  1. Carefully read professor's directions
  2. Select a topic
  3. Find relevant book and media sources
  4. Find relevant periodical sources
  5. Find internet sources
  6. Organize your ideas and quotes into an outline
  7. Write a first draft, using the appropriate formatting
  8. Add footnotes
  9. Create a bibliography
  10. Revise the draft
  11. Set it aside for a few days
  12. Proofread and correct for final draft

Certainly each step involves significant work. But broken down into bite-sized pieces and tackled one at a time, each step should be enjoyable and interesting.

There are many quality resources at your disposal. My favorite formatting guides are: The Chicago Manual of Style and Franklin Covey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication. Harvard has a great basic page full of grammar tips to keep your content readable.

Best tip: make sure to give yourself the needed time to accomplish each step. Leave enough time to let the ideas gel and to be able to set your paper aside so you can read it from a fresh viewpoint.

Worst tip: A reader recently asked me what I thought about free online essays. Her question was from a moral point of view, but here I'd like to address it from an educational one. The way I see it, you're spending an awful lot of time and money to become educated. If you just pay someone else to do your work for you (even by traffic or advertising or whatnot), then why bother?