A Research Guide for Students by I Lee

Chapter 1. How to Write an A+ Research Paper

Translate this page to another language of your choice:
Wall Street Executive Library Feature Site - This is not an ad but a 
link to a world of wonderful resources.
Reference  Site Map

This Chapter outlines the logical steps to writing a good research paper. To achieve supreme excellence or perfection in anything you do, you need more than just the knowledge. Like the Olympic athlete aiming for the gold medal, you must have a positive attitude and the belief that you have the ability to achieve it. That is the real start to writing an A+ research paper.


              Checklist One   Checklist Two


Choose a topic which interests and challenges you. Your attitude towards the topic may well determine the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your research.

Focus on a limited aspect, e.g. narrow it down from "Religion" to "World Religion" to "Buddhism". Obtain teacher approval for your topic before embarking on a full-scale research. If you are uncertain as to what is expected of you in completing the assignment or project, read your assignment sheet carefully several times, or ASK your teacher.

Select a subject you can manage. Avoid subjects that are too technical, learned, or specialized. Avoid topics that have only a very narrow range of source materials.


Surf the Web.

For general or background information, check out useful URLs, general information online, almanacs or encyclopedias online such as Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, or Encarta, etc. Use Search Engines and Directories, e.g. Google, Yahoo!, MSN, dmoz - Open Directory Project, and other search tools as a starting point.

Pay attention to domain name extensions, e.g., .edu (educational institution), .gov (government), or .org (non-profit organization). These sites represent institutions and tend to be more reliable, but be watchful of possible political bias in some government sites. Be selective of .com (commercial) sites. Many .com sites are excellent; however, a large number of them contain advertisements for products and nothing else. Network Solutions provides a link where you can find out what some of the other Extensions stand for. Be wary of the millions of personal home pages on the Web. The quality of these personal homepages vary greatly. Learning how to evaluate Web sites critically and to search effectively on the Internet (now more commonly referred to as the Web) can help you eliminate irrelevant sites and waste less of your time.

The arrival of a variety of domain name extensions such as .biz (commercial businesses), .pro, .info (info on products / organizations), .name, .ws (WebSite), .cc (Cocos Island), .sh (St. Helena), or .tv (Tuvalu) may create some confusion as you would not be able to tell whether a .cc or .sh or .tv site is in reality a .com, a .edu, a .gov, a .net, or a .org site. Many of the new extensions have no registration restrictions and are available to anyone who wishes to register a distinct domain name that has not already been taken. For instance, if Books.com is unavailable, you can register as Books.ws or Books.info via a service agent such as Register.com.

To find books in the Library use the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog), e.g. Library of Congress Online Catalog, New York Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library Catalog, University of Toronto Libraries Catalogue.

Check out other print and non-print materials available in the Library:

    • Almanacs, Atlases, AV Catalogs
    • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
    • Government Publications, Guides, Reports
    • Magazines, Newspapers
    • Charts, Maps, Microfilms, Vertical Files, Picture Collections
    • Yellow Pages, Zip or Postal Code and Telephone Directories

Check out online resources, Web based information services, or special resource materials on audiotapes, CDs, DVDs, etc.:

    • Online reference materials including databases, e.g. SIRS, ProQuest, eLibrary, Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, etc.
    • Wall Street Executive Library Toolkit - Reference Library
    • Index to Periodicals and Newspapers, e.g. MagPortal.com
    • Answers.com - an online dictionary and encyclopedia all-in-one resource that you can install
      on your computer free of charge and find One-Click Answers quickly.
    • Encyclopedias, e.g. Encarta, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Canadian Encyclopedia, etc.
    • Reference, e.g. Bartleby.com: Great Books Online
    • Magazines and Journals e.g. Time, Discover, National Geographic, Maclean's, Newsweek, etc.
    • Newspapers, e.g. Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, The Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, etc.
    • Social Issues
    • Subject Specific databases, e.g. ERIC Eudcation Resources Information Center, Rock's Backpages Library, Anthropological Index Online, etc.

Check out Public and University Libraries, businesses, government agencies, as well as contact knowledgeable people in your community.

Read and evaluate. Bookmark your favorite Web sites. Print out the paragraphs that you need for your research paper and make sure that the URL is available for future reference in case you need to go back to that Web site, or save all the important links for future reference in a file. Legally photocopy reference materials that you plan to include as resources. Take copious notes of all relevant information using electronic devices if available.

As you gather your resources, record full bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) on your work sheet, printout, or enter the information on your laptop or desktop computer for later retrieval. If printing from the Web, it is wise to ensure the browser is set up to print the URL, date and time of access for every page. Having the URL available makes it easy for you to find the same Web site again if needed for verification or further information. Remember that without proper bibliographic references, all the information you have gathered becomes useless since you cannot cite its source in your research paper.


Do some critical thinking and write your thesis statement down in one sentence. Your thesis statement is like a declaration of your belief. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments to support and defend this belief.


All points must relate to the same major topic that you first mentioned in your capital Roman numeral.

Example of an outline:

 	I.  INTRODUCTION - (Brief comment leading into subject matter - 
                           Thesis statement on Shakespeare)
        II. BODY - Shakespeare's Early Life, Marriage, Works, Later Years
	    A. Early life in Stratford
	         1. Shakespeare's family
	             a. Shakespeare's father
	             b. Shakespeare's mother
	         2. Shakespeare's marriage
                     a. Life of Anne Hathaway
                     b. Reference in Shakespeare's Poems
	    B. Shakespeare's works
	         1. Plays
                     a. Tragedies
                        i. Hamlet
                        ii. Romeo and Juliet 
                     b. Comedies
                        i. The Tempest
                        ii. Much Ado About Nothing
                     c. Histories
                        i. King John
                        ii. Richard III
                        iii. Henry VIII
                 2. Sonnets
                 3. Other poems               
            C. Shakespeare's Later Years
                 1. Last two plays
                 2. Retired to Stratford
                     a. Death
                     b. Burial
                        i. Epitaph on his tombstone
	    A. Analytical summary
                 1. Shakespeare's early life
                 2. Shakespeare's works
                 3. Shakespeare's later years
            B. Thesis reworded
            C. Concluding statement

The purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. A good outline is the most important step in writing a good paper. Check your outline to make sure that the points covered flow logically from one to the other. Include in your outline an INTRODUCTION, a BODY, and a CONCLUSION. Make the first outline tentative.

INTRODUCTION - State your thesis and the purpose of your research paper clearly. What is the chief reason you are writing the paper? State also how you plan to approach your topic. Is this a factual report, a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem? Explain briefly the major points you plan to cover in your paper and why readers should be interested in your topic.

BODY - This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. Remember the Rule of 3, i.e. find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Begin with a strong argument, then use a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument for your final point.

CONCLUSION - Restate or reword your thesis. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this particular conclusion.


Organize all the information you have gathered according to your outline. Critically analyze your research data. Using the best available sources, check for accuracy and verify that the information is factual, up-to-date, and correct. Opposing views should also be noted if they help to support your thesis. This is the most important stage in writing a research paper. Here you will analyze, synthesize, sort, and digest the information you have gathered and hopefully learn something about your topic which is the real purpose of doing a research paper in the first place. You must also be able to effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, insights, and research findings to others through written words as in a report, an essay, a research or term paper, or through spoken words as in an oral or multimedia presentation with audiovisual aids.

Do not include any information that is not relevant to your topic, and do not include information that you do not understand. Make sure the information that you have noted is carefully recorded and in your own words, if possible. Plagiarism is definitely out of the question. Document all ideas borrowed or quotes used very accurately. As you organize your notes, jot down detailed bibliographical information for each cited paragraph and have it ready to transfer to your Works Cited page.

Devise your own method to organize your notes. One method may be to mark with a different color ink or use a hi-liter to identify sections in your outline, e.g., IA3b - meaning that the item "Accessing WWW" belongs in the following location of your outline:

	I. Understanding the World Wide Web
	     A. What is the WWW 	 
	           3. How to "Surf the Web"
	                b. Accessing WWW

Group your notes following the outline codes you have assigned to your notes, e.g., IA2, IA3, IA4, etc. This method will enable you to quickly put all your resources in the right place as you organize your notes according to your outline.


Start with the first topic in your outline. Read all the relevant notes you have gathered that have been marked, e.g. with the capital Roman numeral I.

Summarize, paraphrase or quote directly for each idea you plan to use in your essay. Use a technique that suits you, e.g. write or print out summaries, paraphrases or quotations on separate sheets or note cards. Mark each piece of information clearly with your outline code or reference, e.g., IB2a or IIC, etc.

Put all your note cards or paper in the order of your outline, e.g. IA, IB, IC. If using a word processor, create meaningful filenames that match your outline codes for easy cut and paste as you type up your final paper, e.g. cut first Introduction paragraph and paste it to IA. Before you know it, you have a well organized term paper completed exactly as outlined.

If it is helpful to you, use a symbol such as "#" to mark the spot where you would like to check back later to edit a paragraph. The unusual symbol will make it easy for you to find the exact location again. Delete the symbol once editing is complete and before you print out your final paper.


Read your paper for any content errors. Double check all the facts and figures. Arrange and rearrange ideas to follow your outline. Reorganize your outline if necessary, but always keep the purpose of your paper and your readers in mind.

Be sure to save your work frequently on your computer in case of disaster. Better still, at the end of a hard day's work, make a habit of saving your work in a separate location in case one file gets deleted in error.



1. Is my thesis statement concise and clear?
2. Did I follow my outline? Did I miss anything?
3. Are my arguments presented in a logical sequence?
4. Are all sources properly cited to ensure that I am not plagiarizing?
5. Have I proved my thesis with strong supporting arguments?
6. Have I made my intentions and points clear in the essay?

Re-read your paper for grammatical errors. Use a spellchecker, a dictionary or a thesaurus as needed. Do a detailed spell check manually, i.e. read every word yourself. Correct all errors that you can spot that have been missed by the computer and improve the overall quality of the paper to the best of your ability. Get someone else to read it over. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can see mistakes that you missed.



1. Did I begin each paragraph with a proper topic sentence?
2. Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
3. Any run-on or unfinished sentences?
4. Any unnecessary or repetitious words?
5. Varying lengths of sentences?
6. Does one paragraph or idea flow smoothly into the next?
7. Any spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors?
8. Are all quotes cited exactly the same as the source, in spelling and punctuation?
9. Are all citations accurate and in correct format?
10. Did I avoid using contractions? Use "cannot" instead of "can't", "do not" instead of "don't"?
11. Did I use third person as much as possible? Avoid using phrases such as "I think", "I guess", "I suppose"
12. Have I been consistent throughout my paper in terms of format and spelling? Dates written as 18 June 2009 in one place and June 18, 2009 in another?
13. Have I made my points clear and interesting but remained objective?
14. Did I leave a sense of completion for my reader(s) at the end of the paper?

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk, Jr
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, by William Strunk, Jr.

For an excellent source on English composition, check out this classic book by William Strunk, Jr. on the Elements of Style. Contents include: Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders: Place yourself in the background, Revise and rewrite, Avoid fancy words, Be clear, Do not inject opinion, Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity, ... and much more. Details of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. partially available online at Bartleby.com. Note: William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946). The Elements of Style was first published in 1918.


See Format for a Research Paper for greater details.

All formal reports or essays should be typewritten and printed, preferably using a good quality printer.

Choose a clear, easy to read font for your final print out, such as Times New Roman used on this site. Make sure that the italics on your Works Cited page is clearly visible as italicized text and distinguishable from the regular text of your essay.

Double space your entire essay, including citations on your Works Cited page. Leave only one space after all punctuation marks including periods or full stops at the end of sentences. Formerly, two spaces were considered the norm after the period at the end of a sentence.

Do not apply the automatic hyphenation feature provided by the Word processor as that might divide up words at unexpected places creating confusion for the reader, e.g. the word Clockwork may become hyphenated as Clock- at the end of one line and continue as work on the next line misleading your reader to think that perhaps the original word may be a hyphenated word: Clock-work.

It is best not to justify your text as that leaves big gaps here and there. Never use the right justification feature to type your entire essay unless you are typing a strange poem or something and want to make it all lined up to the right. Left justifying your text is probably the best solution. Remember to indent the first word of each paragraph in your essay. Do not indent the first line of entries in your list of Works Cited, but do indent the second and subsequent lines for such citation entries.

Read the assignment sheet again to be sure that you understand fully what is expected of you, and that your essay meets the requirements as specified by your teacher. Know how your essay will be evaluated.

Proofread final paper carefully for spelling, punctuation, missing or duplicated words. Make the effort to ensure that your final paper is clean, tidy, neat, and attractive.

Aim to have your final paper ready a day or two before the deadline. This gives you peace of mind and a chance to triple check. Before handing in your assignment for marking, ask yourself: "Is this the VERY BEST that I can do?"

Working Habits That Work. Advice from Princeton University on writing a research paper. "Take complete and careful notes. Keep all of your notes. Be scrupulous in drafting and checking your papers. If you do all of your work on a computer. . . be especially careful. Understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. Don’t rely on a single secondary source. Be extra careful to verify the accuracy or validity of information obtained from electronic sources . . . when in doubt, cite. Be your own hardest critic. Be sure you understand your instructor’s expectations for your work. Give yourself enough time to do your work well and carefully."

See also: How to excel as an English major from Read Print.

Information Studies: Kindergarten to Grade 12 - Curriculum for Schools and School Library Information Centres. Information Literacy from Ontario Library Association.