How to Write a Research Paper

This week, I had my first big research paper due. It was a ten page paper creating a policy on infrastructure for my government class. The requirement was a ten-page, Chicago style paper with footnotes and an annotated bibliography.

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This was quite a monster to attack. It was certainly the biggest paper I’ve had to write, and with the highest stakes (200 points). Having just turned it in the day I’m writing this, I feel pretty confident and proud of my work, and I wanted to share with you my process:

Step 1: Identify the Topic

The topic of my paper was a pretty broad one: infrastructure. There’s a lot that goes into that, and likely the topic of your research paper will have a lot to it as well. The first thing I did was identified what exactly was/wasn’t infrastructure. From there, I spent some time thinking about what I thought of the topic and what the most important parts of it were. This was a very informal process – I just did a lot of thinking.

Step 2: Break it Down

From there, I started to break down the topic into subtopics/goals. I identified my stance and the main topics I was going to focus on in the paper. This gave me a place to start so I wasn’t staring at a blank screen with writer’s block.

I then made an in-depth outline where I had the following structure:

  • Section
    • Topic
      • Paragraph
        • Supporting research
    • Topic
      • Paragraph
        • Supporting research
    • Topic
      • Paragraph
        • Supporting research

Step 3: Write it Out

Then, I wrote a paragraph or so on each of the subtopics with my thoughts on them. I didn’t do too much preliminary research on this, just a couple simple searches to get ideas together or make sure what I was thinking could be backed up. This gave me a good starting draft to work with and expand on. These paragraphs ended up being more of the opinions/conclusions, and I put the research and analysis in paragraphs before them. I did have to modify them a bit after some of my research to make sure the arguments were as strong as possible.

Step 4: Research

It wasn’t until this step that I really did the research part of the research paper. I took my outline and in a separate document I started adding links and quotes from all the sources I found. I quoted exactly what I would want to quote and paraphrased exactly what I wanted to paraphrase so I’d be able to just look at the outline and turn it from bullets to prose to create the paper.

Step 5: Convert

From here, putting the paper together was pretty easy. I took my outline, created the sections with roman numerals, added transitions, turned my bullets into prose, copied and pasted from my rough draft, and then the meat of the paper was pretty much done.

Step 6: Footnotes and Bibliography

Because this paper required Chicago style footnotes, I had to go through and add all the information. I decided to do this afterward because doing it during interrupted my writing and thought flow. This took some time and was pretty tedious, but by the end I had a complete bibliography in Citation Machine that I was able to add annotations to and simply copy and paste to the end.

Step 7: Edit and Submit

I then cleaned up the formatting, checked it over using grammarly, and read it out loud twice (once to myself and once to family) to ensure it made sense. I looked over the rubric and self-scored myself on each category, then submitted.


I hope this helps any of you who have a big paper you’re working on! I hope this paper got a good score, and I’ll likely update on social media when I get the score back.

❤ Alicia

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