Two common types of writing assignments you will have in your coursework are reflections and research papers. In a reflection piece, you may connect content from the class to your own experiences, discuss things you like and do not like about certain topics, or share events and observations from your own life. In a research paper, however, the writing will be based on the research, ideas, and findings of experts in the field.

A research paper may require you to present the most important research and facts on a topic, or a research paper may require you to use the research in order to present your own opinion or argument on the topic. In either case, there are certain guidelines to follow.

A research paper presents information found from sources. The paper, therefore, is only as strong as the sources. A writer who finds information from doing a simple Google search may come across sources that are unreliable or simply untrue. Instead, academic writers have to make sure they are starting with high quality research.

The best place to find high quality research is through your university library. Here, you will have access to databases that only include scholarly and reputable sources. You will also have the help of librarians who will be able to assist you in creating strong search terms or finding the best place to search for the information you need

In any research paper you may have many sources to read and keep track of. Before you can write your essay, you will need to read and think about each of the sources you found. Some writers like to take notes in the margin of their printed out sources, some prefer to use a separate notebook, others use graphic organizers. 

Throughout the writing process, the sources you find should be integrated. Integrating research means that the sources seamlessly become part of the essay. There are a few tips to help with this.

Make Sure the Research Matches the Topic

While all your sources may relate to your topic, it is important that the research used in a specific paragraph matches that paragraph’s main idea.

Example of research that does not match:

  • In many schools, intervention is underutilized. Smith (2015) reported that math intervention guidelines had been updated to match Common Core Standards.

In the above example, the research is about guidelines, but the paragraph is about the amount of use.

Corrected example:

  • In many schools, intervention is underutilized. Jones (2017) found that 65% of schools in the United States did not have multi-tiered intervention plans even though their student population was performing below grade level.

Introduce All Quotes

A quote is when you choose to use the same words as the original author of your source. Quotes appear in quotation marks and are cited. Sometimes student writers will drop a quote into the middle of a paragraph because the quote seems to fit with the main idea of the paragraph. Instead, it can help to introduce the quote in some way.

Example of a dropped quote:

  • Starting a small business can be a complex process. “There are resources for new business owners available through each state” (Lees, 2017, para. 4).

In the above example, the quote comes out of nowhere. In reality, the student is allowing Lees to talk in the middle of his or her essay. It can help to introduce the speaker.

Correct example:

  • Starting a small business can be a complex process. According to Lees (2017) “there are resources for new business owners available through each state” (para. 4).

Use Multiple Sources Per Paragraph, As Needed

Student writers may refer to sources in the order they read the sources, so that each paragraph is about one source. The end result of this is that the essay becomes a summary of each source, not an essay of its own. Instead of focusing each paragraph on summarizing each source, it helps to synthesize the research by focusing on similarities and differences.

Research writing is based on research, and will therefore include sources throughout. As a writer, you have to determine if it is best to paraphrase or quote the sources.

A paraphrase is when you repeat the same ideas as the source, but in your own words. The benefit of paraphrases is that it keeps the essay all in your words. Paraphrases should be cited.

A quote is when you use the same words as the source. Quotes are good to include when the research presents a lot of statistics that are hard to put into your own words or if the original is put so well you couldn’t say it any better. Quotes should be cited, but even if they are cited it is possible to overuse quotes. Student writers should remember to minimize the use of direct quotes. The majority of a paper should have more original writing than quotes from other authors.

A citation is a way to show your reader where the information in your writing came from. In APA style, it is preferred to cite each sentence that contains information from a source. This means you may end up with several sentences in a row that are all cited, possibly even with the same citation. This is fine, as it adheres to the citation rule.

Citations tell your reader that everything you present in writing has been researched and found in a source. They also help you give credit to authors so you can avoid academic integrity issues.

On the final page of your essay, remember to include a references list that lists all of the sources cited in the essay. In APA style we only include sources that were cited in the essay, not every article read in preparation for writing the essay.

Research writing is common at this level of study, but some things do not change:

  • Research-based essays still go through the writing process
  • Research-based essays still use standard grammar
  • Research-based essays may vary in length depending on the assignment
  • Research-based essays still follow the standard essay structure
Need help writing a research paper? See a Sample Undergraduate Research Paper.