Research Papers

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Research Paper Overview

Research papers are one of the more common essays that a student will write.  A common misconception is that research papers are merely a summary of a topic based on academic sources.  While sources are important, a good research paper is much more.  A research paper, like any essay, needs to have a strong thesis statement.  The paper itself needs to present a clear direction by thoroughly analyzing a topic, arguing a perspective, or comparing and contrasting ideas.

As the name implies, the topic of the paper needs to be carefully researched.  A research paper will make use of several primary and secondary sources to help build a strong thesis and provide a well-structured essay.  It is important to have a good working knowledge of the topic, as a research paper will contain a lot of your own interpretation and analysis of the sources you are using.

There may be multiple points that a research paper is trying to make.  The body of the research paper can be divided into sections based on the different topics so that the paper flows well and is not confusing.


A majority of a research paper’s information will be drawn from the sources.  All analysis, arguments, and descriptions use the sources to reinforce and back them up.  There are essentially two types of sources: Primary and Secondary.  Primary sources are anything that includes direct information about a topic.  These include things like interviews, witness reports, letters, legal documents, personal journals, and statistics.  Secondary sources are much more common and contain secondhand accounts or analysis of information.  Textbooks, scholarly articles, and academic journals are considered secondary sources.  It is important to have a good mix of sources, often with multiple viewpoints, in order to have an effective analysis.  Though more difficult to find, it is good to have at least a few primary sources.

Sources can come from a variety of places, but it is very important that they are credible.  Peer reviewed journals, textbooks, and respected newspaper articles are some examples of credible sources.  Make sure to do a little research on each source to ensure that they contain truthful and pertinent information.


All information drawn from sources need a citation in a research paper.  There are several different formats to use, depending on the topic and setting.  Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago, and American Psychological Association (APA) are some of the most common.  It is important to review the guidelines for the specific format of the essay to ensure proper citations and to avoid plagiarism.  A bibliography will appear at the end of a research paper.  The bibliography will list all of the sources used in alphabetical order by the last name of the author.  Every format is different, so pay attention to the rules!