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Nutrition Resource Guide: Writing Assignments

The Research Paper Process

Guidelines for Writing a Research paper

1. Understand the assignment.

A misread/misunderstood prompt can sink even the best written project or paper, since it leads to inappropriate sources or conclusions. Ask your instructor if you have questions.

2. Select a topic that interests you.

A project on a topic that does not catch your interest is not only a slog to complete, but a bore to present. In contrast, some of the most fun presentations come when the person presenting obviously loves the material. 

3. Narrow or broaden your topic as necessary.

To make your topic manageable, you may need to narrow it to a more specific question. Or, if you are not finding any resources that discuss your topic, you might need to broaden your focus. Find additional information on creating a research question on the Topic/Research Question tab of your library guide.

4. Choose databases for your research.

Find links to some Recommended Databases on the Homepage of your library guide. When choosing which database to use, you should consider the Discipline and whether there is Full-Text of the database.

  • Discipline means an academic area of study. For example, the EBSCOhost database CINAHL has articles from Allied Health and Nursing journals, whereas Business Source Complete has articles from Marketing, Management, and Accounting journals.

  • Some databases include the Full-Text of each article indexed. That means if you find an article, you will be able to click to view or download the whole article instantly. Other databases only include article records; a record will provide details like author, date, source, and abstract, but then you’ll have to order that article through Interlibrary Loan or another source.

5. How to read scholarly articles. 

An empirical scholarly article is where authors complete their own study. The purpose of an empirical scholarly article is to share research results with other members of the scholarly community. You don’t have to read a scholarly article in chronological order the first time you are reviewing it. First, read the abstract. Then, jump to the discussion and conclusion section. Next, read the introduction and literature review. Finally, read the entire article from start to finish. Take notes as you go, and make sure it is clear in your notes when you are quoting the article. (Write down the authors' names and page number for any direct quotes, in order to avoid plagiarism.) It’s best to read the article twice to make sure you understand it fully.  This link will take you to a roadmap of a scholarly article with a description of what is in each section.

6. Organizing your research.

  • Take Notes! When you find a promising article, before you do anything else, write down all the publication information. If you use Word or Google Docs, copy and paste this information from the website or database. If you use a Citation Manager (i.e. Zotero, Mendeley, or RefWorks ), you can export this information directly from the web into your citation manager.

  • When you encounter a useful passage, before you do anything else, put down the page number(s) where you found the quotation. If the article has no page numbers, put down the section number or heading.

  • Then, either:

    • Put down the author's words verbatim, with quotations marks ("") around them, to make it clear to you that these are all the author's words (If you leave out a chunk of text, note missing text with ellipses (...)).

    • OR summarize or paraphrase the passage. Mark a big S or P to indicate summary or paraphrase. If you use a phrase verbatim, put quotation marks around it.

  • If you want to make a note about the passage, do that as well, but mark ME next to it, to indicate that these are your own words or ideas.

  • Repeat, as often as necessary. Some articles may produce a dozen notes; others only one.

  • When it's time to write the paper, use the note system as you need it. Having a system in place makes it easy to insert author, year, and page # citations as you write, and makes it easy to differentiate between the author's words and your own words and ideas.

7. Writing your research paper.

  • Write an outline. Organize your ideas into logical paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting details. Remember, you must present your own argument about the topic without using first or second person.
  • Write the first draft. Include your thesis (argument) in the introduction and include clear body paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting details from your sources (quotes, summaries, and paraphrases). Remember that this paper is your argument; therefore, your voice must be prominent. Use your sources to support your argument. Your paper should not simply be a collection of quotes. You must introduce all quotes and paraphrases and provide a discussion of how the quote or paraphrase illustrates the point you are making.
  • Revise your paper. Look for typos or careless mistakes. Use transitions to connect your paragraphs, and relate the paragraphs to your thesis. Be sure you have enough support to defend your point.

8. Citing your sources.

You must give credit where credit is due by citing all sources. It is required for academic honesty and it lends weight to your paper by showing the depth of your research. For a quick refresher on how to cite sources check out this short tutorial. What is Citation?


The content for this module is drawn from the following sources:

PALNI's Instruction Ideas and Activities LibGuide (2022, June 3),