What is a Research Paper?   It is a thesis driven exploration of thoughtful reading on a particular subject.  The reading material may come from several sources.

What is the purpose of a research paper?  The purpose is to find and compile data, to participate in an exploration of the data, to make original observations, to show relationships between data, and to make evaluations on a subject.

Where do I begin?  Start with your primary sources.  These sources may include experiments, surveys, or interviews; notes form field research; works of art or other objects you examine; works of literature; eyewitness accounts; and historical documents.

So I'm reading the texts. What do I do now?  Begin to form your thesis; that is, take a position or stand.  It is the reason for writing the paper, the organizing idea.  You may wish to explain, argue, or justify.

What do I do next?  Research additional sources, to help support your thesis.  Look in books, magazines or journal articles, newspapers, online journals and web sites.  Locate facts or ideas which help explain, clarify, add additional information or evidence to your main point.  Make sure you understand the criteria for substantiating the authenticity of web site content.  An .edu site is a good place to start.

How should the paper be formatted?  Ask your instructor which style documentation to use; generally, MLA or APA are most often used.  These styles give specific directions so that you may acknowledge each idea referenced.  Additionally, the documentation guidelines will tell you how to reference each borrowed idea in the body of your paper, and how to prepare the final page, the Works Cited or References page. Refer to a grammar handbook, or visit the LRC Writing Center Online, or type MLA or APA in a Web search engine such as Google, to locate guidelines.

How do I cite my additional sources?  There are three basic ways of citing other authors' material:  you may use a direct quote, a paraphrase (rephrase someone else's words), or a summary.  Whether precisely stated, reworded or summarized, an author's words must be acknowledged as your source.  Remember, borrowing the ideas of others without acknowledgment is plagiarism.

Do I write in first, second or third person?  Generally, a research paper is written in third person; however, some projects may require a first or second person style.  Check with your instructor.

A final point:  You are not locked into your original thesis.  As you collect information and, even during the process of writing the paper, you may discover new knowledge that will modify or alter your original thesis; it's okay to change it.