Research Paper Steps

Carefully defining your research question as well as implementing and conducting research are absolutely critical to a good research paper. If you follow the suggestions for each step of the research process carefully and thoughtfully, you’ll understand the process of research much better and create a stronger end product than if you simply open your laptop and begin writing your research paper.

The video below provides an overview of the steps in the process of writing an research paper and will give you a sneak peek at what you’ll be learning about in this area of the Excelsior OWL.

Video Transcript

Considering Your Assignment: The Analysis

In this first step, you will evaluate and consider the purpose of your assignment, your assignment expectations, your audience, and begin to think about the voice you will use as you write.

Narrowing and Developing

Next, you will begin to narrow your topic and develop ideas related to your topic. Writing down your ideas can help you with this stage of the process.

Developing a Research Strategy

When you embark on a research project, it is important to make a plan. You should develop a research strategy that fits within your assignment expectations and considers your source requirements.

Developing Thesis or Focus

After you have spent some time reading your topic and developing your ideas, it is a good idea to establish a plan for your research essay. Establishing a working thesis or focus can help you stay on track as you continue the research and writing process.

Evaluating and Tracking Sources

As you research, you should keep in mind issues of credibility, relevance, and timeliness for your sources.

Reading and Note-taking

In addition to annotating while you read, you should establish a system to keep track of your research notes. Some teachers may require note cards, and new applications can provide virtual note cards.


Your outline will provide you with a strong organizational plan for your research. The type of outline you use will depend upon your class and professor requirements.

Drafting and Integrating

As you draft your essay and work to integrate your research, it is important to remember that your first draft is not your final draft.

Revising and Editing

Once you draft, you should engage in a thorough revision process, which involves “re-seeing” your writing. It is during this stage that good writers often realize they need to go back and re-think earlier steps. Once you feel confident in your content, you are ready to begin editing.


As a “final” step, you will want to check your documentation carefully. All research, whether it is summarized, paraphrased, or quoted, should be documented according to an appropriate style guide. In academic writing, you will most often encounter APA, MLA, and Chicago styles.

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