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How to Write a Research Paper

Read Your Sources and Take Notes

Research Papers


  1. Establish your topic.
  2. Look for sources of information.
  3. Read your sources and take notes.
  4. Organize your ideas.
  5. Write a first draft.
  6. Use footnotes or endnotes to document sources.
  7. Write a bibliography.
  8. Revise the first draft.
  9. Proofread the final draft.

After you've gathered your sources, begin reading and taking notes.

  1. Use 3 x 5 index cards, one fact or idea per card. This way related ideas from different sources can be easily grouped together or rearranged.
  2. On each index card, be sure to note the source, including the volume number (if there is one) and the page number. If you wind up using that idea in your paper, you will have the information about the source ready to put in your footnote or endnote.
  3. If you copy something directly from a book without putting it in your own words, put quotation marks around it so that you know it is an exact quotation. This will help you to avoid plagiarism. (For more, see What is Plagiarism?).
  4. Before you sit down to write your rough draft, organize your note cards by subtopic (you can write headings on the cards) and make an outline.

Check out the differences between these two note cards for a research paper on baseball:

Good note card:

WB, 2, p.133

Star players become national heroes

Many Americans could name every major league player, his batting average, and other accomplishments.

(What batting records were set?)

  • Lists source (World Book, Volume 2, page 133)
  • Includes heading or subtopic
  • Is limited to one fact
  • Has personal note/question

Bad note card:

Baseball becomes popular

Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers) outfielder one of the great all-time players. Another star was Honus Wagner, a bowlegged shortstop.

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."

  • Source not indicated in top right corner
  • Heading too vague
  • Too many facts
  • No name after quotation


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