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How to Write a Research Paper

A step-by-step guide to writing a research paper.


Be prepared to be flexible with your research question or thesis.

If you find too much information, your topic/thesis may be too broad.  You will need to narrow or focus it.

If you are finding very little information, your topic/thesis may be too specific, narrow, specialized or current.  It may be difficult to find enough information to write your paper.  In this case, you will need to broaden your topic or thesis.


Broaden Your Topic


Generalize your topic, or explore related topics or issues.  If your topic is the genetic diversity of the Akan in Ghana, broaden your topic by generalizing to all ethnic groups in Ghana or West Africa.






If your topic has just occurred, there won't be books or journal articles available just yet.  Choose an alternative topic that is not so recent.



Database Choice


Use other databases in your subject area, or consider checking databases in a related subject area (which might cover the topic from a different perspective).


Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for your topic. When reading background information, note how your topic is expressed in these materials. When you find citations in an article database, note the terms being used by experts in the field.





Explore related issues.


Expand    Remove


Expand or remove: location, time period, aspect, event, population, person/group.


Narrow Your Topic

Progressive Era, Civil War, Iron Age, Cold War, Victorian Era, 1920's, 18th century


Europe, Middle East, U.S., Denver, New York, urban, rural, eastern, western


Age, race, gender, nationality, ethnic group, occupation, species
Event or Aspect

Focus on an event within your topic: for human cloning, investigate government regulation of cloning.  Or consider a particular aspect: historical, sociological, psychological.

Person or Group

Related to your topic:  college students, Democrats, Republicans, Barack Obama