How to Write a Proper Research Paper: Meeting the Guidelines

The easiest way to lose points on a large assignment like a research paper is to improperly follow the guidelines. Unfortunately it is an understandable mistake, as most of the time there are very exact instructions that must be closely followed. The guide below describes a few strategies that will help you make sure that your research paper is properly constructed and ready to hand in.

Start by Studying the Guidelines

Resist the urge to procrastinate or jump right into researching, you will end up wasting time and energy or simply run out of time altogether. Take a few minutes to examine the guidelines. Take note of the length, the number of required sources, what sorts of sources, and the citation style the instructor wants you to use.

Primary and Secondary

There is often a distinction made between primary and secondary sources. A primary source is a document that is or is a representative of your research subject. For example, if you are writing a paper on the Boston Massacre then a first-hand account or newspaper article from the time would be a primary source. A Secondary source would be the research someone else has done on the subject, like a book about the Revolutionary War.


Also pay attention to the citation style your instructor wants you to use. This is the manner in which you record your sources and tell your reader what information you got from where. Each style does things a little differently, which means that they want slightly different information from the sources you use. This is something you need to know before you start searching so that you can properly record your research as you go. Sometimes the instructor will not require a particular citation style but have their own set of information. If that is the case make sure you know exactly what they want and don’t be afraid to ask them for clarification.

Staying on Task

Here is a brief list of steps and points to keep track of as you conduct your research and write your paper:

  • Know what information you need for citation and record every book you read through. You will not end up using them all but this will keep you from losing a source you need when you go back to write your paper.
  • Focus on getting your primary sources. It is often the case that secondary sources will lead you to primary documents and so many of the secondary material you need to collect will come to you collaterally.
  • Cite your information as you write your paper. This will keep you from missing a citation and losing points for improper citation or even plagiarism.

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