Research Paper Writing – Do’s and Don’ts

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Whether its staring blankly at the syllabus or nervously chatting with classmates over coffee, the stress over research papers is a staple of the university experience. Although it can seem overwhelming, there are some simple do’s and don’ts that can help you succeed whether it is your first semester at university or you’re nearing the end of your time there.


Include only information that is relevant to the topic. The temptation is there, especially with long word counts, to include all information found whether it is relevant to the topic or not. Be specific about your research questions and only use information that pertains to them directly.

Ask questions about what you are reading. As young children we are taught to answer the basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? These questions should be applied to the methodology, arguments and conclusion of everything you read.

Establish a methodology at the beginning of the process, justify its use and stick with it throughout the duration of research and writing.

Proofread! Spellcheck will not catch every error. Spelling and grammatical errors can make it look like you just threw a paper together instead of working hard on it. Proofreading can also allow you to see connections in the research that you would have otherwise missed.

Stay within the guidelines set by the lecturer, including word count. Again, bigger is not always better.

Remember that completing a research paper is a process. It is possible that your conclusions will be different than you thought they would be and that’s okay. Be honest about it.


Cite Wikipedia or similar websites, they are not reputable or trusted within universities and can contain false information. If you use these sites to gain a general understanding of a topic, use it as a launching point to find academic sources.

Make generalisations that are not justified and/or cited. While you should add your own analysis based upon the information gathered, making too many generalisations will cheapen your overall argument.

Leave the bibliography to the end. Chasing down sources and formatting them is never fun. Maintain the bibliography as you write.

Plagiarise. This does not simply mean copying parts of a work word-for-word but also taking ideas from works without citing them.

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