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How to Write a College Research Paper: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Writing research papers is a common fact of life for college students in just about every disciplines of study. The assignment calls on students to prepare and manage their research, conduct original research, and present their findings in way that demonstrates their abilities as professionals in the subject. Learning to write a great research paper not only helps one succeed in school but also prepares him or her for a rewarding professional career.

But students tend to make five common mistakes when writing research papers that prevent them from getting the grades that will help them in school and set them up for success in the future. Here are the top five research paper writing mistakes and ways to avoid them:

  1. Not getting help from a librarian

    Talking to a librarian is a great place to start when starting research. Taking a do-it-yourself approach can keep you from finding as many quality resources as you would if you had consulted a librarian. They can get you started with a few resources and give you recommendations on where else to look if they can’t procure everything you need.

  2. Not giving proper citation

    By now you should know that you shouldn’t use someone’s exact words without giving them the proper credit. But you should also apply proper citation when you paraphrase, borrow an original idea that isn’t already commonly known, refer to data, statistics or facts or generally use anything that isn’t original and can be attributed to someone else.

  3. Too many unconnected quotes

    One method that is overly-used by students, but never fools instructors is quotation stuffing. Your research paper shouldn’t consist of 30 – 40 % quotes. Your job isn’t to rewrite others’ work and provide commentary in-between. You should only provide quotes when something cannot be expressed more clearly or succinctly in your own words. Use your quotes sparingly and be sure you synthesize (connect) the material you include.

  4. Being average and complacent

    Doing the bare minimum will not get you the top grades in class you need for college and to impress your future employers. You should remember that a “C” grade means average work. Don’t shoot for average! Shoot to go above a beyond; not just in word count but in content. Make sure you’ve thoroughly explored your topic and have shown why the work you started in the first place was important.

  5. Using the wrong format

    Some instructors will require you use a specific format when writing your research paper. It should be obvious that you need to follow your instructor’s requirements exactly, but if you are given the freedom to choose be sure to select a citation style appropriate to your discipline. Stick with the major ones – MLA, Chicago and APA – and don’t use them interchangeably.

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