Writing & Researching A Paper Using APA Style or MLA Style

Before you begin researching and writing

There are many different types of papers students may be asked to write for classes. Before researching and writing your paper, make sure you know what type of paper your professor wants you to write. Are you doing a research paper for a science class? Are you writing a persuasive essay? Are you doing a critical analysis of a piece of literature? Is your paper part of a presentation of an invention or experiment? Take the time at the beginning of the project to make sure you understand what is expected.

Choosing a Topic

  • Choose a topic which challenges and interests you. Your attitude towards the topic may determine the amount of effort you put into your research.
  • Focus on a limited aspect of a major topic. For example, narrow the topic down from "government" to "world government" to "democracy." But make sure your topic is broad enough that you can write an entire paper on it.
  • Select a subject you can manage. Avoid subjects that are too specialized or technical. Avoid topics that have a narrow range of source materials. Ask your instructor what is expected before beginning a full-scale research project.

Research your project

As you gather resources for your paper, jot down the all the bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, date of access to web pages) on your worksheet or enter the information on your computer for later retrieval. Remember that an article without bibliographical information is useless since you cannot cite its source.

You might want to start your research by surfing the Internet to get a broad idea of what sort of resources are available and to find out general information about your topic. For general information, check out online encyclopedias -- such as Wikipedia, search engines and other Internet search tools as a starting point.

Good sources for information include public and university libraries, businesses, and government agencies. You should also consider contacting knowledgeable people in your community or field of study.

Create your thesis

  • Do some critical thinking and boil down your thesis statement to one sentence. Your thesis statement is like a declaration of your position. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments to support and defend your thesis.
  • APA style does not require a labeled thesis statement but often requires an abstract.
  • MLA style requires a thesis statement.

Make an outline

The purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. Check your outline to make sure that the points flow logically from one to another.

  • Your outline should include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Make the first outline tentative.
  • Introduction. State your thesis and purpose of your research paper clearly. State how you plan to approach your topic. Is this an analysis of a problem, a comparison, a book review, or a factual report? Explain in brief the major points of your paper and why readers should be interested.
  • Body. This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. There is a common rule of 3. Find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take.
  • Conclusion. Reword your thesis statement. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this conclusion.

Start writing your paper using your PERRLA program for formatting.

Resources for writing

  • MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing - from the Modern Language Association
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association - from the American Psychological Association
  • Mastering APA Style: Student's Workbook and Training Guide - from the American Psychological Association
  • The Elements of Style - by William Strunk and E. B. White

Helpful Links

APA Format and Style Guide - The OWL at Purdue

MLA Format and Style Guide - The OWL at Purdue

University of Richmond Writing Center

Guide to Writing a Basic Essay

What is an Academic Paper?

Thesis Statements

Guide to Grammar and Writing

PERRLA Paper Planner

Research Paper Checklist

Before submitting your paper to your instructor, revise it and make certain all details have been considered. Check to see whether all of the components below have been completed.

  • Is my thesis statement clear and concise?
  • Did I follow my outline using all arguments and ideas?
  • Are my arguments presented in proper sequence?
  • Have I used strong arguments to prove my thesis?
  • Have I supported my arguments with documented proof or examples?
  • Have I made my intentions and points clear in the paper?
  • Are there transitions between the different points in the paper so the writing flows smoothly?
  • Is there some sort of a conclusion that gracefully eases me out of the paper?
  • Are all my sources properly cited to avoid plagiarism?
  • Is the "Works Cited" or "Reference" page complete?
  • Any run-on or unfinished sentences?
  • Any spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors?
  • Have I re-read my paper and revised?
  • Am I satisfied with my work?
  • Did I follow all of my teacher's instructions?