Steps to Writing A Research Paper

Steps to Writing A Research Paper:

From Research Question to Thesis Statement

1. Choose a topic of interest to you.  Example:  Polar Exploration in the Nineteenth Century - experiment with putting your topic in the form of a question - for example:  "What motivated polar explorers in the nineteenth century to venture into the extremely dangerous and little known arctic?" or "What were the challenges that polar explorers faced in the nineteenth century?"

2. Look for background information. Check the library catalog for reference materials that will provide you with an overview of your topic, these might include encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, and so on.

3. Reconsider your topic in light of the information you have found. For example, there were numerous expeditions to the polar regions in the nineteenth century by Norwegians, Russians, Englishmen and Americans. The topic needs to be narrowed down a bit. A researcher might decide to focus on the impact of the British expedition led by Sir John Franklin in 1845, which disappeared without a trace until finally, in 1859, an expedition led by Francis Leopold McClintock finally uncovered evidence of the fate of the expedition on King William Island. 

4. Look for literature that treats your topic.  You can search the library catalog for books and the library databases for journal articles. The library also provides a guide for evaluating web resources.  If you find too much material, consider ways to narrow your search. For example, if "Polar Explorers" yields too many returns, you might try adding a term, like "Northwest Passage", which was what Sir John Franklin was hoping to find.  If "John Franklin" yields too few returns, you might try something broader like "polar exploration", and so on.  Look for Library of Congress Subject Headings (LSCH) that cover your topic, for example:

Arctic Regions-Discovery and exploration-British  or
Franklin, John, Sir, 1786-1847

The Hartwick Library Catalog uses Library of Congress Subject Headings. You can also use them  to extend your search for books beyond the Hartwick Library by looking in WorldCat, particularly if you are having difficulty finding enough material at Hartwick. Remember that you can order books, articles and other materials on interlibrary loan, but it may take from up to two weeks for those materials to arrive. Always keep a  record of what you find in the form of a bibliography. Keep in mind that books on interlibrary loan are usually lent for one month only.

5. Read and evaluate your sources.

6. Formulate a thesis statement based on what you have learned. For example, you  might argue that while several explorers ostensibly went north in search of John Franklin after 1847, they used Franklin's disappearance as a means of raising funds for their own expeditions and in order to advance their own reputations and goals in the arctic.

7. Organize your material and your ideas to support your thesis in outline form.

Now you are ready to write your paper!  State your thesis in your introductory paragraph, support it with citations from your sources, and then restate your thesis and summarize your argument in your conclusion.

This guide is adapted from a site available at the Cornell University Library:

"The Seven Steps of the Research Process"  Reference Department,  Instruction, Research and Information Services (IRIS), Cornell University Library , Ithaca, NY, USA

Questions? Ask a Librarian at the Reference Desk, or email us at

Comments? Suggestions? Please email Rebekah Ambrose at