Research & Writing a Paper

Trocaire College Libraries

For more in-depth information on writing a research paper, pick up a copy of:

"How to Write a Research Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide" at the library.

Understand Your Assignment

One of the first problems in completing a research paper, students often don’t understand the assignment and what the instructor wants. Understanding the terms used in the assignment is the first step.

To understand what your instructor is asking for, check out the library’s guide “Library Terms”, ask your instructor or ask a librarian! Other questions should be:

  • When is the paper due?
  • How long should the paper be?
  • What types of sources are needed? How many do you need?
  • What kind of paper is the instructor assigning– Informative, persuasive, analytical, literature review?
  • What writing style is needed? APA? MLA?
  • Is there anything else? Does the instructor want to see printouts of the sources used?
  • Who do you ask for help in writing the paper? The Instructor? The Librarians? The Palisano Center?

It is important to pace yourself with this paper and other assignments throughout the semester. Visit the library’s web site ,, and select “Student Services”, click on the “Research Calculator” link in the second paragraph. This calculator will generate a list of research paper steps by date and will e-mail you reminders.

Start Early!

Give yourself the best chance to succeed by starting your research project early. The librarians will help you no matter your deadline. But starting early allows you enough time to select just the right materials, use ILL, check your APA or MLA style, etc. Don't wait until the last minute!

Selecting & Knowing Your Topic

Many students are wonder about how to select a topic. Click here for some tips.

When you finally selected a topic, the best way to start your research on a topic that may not be familiar to you- use an encyclopedia. Usually you can read a summary of the topic and often times it concludes with other sources and even keywords.

The library has Credo Reference and Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition to get you started. If you don't find what you are looking for, ask a librarian.

Write a Thesis

Once you have an understanding of your topic, you are ready to write a thesis. A thesis is "a short statement, usually one sentence, that summarizes the main point or claim of your paper and is developed, supported, and explained in the text by means of examples and evidence" ( Unabridged, 2017). A good thesis makes a "debatable point", meaning that one may argue against. A thesis is the roadmap to your argument. Writing a thesis will help focus your research.

Plan an Outline

Plan how you are going to present the information in your paper. An Outline usually consists of:

Introduction: This will include your thesis statement, some background information and some fact , quote or information to get the reader interested and to continue to read the paper.

Body: This moves the paper along to the conclusion. It consists of:

  1. Main idea of your thesis
  2. Evidence- to support the thesis. This evidence could consist of quotes, paraphrasing, facts. statistics, charts, images, your own experiences, etc.

  3. Analysis- is where you discuss the evidence and how it ties back to your main idea.

Conclusion: Can either: summarize your argument and /or explain the significance of your argument- "Why your argument matters".

Use the Library Databases

If you need reliable, scholarly articles, reports, videos or any other materials for college level research and writing, you need to use library databases.

Library databases are on our library website for your research needs.

Check out our Databases:Step-by-Step guide to learn how to navigate the databases that Trocaire College Library subscribes to.

Take Effective Notes

Make sure to take thorough and complete notes from ALL the sources that you used in your research. Organize your notes any way that is comfortable for you- there is no "right way" to do this. Make sure to have complete information on the source. This would consist of title, author, year, pages, etc. This is called the "bibliographic record" of a source and you will need this information for your reference page of your paper.

Make sure that you distinguish your own ideas from the information in the sources.

Keep all your notes and copies of the sources together in order to reference them quickly, if needed.

Ready to Write the Paper

Once you have done all of your note-taking you are ready to begin writing your paper. Use your outline to guide you through the process. Write your first draft. You will have to use a writing style guide to accomplish this (see below). Then leave the draft for a couple of days and go back and read it. Does it make sense? Is it logical? Does it have all the sections of a research paper?

Writing Style Guides

At Trocaire, instructors ask students to use either APA or MLA Style guidelines. When you are ready to type up your research, check out the library's templates for APA or MLA style papers on the "Citation Help" page under Student Services on the toolbar.

Once you download the template of your choice, save it to your H drive or your USB or send it to yourself as an attachment in an e-mail.

At the Citation Help page, you can access the APA or MLA Style Guides and Purdue OWL.

A Word about Plagiarism

One of the main reasons that you should take the steps mentioned above in writing your paper is to avoid plagiarism! If you keep a good record of your sources (quotes, paraphrasing, page number, etc.) you should have no problems when it comes to being "academically honest" in your work.

So, what is Plagiarism?

It's taking someone's ideas or work and passing it off as your own, original thought. It gives the impression that it is all your ideas when it really is stealing others "intellectual property". Basically, it is fraud, theft, dishonest and downright wrong!

You can expect to receive a failing grade for the assignment or for the class. Even worse, you can be expelled from your school. So, don't do it. Follow the steps listed above and below to avoid this from happening to you!

Check out or our library guide Avoiding Plagiarism for more information.

A Word about Citing, Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Using the APA or MLA Style Guides on the Citation Help page of the library will help to ensure that your paper is correct when it comes to the rules of writing a research paper.

Citing: Always cite your sources in the text of your paper. This is called an "in-text citation". If you are not sure if you should cite it, cite it.

Quotations: Use these sparingly. Carefully selected quotes can support your arguments, but will not add to the quality of your own work.

Paraphrasing: This is a detailed restatement of information in your own words that came from a source other than your own experience. To paraphrase effectively you will need to:
  1. Read the information until you understand the full meaning
  2. Set the original information aside
  3. Think about what you just read
  4. Then write it in your own words
  5. Make sure your version reflects the meaning of the original source
  6. Simply changing a few words and keeping the same original structure is considered plagiarism
  7. You must honestly and truly put the information into your own words

Summarizing: This involves putting the MAIN IDEAS into your own words. This is usually VERY SHORT and not as involved as paraphrasing.

In the Home Stretch

When you are done typing your paper, proofread it!

Make sure that your citations, quotes, paraphrasing, summarizing and your reference page is correct.

If you need help in any of the steps, please contact a librarian.

Revised & Updated June 2021