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What Are the Four Stages of the Process of Writing a Research Paper?

by Jade Lynch-Greenberg, studioD

When embarking on a research project, it's important for the research to begin by assessing the assignment. Analyzing what the assignment is asking for -- the audience, purpose, goal and genre (known as the rhetorical situation) -- can be done by reading about the assignment and engaging in prewriting. Throughout the prewriting phase, the writer should develop a detailed “research question,” which can be answered by the thesis statement. Then, the more active work begins.


The library, whether physical or virtual, is the best place to begin a research essay.

Doing research can take place in several ways. For one, a campus library (whether in a physical building or online) can be the best resource. However, public libraries also have some updated books and online access to additional academic material. Taking notes regarding the research is helpful, both because material can then be referred to later and for use while documenting sources in the required format (such as Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association or Chicago Manual Style).


Using your prewriting and research, producing an outline should be easy and help keep you on track. An outline should include the main points and show the order in which they will be organized. For example, if you have research from a book (source 1), three academic journal articles (sources 2, 3 and 4) and a reliable government website (source 5), you would create an outline with information guiding the eventual essay. The first portion of the outline would be the introduction, noting the importance of opening with an "attention-getter," providing background information (in this example, from source 1) and ending with the thesis statement. The section portion of the outline, that of the body, would likely have more details. It would note the main points (typically, an essay covers three or four of these), and -- within each -- the sub-points supporting those main points. Additionally, notes about where more information can be found could be listed. So, while the first main point might include additional background information from sources 1 and 2, the second main point might address a sub-point from source 3 and additional support from source 4. The third main point, focused largely on a sub-point from source 4, might include support from sources 3 and 5 -- all of which would be noted in the outline for easy review while writing the actual paper. Finally, the conclusion section of the outline should remind you to include a brief summary of the essay's main points, as well as a call to action, imploring readers to take action, do more research or otherwise engage further with the topic at hand.


Using the outline as a guide, you should produce an initial draft of the essay, including information from the research (properly summarized, paraphrased or quoted, and cited in-text). The draft should fully support the thesis statement, which should answer the research question.

Revising and Editing

Careful self-editing prior to submitting a paper often leads to better grades.

Revising and editing are two different processes. Revision takes place on a “global” scale, and involves looking at the entire essay. When revising, ensure the thesis statement is defended throughout the essay, check for clear transitions, be sure all intended points are discussed and remove any unnecessary content. Sometimes, you might revise initially, seek the feedback of others (such as from a classmate, instructor or writing tutor), then continue revising. Editing is a “local” process, in which you'll look at the essay on a sentence-by-sentence basis. This is where you look for errors, including verb tense, punctuation, grammar, potential typos or spelling errors, and consistency of tone. Additionally, while editing, it's important to make sure the bibliography is completed properly, according to the required documentation style, and that in-text citations are also suitably formatted.

About the Author

Jade Lynch-Greenberg is a writer, blogging enthusiast and educator. She teaches multi-modal writing in the university setting and has written for the web since 2002, and created comics since 2006. She write scripts, articles, scholarly documents and technical explanations, and holds a Master of Arts in English from Purdue University.

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