This post isn’t a guide on how to write an “A” research paper.


I know that’s a huge goal for most college students.  I remember anxiously waiting for 2, 3 days or even a week to find out if I achieved that “A” or “A+” on a research paper.  There’s nothing wrong with that immediate goal.  But, there is a goal beyond a letter grade—the aim to inspire, enlighten, and/or persuade your readers (teachers, professors, classmates, colleagues, etc.).  So how do you write a research paper that moves people?

Writing an exceptional or outstanding research paper takes thoughtful action.  You need time to develop your ideas, research, plan, write, and edit.

There are 7 crucial stages to writing a fantastic research paper people will remember:

  1. Brainstorm Research Paper Topics
  2. Create A Research Plan
  3. Research and Take Detailed Notes
  4. Outline Your Research Paper
  5. Write the First Draft of Your Research Paper
  6. Revise Your Research Paper
  7. Edit Your Research Paper

This post highlights the key aspects of each phase.  And to help you, even more, I created the free guide, How to Write a Research Paper That Will Blow Your Professor’s Mind to walk you step-by-step through the process of writing an inspiring, motivating, and impressive paper.

How to Write a Research Paper


Step #1 Brainstorm Research Paper Topics

How to Write A Research Paper Step-by-Step

Brainstorming–is an activity where you list many ideas quickly.  Imagine a thunderstorm of paper topics falling.  It’s a process where you set aside a certain amount of time (usually 10-20 minutes) and write down every idea you think of even if it doesn’t seem like a good topic.

Don’t judge your ideas; just list them. After that, you will evaluate them.

  • Which paper topics interest you? 
  • Which ones have credible research?  
  • Which topics can be broken up into smaller pieces?  
  • Then select your favorite topic.

The next step is to list subtopics and ideas related to your paper topic.  Spend 10-20 minutes listing subtopics.


Step #2 Create a Research Plan

Once you have your paper topic, you need to figure out how you are going to research it.  There are 2 parts to developing your research plan: 1) writing a research question, and 2) crafting a research strategy.

Write a Research Question

A research question is specific and based on your paper topic.  It helps you focus your research.  Sometimes a research question is about how or why something occurs.  It could be about the components of an issue etc. Check out this post, to learn 6 excellent ways you can discover a research question.

Once you have a question, you can develop the rest of your plan.

Design a Research Strategy

A research strategy describes how you will conduct your research.  It looks at what types of sources you seek, and where you will look for them.  Then the final part of a research strategy is to come up with a timeline.

In a timeline, you start with the due date of your research paper and estimate how long it will take you to write, revise, and edit your paper.  You fill in those days as “writing days.”  Then decide how much time it will take you to complete all your research. Here are some questions to help you set up your timeline:

  • How long will it take you to find sources?
  • How long will it take you to complete your notes?
  • How long will it take you to organize your notes and evidence?


Step # 3 Research and Take Detailed Notes

Next, you’ll find sources.  By now, you should already know the types of sources you need that will help you to answer your research question.  Once you’ve gathered sources, it’s time to take detailed notes.

Detailed notes contain:

  1. Author or abbreviated title of a source.
  2. Page numbers or location in the source
  3. Slug—this is a few words that describe the note’s content.
  4. The quote, paraphrase, or summary of the fact, evidence, etc.
  5. (Note: For APA and Chicago Style Research Papers include the year the text was published)

You can take these notes in a computer document, on your tablet or index cards; however, you prefer. I’ve included an editable note-taking template in How to Write a Research Paper That Will Blow Your Professor’s Mind.  This template is a great way to make sure you have all the essential features of good research notes in one place.


Step #4 Outline Your Research Paper

A good outline makes writing the first draft of your research paper a lot easier.  You can skip this step, but outlining will save you time when you write because you won’t have to go searching for lost pieces of research or evidence.

So, what should you include in your outline?

  1. Introduction—write your thesis statement and any other general ideas you want to include.
  2. Body—divide it into sections and subtopics, and that includes supporting facts and evidence. Add in-text citations too.
  3. Conclusion—rephrase the thesis statement & how you proved it, and the significance of your research paper.

I’ve included an editable template for outlining a research paper in the free guide. The great thing about this template is that you can take pieces of your outline and put them into your first draft!


Step #5 Write Your First Draft

How to Write a Research Paper Free Guide!

Once you have an outline, begin writing your first draft.  An advantage of having an outline is that you can start writing the first draft from any part of it.  If you want to write the body of your research paper, skip the introduction. Then launch into writing a section from wherever you are most comfortable.

Here are a few tips for writing your first draft:

  1. Create small writing goalsLook at your project goal. Divide it up into smaller goals that lead up to your complete paper assignment. Then focus on one small goal at a time. Some ways you can divide your project goal up are:
  • A word or page count
  • Hours of writing time
  • Sections of your paper
  1. Use a timer—Set a specific amount of time (25, 30, 50 minutes, etc.) during which you will only write your paper.
  2. Don’t focus on grammar, sentences, spelling, or anything else that will get you out of the “writing zone”—a first draft is a “rough” draft.
  3. If you get stuck, move onYou can always leave a note to “add more” or “fix this” in the comment feature.
  4. Include in-text citations in your first draft—you should already have these in your outline. Transfer them from your outline into your first draft, so you don’t forget to do it later.

Step #6 Revise Your Research Paper

What’s the difference between revising and editing?  Revising focuses on changing the “big aspects” of your writing content and organization.  Editing focuses on “smaller” finer aspects of writing: grammar, mechanics, and writing style.

When you revise your research paper, start with the content.  Ask yourself:

  1. What am I trying to prove, explain, or analyze?
  2. What is my thesis statement? Does it include the topic of the paper and my point of view on it?
  3. What are my main ideas?
  4. What are my supporting details?
  5. What proof and evidence do I include to support my ideas?
  6. Do I explain my proof or evidence? (If not then add this to your paper).

Next, focus on the organization of your paper.

  1. Does your introduction include a hook, general background information, and your thesis statement?
  2. Does each section of the body of your paper flow logically from one part to the next?
  3. Do all your paragraphs relate to your thesis statement?
  4. Does your conclusion summarize your thesis statement and describe the significance of your research paper?

All these questions combined will help you revise your research paper.  I also recommend having a second person read your paper and make suggestions.


Step #7 Edit Your Research Paper

Editing your research paper is where you put the final touches on your work.  Your clear up any confusing sentences, fix your grammar, and make your writing sparkle.

You also look to see if your references and citations are correct. Did you cite everything you need to?  Does your paper follow the right style and format for MLA, APA, Chicago Style, or whatever reference style you need to use?

My free guide, How to Write A Research Paper That Will Blow Your Professor’s Mind, includes revision and editing question sheets.  Use these when you revise and edit on your own or in a peer-revision group.

Write Your Research Paper

Maybe you don’t want to write an inspiring research paper. Perhaps you want to get it done and hope it gets a “good enough” grade.  If that’s you, skip some of these steps, and rush to write your research paper.

But if you do that, you miss out on the opportunity to change your readers’ minds, show them something unique, reveal a new insight or innovation, and astound them.

Seize that opportunity and make the most of your words, ideas, analysis, and evidence when you write a research paper! You’ll blow the mind of everyone who reads your work.

Want to know more about how to write an outstanding research paper? 
Download your free copy of How to Write a Research Paper That Will Blow Your Professor’s Mind!