Skip to main content

Introduction to Research: Writing a Research Paper

This is a brief introduction to research in the Library, how to decide on a research topic, how to find relevant materials and how to cite them.

Books on Writing Research Papers

Writing Help

There are a number of helpful writing websites for you to use, recommended by the SMC English department:

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) for help with writing, research, grammar and mechanics and citation, style.

The Harvard Guide to Using Sources is an introduction to using and citing sources in academic writing.

Steps of the Research Process

Research is “the careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to discover or establish facts or principles.” (Webster's New World Dictionary)

Below is an outline of the steps involved in the research process:

  • Choosing a topic
  • Find background information
  • Refine your topic
  • Developing a thesis statement
  • Locating resources (books, periodical articles, websites)
  • Evaluating resources
  • Taking notes from resources
  • Write a draft of your paper; review and edit; prepare final version
  • Citing your sources

 Woman climbing stairs



It is important to take careful notes and keep track of where you found the information in case you need to go back to the source and to give credit to the authors to avoid plagiarism. Find a method of note taking that works for you; some use index cards since they are easy to rearrange, others use notebook paper and some use a computer.

There are three basic methods of note taking:

  • Summarizing – Restating general themes or overall impressions.
  • Paraphrasing – Writing specific concepts or points in your own words, from your own understanding of the material.
  • Quotations – Taking exact passages from resources.


Citing Sources

Citations provide basic descriptive information about an article, book or web page, such as author, title, publication date, etc.  Sources should be cited in order to avoid plagiarism. To avoid plagiarism, you must restate what you have read in your own words or give credit to the original author.

A list of works cited and a bibliography are not the same. A bibliography includes a list all of the material you have consulted in preparing your paper whether or not you have actually cited the work.  In a list of works cited you only include resources that you have actually cited in your paper.

Citations also indicate what sources were used and should include enough information to allow interested parties to locate those sources. For books include author, title, edition, city of publication, publisher, and publication date.  For periodical articles include author, title of article, name of periodical, date, and page numbers.

There are many approved style forms to use, including MLA style, Chicago Manual of Style, and APA style.   Before writing a research paper, ask your instructor what citation style your research paper should be written in.

For more information see our pages on MLA Citation Style, APA Citation Style and Chicago/Turabian Citation Style.

Evaluating Resources

Evaluating What You Have Found

As you select, access and locate information you should be reading and evaluating what you find for relevance to your project, and for


  • Is the author identified?
  • Is there a sponsor (educational institution, professional association, government agency)?


  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the treatment scholarly or popular?


  • Is there evidence of bias?
  • Is the source of the information clearly stated?  Is it original?


  • Is the information out of date?
  • When was it last updated?

SMC Writing Center

The SMC Writing Center offers writing support services to all SMC students in all subject areas. Our goal is to help students become more confident, self-directed, and informed writers so that they can achieve greater academic and professional success.  The Writing Center is in Drescher Hall room 313;

Research Tutorials

Research Paper Learning Module from Butte College is an introduction to the steps to write a high-quality research paper.