Most teachers want research papers written in APA style, and many college classes require research papers. Where do you start?

Pick a thesis

A thesis is a premise for your argument, a hypothesis, or a brief statement of what your paper is about. A thesis for a research paper is just like a thesis for an essay, except that the thesis probably isn’t quite as narrow since your research paper will be larger.

Your thesis shouldn’t be too narrow or to broad. Take into consideration the teacher’s specifications for the assignment; that is, how long is the paper allowed to be? Then consider your thesis and if you can fill the space of your paper without making it too long.

How can you tell how much space you can fill defending your thesis or supporting it? Well, this depends a lot on how you write, but it also depends on how much information is available and how many sub topics there are for the thesis.

Research and take notes

Go to the library and read some books on your topic. Check out the magazines and journals. Go online and look for more information. Be particularly careful about your sources when you research online. Remember, online content isn’t subject to peer review or even a traditional book publisher and copy editor.

A great place to start your online research is at, because journal style articles are returned. or will allow you to see parts of books before ordering them. Another good place is to go to your local library’s website and find their “Online Resources and Databases.” These are links to library vetted websites.

Make a list of all your sources. This was traditionally done on index cards, but it might be easier to keep a log file in Word or Excel. For each book keep track of the author(s), the title, the publisher, city, state, and county of publishing, date of publishing, the name of the editor if it’s listed, and even the ISBN. Then, for each source, give it a unique number of phrase so you can easily keep track of it. For instance, I might give this article a phrase of “Nico-APA.”

Write down your source next to each piece of information you keep as a note.

If some things don’t make sense, try drawing admission essay pictures or putting some of the information into charts to help make sense of the data.

Revise your thesis

Now that you know what information is available, look at your thesis and determine if it needs to be revised or not. Remember, it needs to fill the space requirement of the assignment without going over.

Write an outline

A lot of people skip this step, but don’t. It’s important. Write an outline. Your outline should look something like this, but don’t be overly concerned about the roman numerals, letters, and such. In fact, you can skip those and just use indenting to keep track of which headings are major headings and which are sub headings.

Major Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

^^^^^^^^^^ Sub Topic

^^^^^^^^^^Sup Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

Major Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

^^^^^Sub Topic

Determine if you need any tables, graphs, or charts

Did you run an experiment and you data to show? Did someone else run an experiment and you want to show their results and attribute the credit to them? Did you come up with an awesome chart or graph to help you understand the topic and it should be included in the paper?

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