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Writing / Research Guides: Writing / Research Guides

APA Guidelines

APA Online Resources 

Zotero Reference Management Software

Zotero is free, open source software that assists you to organize your research by creating reference libraries. The Zotero download includes a Word plugin that allow users to create in-text citations within documents, and create entire reference pages using the citation style of your choice. It alos allows users to collaborate with colleagues. Download Zotero by clicking on the following link:


The Zotero Quick Start Guide includes installation instructions, an overview of the software's functions, and helpful guides on collecting and organizing reference files and using Zotero to cite research sources.

YouTube user Steven Bradburn has also posted a very helpful tutorial entitled How to Use Zotero (A Complete Beginner's Guide). The video includes information on everything a beginner needs to know about using Zotero software.

Writing Guide


The process of compiling research and writing a paper can cause anxiety, however, with adequate preparation and the right tools apprehension will diminish. This Research Guide is full of resources. From understanding what your professor is asking for, to polish up your final draft, this section includes instructions and tips on all stages of the writing process. Click on the side navigation to find written explanations and a few short videos. 

*This guide is intended to help students organize and write quality research papers for classes taught in the natural sciences. Note, if you have specific questions about a writing assignment, you should seek advice from your professor before you begin. Requirements set forth by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines. 

Need Additional Help?

LRC offers one-on-one research assistance (by appointment)

  • Topic identification 
  • Review of assignment requirements
  • Establish project plans with due dates 
  • One-on-one research training (how to locate articles) 
  • APA formatting 
  • Copyright/ plagiarism check 
  • Presentation and Poster critiques  

Understanding Your Assignment

Key Points

Read your assignment carefully.

Ask for help from your instructor, classmates, or librarian.

Critically Assess The Assignment

  • What am I being asked to do? (provide information, create an argument, analyze a work)
  • Who is the audience? (instructor, classmates, online group)
  • What are the technical details? (due date, length, format, citation style)
  • What research is required, what sources can I use? (books, journals, primary or secondary sources, websites, personal opinions)

Helpful link from UNC-Chapel Hill with the exercise below!

Working Out Your Ideas

  • Do you have any initial responses to the question? What could a possible answer (or answers) be?
  • Do you have any opinions at all about the topic(s)? Write them down, no matter how ‘creative’ or non-academic they may be.
  • What do you already know about the topic(s)? Do you have knowledge that can be built on, such as familiarity with related areas, sources, or frameworks for thinking about similar topics? Write everything down—you may know more than you think.

Further your thinking by ‘questioning the question’. This helps you focus by drawing out sub-questions about the question and topic.

  • Question the terms – Is there a generally agreed-upon response to the question or approach to take?
  • If not, how do different approaches/ theories/ arguments differ? Which ones could/ should you use?
  • What are the key concepts? How do they relate to each other?

Generate ideas through brainstorming. Come up with as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can. Don’t evaluate or discard anything – you can do that later – just jot them down. Use mindmaps, drawings, and lists; whatever comes to mind and stimulates your thinking. Look at what you’ve noted down. Pull out the points that are relevant to the question and discard the rest.

Creating a Project Plan

A good research plan (roughly ten pages) should include the following information: topic, background, objectives, methods, data, and execution. It should also demonstrate that the author is familiar with his/her topic and related research.

  1. Include two parts in your research plan: an abstract (150 words max) and the actual research plan (about ten pages).
  2. In the introduction, introduce readers to the topic, state your reasons for selecting that topic and specify the objectives of the study. Present your topic and state clearly why it is important to study it. Good reasons include a lack of previous research, social significance, practical need, etc. Please bear in mind that an idea is not the same as a topic; to formulate your topic, you must define your subject area, select an approach, familiarize yourself with previous research and place your study in that context. What is already known about the topic?
  3. Introduce the key theoretical premises and main concepts of your study.
  4. Formulate your research problem and related research questions in as much detail as possible. What are you actually studying? Formulate your research questions in such a way that you can answer them
  5. Tell readers how you will answer your research questions. If your study is empirical, your research plan should specify your research data and methods. You can describe them in more detail later, but try to be as specific as possible. How will you access or produce your data? How will you acquire your research subjects? How will you analyze your data?
  6. Consider possible ethical matters. If you are not sure whether your study has any ethical considerations, refer to the guidelines of the Southern California University of Health Sciences Institutional Review
  7. Outline what new information your study will produce. How and where can this information be used?
  8. Draw up a schedule describing when and how you will conduct your study and when you plan to publish your findings.
  9. Enclose references and a cover sheet stating your name and the title of your study with your research plan.

Strategies for Narrowing the Research Topic 

A common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is determining how to narrow down your topic. Even if your professor gives you a specific topic to study, it will almost never be so specific that you won’t have to narrow it down at least to some degree [besides, grading fifty papers that are all about the exact same thing is very boring!].

A topic is too broad to be manageable when you find that you have too many different, and oftentimes conflicting or only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point early in the writing process. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help narrow your topic into something more manageable:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in Eastern religious rituals, study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
  • Components -- determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who choose to use tobacco].
  • Methodology -- the way in which you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem [e.g., a single case study can be designed to generate data that does not require as extensive an explanation as using multiple cases].
  • Place -- generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon as a case study that helps to explain problems in the region].
  • Relationship -- ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, male/female, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus [e.g., the study of trade relations between Niger and Cameroon during the period of 2010 - 2016].
  • Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena [e.g., a study of developing safer traffic patterns near schools can focus on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of stoplights in the area].
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic very narrowly.

NOTE: Apply one of the above strategies first to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate. You will know if the problem is manageable by reviewing the literature on this more specific problem and assessing whether prior research on the narrower topic is sufficient to move forward in your study [i.e., not too much, not too little]. Be careful, however, because combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem--your problem becomes too narrowly defined and you can't locate enough research or data to support your study.


  •  Booth, W. C. (2016). The Craft of Research (4th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Coming Up With Your Topic. (n.d.). Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College.
  • Labaree, R. V. (n.d.). Research Guides: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Narrowing a Topic Idea. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from
  • Narrowing a Topic. (n.d.).  Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas.
  • Narrowing a Topic. Writing @CSU. (n.d.). Colorado: Colorado State University. 
  • Strategies for Narrowing a Topic. University Libraries.Information Modules. (n.d.). Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Tech University. 
  • The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. (n.d.). Peterborough, Ontario: Trent University. 
  • Ways to Narrow Down a Topic. OpenCourseWare. (n.d.).  Logan, Utah: Utah State. 

Research Planning

Research Design is a detailed outline of how an investigation will take place. A research design typically includes how data will be collected, what instruments will be employed, how the instruments will be used and the intended means for analyzed data collected. 

With this in mind, the length and complexity of describing research designs in your paper can vary considerably, however, a well-developed design will achieve the following:  

  • Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, particularly in relation to any valid alternative designs that could have been used,
  • Review and synthesize previously published literature associated with the research problem,
  • Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem,
  • Effectively describe the data which will be necessary for adequate testing of the hypotheses and explain how such data will be obtained, and
  • Describe the methods of analysis to be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.

Research Methods 

Empirical Studies 

Literature Review 

  • Includes research syntheses and meta-analysis, critical evaluations of material that has already been published. 
  • Literature Review 

Theoretical Articles 

Methodological Articles 

  • Authors present new methodological approaches, modifications of existing methods, or discussions of quantitative and data analytics approaches to the community of researchers. 
  • Methodology 

Case Studies 


research design. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from website: 

Online Grammar Tools

The RADAR Framework can help you remember what kinds of questions you should be asking about an information source as you evaluate it for quality and usefulness in your research.

The rationale is important because books, articles, and web pages are made to serve a purpose. They can educate, entertain, or sell a product or point of view. Some sources may be frivolous or commercial in nature, providing inaccurate, false, or biased information. Other sources are more ambiguous about any potential partiality. Varied points of view can be valid as long as they are based on good reasoning and careful use of evidence.
  1. Why did the author or publisher make this information available? Is there a sponsor or advertising?  Who pays to help make this information available?
  2. Are alternative points of view presented?
  3. Does the author omit any important facts or data that might disprove their claim?
  4. Does the author use strong emotional language?  Are there other emotional clues such as all caps?
Authority is important in judging the credibility of the author's assertions. In a trial regarding DNA evidence, a jury would find a genetics specialist's testimony far more authoritative compared to testimony from a random person off the street.
  1. What are the author's credentials?
  2. Is the author affiliated with an educational institution or a prominent organization?
  3. Can you find information about the author in reference books or on the Internet?
  4. Do other books or articles on the same research topic cite the author?
  5. Is the publisher of the information source reputable? Search by publisher name (peer-reviewed journal or reputable publisher)
  6. If it's on the Internet, is it fabricated or intended as satire?  Check the "About" page and google it with the word "fake" to make sure it's legit.


Date, or currency, is important to note because information can quickly become obsolete. Supporting your research with facts that have been superseded by new research or recent events weakens your argument. Not all assignments require the most current information; older materials can provide valuable information such as a historical overview of your topic. In some disciplines, the date of the source is less important, while in others it is very important.


  1. When was the information published or last updated?
  2. Have newer articles been published on your topic?
  3. Are links or references to other sources up-to-date?
  4. Is your topic in an area that changes rapidly, like technology or science?
  5. Is the information obsolete?
Accuracy is important because errors and untruths distort a line of reasoning. When you present inaccurate information, you undermine your own credibility.
  1. Are there statements you know to be false?  Verify an unlikely story by finding a reputable outlet reporting the same thing.
  2. Was the information reviewed by editors or subject experts before it was published?  Was it fact-checked?  How do you know?
  3. Do the citations and references support the author's claim? Are the references correctly cited?  Follow the links.  If there are no references or bad references, this could be a red flag.
  4. What do other people have to say on the topic? Is there general agreement among subject experts?
  5. If applicable, is there a description of the research method used? Does the method seem appropriate and well-executed?
  6. Was item published by a peer-reviewed journal, academic press, or other reliable publishers?
  7. If there are pictures, were they photo-shopped in?  Use a reverse image search engine like TinEye to see where an image really comes from.
  8. For trusted websites, what is the domain?  Fake sites often add ".co" to trusted brands (e.g.


Relevance is important because you are expected to support your ideas with pertinent information. A source detailing Einstein's marriage would not be very relevant to a paper about his scientific theories.


  1. Does the information answer your research question?
  2. Does the information meet the stated requirements for the assignment?
  3. Is the information too technical or too simplified for you to use?
  4. Who is the intended audience?
  5. Does the source add something new to your knowledge of the topic?
  6. Is the information focused on the geographical location you are interested in?


Adapted from:

Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal Of Information Science, 39, 470-478. doi:10.1177/0165551513478889

Meriam Library at California State University, Chico. (2010, September 17). Evaluating information-Applying the CRAAP test. Retrieved from

After viewing the guide, attempt the Writing Activity below for further practice and then do the RADAR CHALLENGE, an exercise for analyzing an academic source in depth.  


A brief summary of the research contents 
Provides quick information about the topic including problem, methodology, participants (if any),  findings, and conclusion.  
Qualities of a good abstract:

  • Accurate 
  • Non-evaluative 
  • Coherent and readable 
    • Active Voice 
    • The present verb tense to describe conclusions 
    • Past verb tense to describe specific variables manipulates or outcomes measures
  • Concise 

Annotated Bibliography 

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, websites, periodicals, etc.). An annotated bibliography includes a summary and/ or evaluation of each other sources. Depending on the assignment, your annotation may do one or more of the following:

  • Summarize
  • Assess 
  • Reflect

Annotated bibliographies are useful when organizing sources for research projects. 

Additional Resources 

Abstract Annotated Bibliography 

Tips That Will Make Your Abstract a Success! 

  • Wordvice is your one-stop shop for English proofreading and editing services.

Abstract Tips and Tools 

  • The Writing Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill constructed an Abstracts: Tips and Tools handout.

How to Write an Abstract

  • Verywell mind is your source for reliable, understandable information on hundreds of health and wellness topics that always keeps the reasons you come to us in mind. 

Annotated Bibliography Samples 

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab 

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography     

  • A video tutorial from the University of Maryland, University College Library                                                                                                                                                  

Thesis Formulation 

A thesis statement is the main idea, central message, or point of your paper/ research. A thesis statement focuses your idea in one or two sentences. It should present the topic of discussion, a brief comment about your position on the topic, and what the paper/ research is about. The thesis statement also provides a guide for your writing to keep your argument focused.   

Preparing for Research Paper Submission 

Typeface: Times New Roman  

Font size: 12 point 

Line Spacing: Double-space

Margins: 1 inch at the top, bottom, left, and right of the page

Line length and alignment: Do not adjust lines

Paragraphs and indentations: Every first line of a paragraph and first line in footnotes, if footnotes are included should be a five to seven space or 1/2 inch (tab). Remaining the lines should be uninformed to the left-hand margin.

Exceptions to indentation rule:

  • Abstract
  • Block quotations
  • Titles and headings
  • Table titles and notes 
  • Figure captions 

Additional Tools

Why Revisions are Necessary 

Revising a paper means to take another look at it. This is more than a simple proofread, this is an opportunity for you to look at your paper critically: reconsidering your arguments, reviewing your evidence, refining your purpose, reorganizing your presentation, fix any grammatical errors, and address any APA  formatting issues. 

Working as a Team

Group projects are assigned to deepen your understanding of the course material, in addition to expanding personal and teamwork skills. 

Project Planning

Project planning is the establishment of the research scope and defining the objective. For best results, the team should create a shared project plan, also known as a project management plan, that contains the scope, objective, and the task needed to accomplish the objective. 

Since project plans are essential for the group to reference the look and content will vary.