Both instructors and college students often complain that students are not as prepared to write college-level research papers as they should be upon graduating high school. Some students struggle with the mechanics of research, citations, and grammar. Others struggle to understand the difference between a research paper and a summary or personal essay.  This can be daunting for new and experienced writers alike. Share these tips with your students to keep them focused as they embark on the process of writing a research paper. (They can also be printed as a reference!)

Nine Step Research Paper

According to “Questia’s 9-step writing guide” at their Writing Center, just nine steps stand between students and the perfect research paper. We’re sharing a few hints from their guide below:

  1. Getting started – Identify your upcoming tasks, deadlines, and checkpoints. Then begin building out your schedule and get yourself organized!
  2. Select a topic – Choosing a topic can sometimes be the hardest part of writing a research paper. Find something that you’re interested in, otherwise you’ll quickly run out of steam.
  3. Research and note taking – Conduct preliminary research to ensure you have plenty to write about. Consider unique sources, such as personal interviews and live lectures. To avoid plagiarism, be sure to use quotation marks whenever you write down a direct quote.
  4. Questia's 9-step writing guide

    Questia’s 9-step writing guide

  5. Develop your thesis – A good thesis statement is clear and succinct, and expresses your main idea or position. It is not a statement of known fact, and doesn’t include your specific arguments or evidence. (That goes in the body paragraphs.)
  6. Create an outline – A good outline will save you a lot of time by identifying areas that need more research or may no longer fit with your paper. Identify the main points of your arguments, then review your thesis statement – is it still what you want to say?
  7. Write a draft – Begin following your outline by pulling from your gathered sources, noting ideas that need to be cited. If any section becomes too challenging to be productive, move on to another and come back to it later.
  8. Review and revise – After writing, take a break to rest your eyes and mind. Print out your paper and go through it with a colored pen. Sometimes it helps to read it aloud too. You should also have a friend or tutor peer review for a fresh opinion.
  9. Citations and bibliography – Correctly cited sources allow you to draw from the ideas of others without plagiarizing their hard work. The only things you don’t need to cite are common-knowledge facts, references to commonly known literary or artistic works, and your own opinions. To be safe, assume that everything else should be cited.
  10. Proofread and submit – After all your revisions and citations have been added from steps 7 and 8, return to your paper to ensure you haven’t made any oversights such as copy/paste errors. Make sure that all of your transitions and final points are very clear.


These tips can help keep students focused and guide them down the path to a successful research paper. You and your students can visit the Questia Writing Center to download “Questia’s 9-step writing guide.”

The Questia Writing Center

The Questia Writing Center aim to help college students complete specific tasks from the research paper writing process. It offers tools to make it easier to:

  • Find a topic
  • Craft a thesis statement
  • Write an outline
  • Research credible books and articles
  • Keep it all organized

“Finding a topic is a huge pain point for college students, and Questia offers students an easy way to find one of the more than 6,700 librarian researched topics with the high-quality, scholarly research to support them. Additionally, the Writing Center provides the framework needed to start the 9-step process of writing a research paper,” according to Gary Jeppsen, Director of Product and User Experience at Cengage Learning.

New to MindTap

Questia’s handy writing center is now fully integrated right into MindTap for English Composition courses as a MindApp. The Questia MindApp offers time-saving tools, a writing guide, and tips and guidance from instructors. The MindApp walks students through every step—research, thesis, outline, bibliography, and writing—in one convenient location where all their materials can be saved. There are even helpful hints for each step to keep them on track.

»Find your Learning Consultant to learn more about Questia for MindTap

What research paper steps do your students struggle with the most and how have you helped them overcome this challenge?