How to write a research paper

Welcome to our in-depth guide on how to write a research paper. 

Whether you’re a student writing your first research paper or a seasoned researcher trying to improve your skills, this guide will provide essential insights and practical examples into the writing process.

So, let’s get started and learn how to master the art of research paper writing!

Understand the research process

Defining the research question

Your entire study is built on the research question. It defines the specific problem or topic you are researching.
Let’s have a look at a research question example so our definition can ring a bell.

Research question example

“What are the effects of social media usage on teenagers’ mental health?”

This is a good research question because it is specific, relevant, measurable, and has practical implications.

Here are some quick tips for finding the perfect research question.

Handling the literature review

The literature review examines existing research and scholarly works on your topic. It helps in the identification of gaps and adds to your study’s background knowledge.

An excerpt from a literature review

Example: You might have reviewed research on your topic and arrived at a conclusion that:

....“The literature reveals a growing body of evidence highlighting the correlation between excessive social media use and increased anxiety and depression among adolescents.”

Create a thesis statement

The thesis statement presents the main argument or claim you will investigate – it is the heart of your research paper! It serves as a road map for readers, directing them as to what to expect from your paper.

Thesis statement checklist

So now let’s have a look at bad and good thesis statement examples. 

Example of a weak thesis statement


....(introduction starts)
....(introduction continues)
....(introduction continues)
“Social media has some effects on teenagers’ mental health.” This thesis statement is vague and lacks specificity. It does not present a clear stance or identify the nature of the effects.

As you see, this thesis statement above is pretty short and vague, lacking  your main argument. It’s also too general. Now, look at the following example to see a great one. 

Example of a strong thesis statement


....(introduction starts)
....(introduction continues)
....(introduction continues)
“Excessive social media usage negatively impacts teenagers’ mental health by increasing anxiety and depression due to cyberbullying and unrealistic social comparisons.” This thesis statement is clear and concise, presenting specific reasons to help readers understand the direction of the paper.

Conduct your research

Now that you’ve defined your research topic and thesis statement, it’s time for an extensive research. If you didn’t have a clear thesis statement, you may create it after this step. 

There are two types of research sources: primary and secondary.

When doing a research, You can use these websites to access peer-reviewed academic articles and research papers.

Decide if a source is credible

Once you find sources to base your research paper on, it is critical to evaluate the credibility of sources in order to assure the reliability of your research.

Example of a credible source

A peer-reviewed article published in a reputable scientific journal.

Author: Dr. John Smith, a renowned psychologist with expertise in adolescent mental health.
Affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of XYZ.
Credibility: The article was reviewed by experts in the field before publication, ensuring its reliability.

Example of a unreliable source

A personal blog post on social media and mental health by an anonymous author.

Author: No identifiable credentials or expertise in the subject.
Affiliation:No affiliation with any reputable institution.
Credibility: The lack of author credentials and the absence of peer review raises doubts about the source’s reliability.

Organize findings and create an outline

So now that you have all of this information, what do you do with it? This step is all about organizing and creating a well-structured outline. 

So you’ve seen the key points of creating an outline, let’s see an extensive example below. 

Research paper outline example

  1. Introduction
    1. Background on the prevalence of social media usage among teenagers. Start the introduction with engaging background information to capture readers’ attention.
    2. Thesis statement: Excessive social media usage negatively impacts teenagers’ mental health by increasing anxiety and depression due to cyberbullying and unrealistic social comparisons. The thesis statement should be clearly stated in the introduction section.

  2. The Impact of Cyberbullying on Teenagers’ Mental Health Use short and informative headings for each section to convey the main idea or topic covered in that section.
    1. Definition and prevalence of cyberbullying on social media platforms. Define key terms to establish a common understanding.
    2. Research on the psychological effects of cyberbullying, including anxiety and depression. Back up your claims with credible research.
    3. Case studies highlighting the detrimental consequences of cyberbullying on teenagers’ mental well-being. It is a good practice to utilize case studies to provide real-life examples and make the research more relatable.

  3. Unrealistic Social Comparisons and Their Influence on Mental Health Each subsection (e.g., A, B, C) under a main section should provide specific details related to the main idea of that section.
    1. The role of social media in promoting idealized and unrealistic lifestyles.
    2. Psychological implications of constant comparisons with others on social media.
    3. Effects of “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on teenagers’ mental health and well-being.

  4. Anxiety and Depression: The Psychological Impact of Excessive Social Media Use Divide your outline into sections and subsections to structure your paper logically. Use Roman numerals (I, II, III) for main sections and capital letters (A, B, C) for subsections.
    1. Research studies linking excessive social media usage to increased anxiety levels in teenagers. Use supporting evidence, such as research studies or statistics, to strengthen your arguments.
    2. The relationship between social media addiction and symptoms of depression.
    3. Identifying the underlying factors contributing to anxiety and depression related to social media.

  5. Coping Strategies and Support Systems
    1. Promoting digital well-being: Strategies for responsible and balanced social media usage.
    2. The role of parents, educators, and mental health professionals in supporting teenagers.
    3. Identifying supportive resources and platforms to combat cyberbullying and unrealistic social comparisons.

  6. Conclusion The conclusion should provide a concise summary of the key findings without introducing new information.
    1. Recap of the main points about the negative impact of excessive social media usage on teenagers’ mental health.
    2. Emphasize the importance of awareness and responsible social media habits for safeguarding mental well-being.
    3. Call to action for fostering a positive and supportive online environment for teenagers.

Write an introduction

Introduction is the first paragraph of your research paper, and it broadly covers up to 10-15% of your overall paper. Since it’s the first paragraph, there’re many things to pay attention. A great research paper introduction: 

Research paper introduction example


In recent years, the proliferation of social media platforms has drastically altered the way individuals, particularly teenagers, communicate and interact with one another. Begin with a captivating statement that highlights the contemporary relevance of your topic. While these platforms offer numerous benefits, such as increased connectivity and opportunities for self-expression, concerns have arisen regarding their potential impact on mental health. Present contrasting viewpoints to create a balanced perspective. This paper focuses on the hypothesis that excessive social media usage negatively affects teenagers’ mental health by triggering anxiety and depression through cyberbullying and unrealistic comparisons. Clearly state your research question and thesis statement to provide a roadmap for your readers.

Develop body paragraphs

A strong body paragraph illustrates, confirms, and/or backs up your thesis statement. This is where your outline will be helpful.

Topic sentences and main points

Topic sentences are essential while writing the body paragraphs of your research paper since they guide the reader through the important points and arguments. Let’s look at an example of a topic sentence and its significance in more detail.

Topic sentence example


....(introduction starts)
....(introduction continues)

Body paragraphs

One significant aspect contributing to the adverse consequences of excessive social media usage on teenagers’ mental health is the prevalence of cyberbullying across various social media platforms. Topic sentence
....(body paragraph continues)

Why is this example a strong topic sentence?

Supporting evidence and citations

Supporting evidence and citations (APA, MLA, etc.) are the pillars that validate your arguments and increase the credibility of your claims in the body paragraphs of your research paper. Let’s look at an example of how to incorporate evidence into your writing effectively.

Supporting evidence and citation example


....(introduction starts)
....(introduction continues)

Body paragraphs

....(body paragraph starts)
“According to a study conducted by Smith and Johnson (2020), teenagers who reported experiencing cyberbullying on social media platforms were twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. This underscores the profound impact that online harassment can have on young individuals’ mental well-being.” Supporting evidence and citation
....(body paragraph continues)

Why is this a great example?

Now let’s have a look at a great body paragraph example. 

Research paper body paragraph example

One significant aspect contributing to the adverse consequences of excessive social media usage on teenagers’ mental health is the prevalence of cyberbullying across various social media platforms. Topic sentence The opening sentence should introduce the main idea of the paragraph, giving readers a clear roadmap of the discussion ahead. Cyberbullying encompasses hurtful comments, rumors, and threats via digital platforms like social media. According to a study conducted by Smith and Johnson (2020), teenagers who reported experiencing cyberbullying on social media platforms were twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. Using Citations: Incorporating Citations: Always support your statements with credible sources, reinforcing your arguments with authority. This underscores the profound impact that online harassment can have on young individuals’ mental well-being. Statistics show its prevalence, with nearly 40% of surveyed adolescents reporting cyberbullying experiences on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Quantitative Data Use statistics to provide a tangible sense of the scale or significance of the issue you’re discussing. This high occurrence emphasizes the urgency of addressing its mental health implications. Subsequent sections will explore how cyberbullying intensifies anxiety and depression among teenagers, highlighting the need to confront this multifaceted challenge. Transitional Statements Use transitional phrases to guide readers through the flow of your paper, indicating the direction you’ll be taking in the following sections.

Write a conclusion

Now, let’s look at how to end your work with a bang. The conclusion, like the introduction, makes a lasting effect on your readers. Pay attention to following: 

Research paper conclusion example

In conclusion, this research underscores the detrimental impact of excessive social media use on teenagers’ mental health, manifested through heightened anxiety, depression, and diminished self-esteem. Summary: Briefly recap the main findings and their impact on the research topic. Fostering awareness and responsible digital habits is crucial to mitigate these effects, enabling teenagers to navigate online spaces more mindfully. However, the responsibility is not only on individuals; a collaborative effort involving educators, parents, mental health professionals, and social media platforms is imperative to create a positive online environment. Braoden the context:Place the research within a larger context, highlighting its implications beyond the immediate scope By prioritizing mental well-being and promoting healthier online interactions, we can better safeguard the next generation’s emotional and psychological health. Call to Action: Include a call to action, encouraging readers to take steps based on the research’s insights.

Final tips for success

These final tips include critical areas that might significantly improve the quality of your work.

Time management and planning

Effective time management is essential for writing research papers. 

Seeking feedback and revision

Inviting others to review your work provides new views and useful ideas. 

Celebrating your accomplishment

Completing a research paper is a great accomplishment that reflects your commitment and intellectual development. Take a minute to appreciate your efforts and the knowledge you’ve gained. Celebrate your accomplishment by rewarding yourself, sharing your findings with peers, or reflecting on your progress as a researcher.

By incorporating these final tips into your research paper process, you will not only improve the quality of your work but also develop essential skills that will serve you well beyond academia. Remember that research paper writing is a constant learning and improvement process, and each paper you write contributes to your development as a researcher.

Frequently asked questions

What is the first step of writing a research paper?

The first step is to choose a clear and focused research topic. Choose a topic that interests you and matches the requirements of your assignment. Conduct preliminary research to ensure that there is enough material and that the topic is neither too broad nor narrow.

How do I find credible sources for my research paper?

Use academic databases, libraries, and reputable online platforms such as Google Scholar, PubMed, JSTOR, and Project MUSE to find credible sources. Look for peer-reviewed publications, books by well-known authors, and authoritative websites. Sources should be evaluated based on their author’s credentials, publication date, and relevance to your topic.

How can I organize my research paper effectively?

Create a clear outline for your paper to organize it more easily. Divide it into sections such as the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each part should serve a specific purpose, and the flow of your arguments should be guided by your thesis statement.

Deniz Akcaoglu
Deniz Akcaoglu
Content editor and writer. Probably out there trying to get into an obscure band she actually hates the sound of.