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Research Paper (Revised Dec 2022)


  1. Class: Unspecified
  2. This template is published for use.
  1. Step 1: Understand your assignment. Select and focus your topic.
    Percent time spent on this step: 5%


    The research and writing process is rarely linear. You may have to go back a step or two occasionally, but the University Library is here to help you along the way!

    Some instructors will provide research or essay topics, but you may be expected to pick or narrow your own topic. Even if a topic is assigned, you will likely be required to refine that topic by crafting a specific research question.
    If you have the option, pick a topic that interests you, and then narrow it down. Picking Your Topic IS Research (video from Eastern Kentucky University) provides pointers on selecting and narrowing your topic. 
    • Although you won't be using a simple Google search to do the research for your paper, a preliminary Google search can help you understand your topic and focus your research. It can also help you to begin to form questions and ideas around your topic.

      The video Using Wikipedia for Academic Research (from CLIP) demonstrates how to effectively use Wikipedia when you are starting your research. For example, when reviewing Wikipedia entries on your topic, write down 5 - 10 topic keywords, including terms, jargon, events, people, places, etc., which you can then use when you search for sources.

    • It may be helpful to develop a research mind map for your topic; use this Thinking Tool worksheet (University of Virginia) to help visualise and organize your ideas. Mapping Your Research Ideas (video from UCLA Library) clearly explains how to do this.

    Remember, with practice and persistence, identifying and narrowing a research topic is a skill you will develop over time.  In the end, a focused research topic will make your research and writing process much more manageable. 
  2. Step 2: Write your preliminary research question, draft a thesis statement, and create an outline.
    Percent time spent on this step: 15%


    Now that you have focused your topic, you are ready to write some preliminary research questions. A good research question is:
    • clear (is presented in a concise and straightforward way to the reader);
    • complex (is not answerable with yes or no):
    • focused (can be adequately explored within the confines of the assignment / not too broad and not too narrow); and
    • takes a position or presents an argument (is not neutral and is open to debate).

    Page two of the handout Develop a Research Question (University of Waterloo) contains examples that demonstrate the characteristics of a good research question.   
    How you address your specific research question will help you to shape your thesis statement the core argument of your paper.  A solid thesis statement is the foundation for a strong research paper.   Your thesis should be supportable, clear, succinct, and focused. The following resources -- including a guide, workshop, and tool – can help you to draft your thesis statement:
    • Guide: How to Write a Thesis Statement (Indiana University)
    • Workshop recording: How to Write a Strong Thesis Statement (USask Writing Centre Workshop - 55 min.)
    • Tool: The Thesis Statement Generator allows you to test drive arguments while attending to the level of detail and specificity a thesis statement requires. However, the generator provides a formulaic approach that may not suit your paper’s purpose, topic, or audience; make sure to revise the result to ensure originality and correctness (UArizona).   

    A thesis statement shapes the structure of your paper. Now is a good time to draft a working outline so that you have a roadmap for logically presenting your ideas, arguments, and evidence. This handout provides the two most popular approaches to outlining:  linear and graphic (University of Waterloo).

    If you have been assigned the typical short, five-paragraph essay, become familiar with the typical essay structure (graphic from USask Writing Centre). Ask your professor whether this structure is appropriate for your assignment. 

    At any stage of the writing process, access free online or in-person writing support available at the USask Writing Help Centre.
  3. Step 3: Design your research strategy. Find and evaluate evidence to address your research question.
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    Now that you have a working thesis statement and outline, it's time to find information on your topic by designing your research strategy.

    Begin to search for different types of sources or evidence.  While no single search box will connect you to everything the library has to offer, we have compiled some tips to help you decide where to start and to understand what each tool does best. 
    Google is not always sufficient for academic research, but it can help you to brainstorm and narrow your topic.  Books are also a good starting point as they usually provide a broad overview of a topic. Journal articles are much shorter and more narrowly focused. While no single search box will connect you to everything the library has to offer, we have collected some tips to help you decide where to start and to understand what each tool does best. 
    • To find books, search the Library's Catalogue. If you need help with your search, consult our guide
    • To find journal articles, search in a database (what's a database? - video from RMIT University). Some databases cut across subject areas, such as Academic Search Complete. Other databases  are subject-specific, such as APA PsycInfo for Psychology. Not sure where to start? Look at the recommended databases for your subject area in the Library's Research Guides. Check out out our Finding Journals Articles guide for more help on searching databases for journal articles.  

    While you’re collecting sources of information, be sure to evaluate them to determine whether they are credible and relevant to your research question.

    Part of determining the credibility of a source is knowing the difference between a scholarly and non-scholarly source (video from McMaster University Library). Scholarly sources, also known as academic sources, are written or created by scholars or professionals in their field, usually for other scholars or experts. Most are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published via the peer-review process. Professors will expect to see you incorporate credible scholarly sources as as a way to support the arguments in your paper.  

    Scholarly journal articles in particular can be challenging to read. When reading a journal article, quickly review its title, abstract, introduction, and conclusion to determine if the information is relevant to your research question. Use this interactive tool (NCSU Libraries) to learn the basic structure of a scholarly article. 

    Once you know which sources you will likely be using in your research, evaluate them in more depth, using these resources:   
    Keep track of your references by setting up a system that works for you (e.g., email yourself your references or use a citation manager tool, such as Zotero). Citation manager tools will help you  as you write your paper and cite your sources, saving you time and helping you avoid unintentional plagiarism.  See Step #6 for more information on integrating sources into your paper.. 

    Got a question? Use the Ask Us service for research assistance in-person, via email, chat, phone, or by appointment with a librarian.

  4. Step 4: Critically read and summarize your sources.
    Percent time spent on this step: 15%


    Once you've located and evaluated your sources, it's time to read them in greater depth. 

    Do you need some additional information sources? To find more sources on your topic, review the reference lists in the books and journal articles you found.
  5. Step 5: Finalize the argument and structure of your paper. Complete the first draft.
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    You created a working thesis and preliminary outline in Step Two. However, your argument or perspectives may have shifted based on the sources you have read; therefore, you should revisit your draft thesis statement to make sure it accurately reflects your argument.

    If you want to revise or change your thesis statement, refer to Step Two again. Revisions to your thesis statement will likely necessitate changes to your outline.  

    Many of us get anxious  at this stage, staring at the blank page and worrying about word counts. There are many ways to stay motivated and productive  while writing your first draft (tips from USask Library). 

    At the drafting stage, you are not looking for perfection. Instead, concentrate on writing down your rough ideas. Work some time in for breaks so that you can preserve your mental energy and reflect and reassess your draft. To stay motivated, some students use the Pomodoro Technique, a popular time management method.
  6. Step 6: Integrate your sources with integrity.
    Percent time spent on this step: 10%


    All members of the university community are expected to uphold the principles of academic integrity, which are “honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility and courage” (USask Integrity Matters). 
    How do these concepts translate while writing a paper? As you incorporate others' ideas or words into your paper, it is important to credit your sources by citing anything quoted or paraphrased. Follow the citation style  (such as APA, MLA, or Chicago Style) specified in your assignment description, and follow it consistently. Although this can be time consuming and finicky, here are some resources to help with integrating and citing your sources: 
    As you write your paper, it isn't enough to summarize your sources. A good paper synthesizes, or brings together, the ideas of several authors to support your argument.  
  7. Step 7: Revise, edit, and polish.
    Percent time spent on this step: 15%


    It's hard to know when it's time to stop drafting, but as you revise and proofread, you can always receive free one-on-one help from the Writing Centre
    Build your skills in revising, editing, and proofreading:
    Use checklists to work more systematically as you revise, edit, and proofread:

    Complete your bibliography, references, or works cited page. Consult the Library's Citation Style Guides and workshop recordings.

    Now it's time to submit your paper and celebrate! When your professor returns your paper, reflect on the comments and jot down a few things to remember to work on for your next assignment. If you need clarification on any comments, be sure to follow up with your instructor. 

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