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Research Help

Steps for Research Writing

Research "depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions." (ACRL Framework for Information Literacy) It's a chance for you to explore something that is important and relevant to you. You have the opportunity to add your voice and your understanding to the conversation about your research project.

Your instructor is not asking you to find one source that perfectly answers your question - instead, it is up to you to draw connections between your sources and your research project.

Research Takes Time

  • Read your assignment right away so you know what the requirements are.
  • Plan your time. This assignment calculator will help you. You'll feel better once you have a plan for your project, and it will help you stay on track and manage your time. 
  • Background research will help you come up with a focused topic for your project. Make sure you give yourself enough to do background research!
  • Keep in mind - all research takes time! You're creatively working through the ideas of others. Give yourself more time than you think you need - worst case scenario you'll finish ahead of schedule.

Reading The Assignment

Make sure you read the whole assignment - no one wants to get their grade knocked down just because they didn't take the time to read all the requirements. The fine details are important! If you're not sure about what you're being asked to do, ask your instructor - it's better to clear up any misconceptions before you start on your project.

Important parts of your assignment:

  • Kind of sources required - Scholarly? Popular?
  • How many sources are required?
  • The required style for citation (help with APA here)
  • Requirements- page number, word count
  • Deadline
  • The Verbs - this is what your instructor is asking you to accomplish

Adapted from UCONN Library. (2020). Get Started — Reading (and Understanding) Your Assignment. CC BY NC

When you pick your topic, it's not set in stone. Picking and adjusting your topic is an integral part of the research process!

Click to watch video: Picking Your Topic is Research!

Video via NCSU Libraries. CC BY NC

The WilmU Library has a guide with steps to selecting a research topic. Use the link below to access the guide.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

The thesis statement is the sentence that states the main idea of a writing assignment and helps control the ideas within the paper. It is not merely a topic. It often reflects an opinion or judgment that a writer has made about a the specific topic.

Creating a Thesis Statement

Step 1: Express your opinion or viewpoint on the topic

Step 2: You can preview what you will cover in the essay (what evidence you will use to support your thesis statement)

Thesis Statement

Thesis Statement Example

Your topic is: non-fiction literature.

Step 1: Express a viewpoint or opinion on the topic


Step 2: Add a Preview

How to Write an Outline

An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold.

You’ll sometimes be asked to submit an essay outline as a separate assignment before you start writing an essay—but even if you don’t have to hand one in, it’s a good idea to create an outline as part of your writing process.

Writing a First Draft

Once you have a clear idea of your structure, it’s time to produce a full first draft.

To give structure to your writing, use your outline as a framework. Make sure that each paragraph has a clear central focus that relates to your overall argument.

The goal at this stage is to get a draft completed, not to make everything perfect as you go along. Once you have a full draft in front of you, you’ll have a clearer idea of where improvement is needed.

Give yourself a first draft deadline that leaves you a reasonable length of time to revise, edit, and proofread before the final deadline. 

Evaluating the First Draft 

It can be difficult to look objectively at your own writing. Your perspective might be positively or negatively biased—especially if you try to assess your work shortly after finishing it. It’s best to leave your work alone for at least a day or two after completing the first draft. Come back after a break to evaluate it with fresh eyes; you’ll spot things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

When evaluating your writing at this stage, you’re mainly looking for larger issues such as changes to your arguments or structure. Starting with bigger concerns saves you time—there’s no point perfecting the grammar of something you end up cutting out anyway.

Right now, you’re looking for:

  • Arguments that are unclear or illogical.
  • Areas where information would be better presented in a different order.
  • Passages where additional information or explanation is needed.
  • Passages that are irrelevant to your overall argument.

You can go back and forth between writing, redrafting and revising several times until you have a final draft that you’re happy with.

Information adapted from (2021).

Citing Sources

In academic writing, you draw on many sources for information, ideas and evidence. Each time you refer to a source (such as a book, journal article, or website), you need to include a citation that gives credit to the original author.

In-Text Citations

To avoid plagiarism, it’s essential to include an in-text citation every time you use someone else’s ideas or information.

Short Quotations

If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and page number for the reference (preceded by "p." for a single page and “pp.” for a span of multiple pages, with the page numbers separated by a dash).

You can introduce the quotation with a signal phrase that includes the author's last name followed by the date of publication in parentheses.

According to Jones (1998), "students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time" (p. 199).

Jones (1998) found "students often had difficulty using APA style" (p. 199); what implications does this have for teachers?

If you do not include the author’s name in the text of the sentence, place the author's last name, the year of publication, and the page number in parentheses after the quotation.

She stated, "Students often had difficulty using APA style" (Jones, 1998, p. 199), but she did not offer an explanation as to why.

Long Quotations

Place direct quotations that are 40 words or longer in a free-standing block of typewritten lines and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, indented 1/2 inch from the left margin, i.e., in the same place you would begin a new paragraph. Type the entire quotation on the new margin, and indent the first line of any subsequent paragraph within the quotation 1/2 inch from the new margin. Maintain double-spacing throughout, but do not add an extra blank line before or after it. The parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark.

Information adapted from Purdue University (2021). 

Citation Resources

Editing and Proofreading 

Editing focuses on local concerns like clarity and sentence structure. Proofreading involves reading the text closely to remove typos and ensure stylistic consistency. 

When editing, you want to ensure your text is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. You’re looking out for:

When proofreading, first look out for typos in your text:

Use your word processor’s built-in spell check, but don’t expect to find 100% of issues in this way. Read through your text line by line, watching out for problem areas highlighted by the software but also for any other issues it might have missed.

Information adapted from (2021).

WilmU Writing Tutoring